Welcome to the ‘Ayi’s Recipes’ food series. Over the next six weeks I will be learning one Chinese dish each week under the supervision and guidance of my wonderful ayi, Yuan, and sharing it with all you beautiful people. If you haven’t already fallen in love with Chinese cuisine, then now is the time.
I’ve been in China for almost six years and what first struck me when I arrived was how diverse its national dishes are, not to mention how drastically different Chinese food in my home city of London is in comparison to authentic Chinese cuisine. I had been blindsided by deep-fried sesame prawn toast and whoppingly oversized sweet and sour pork balls. I had no idea what real Chinese food was, and now that this great nation has introduced me to its colorful world of fare, I can’t get enough of it.
I thought to myself, it would be a great shame to have lived in China for so long only to one day move on without adding some of my favorite Chinese dishes to my cooking repertoire. One day I would like to cook Chinese food for my friends and family and introduce them to cuisine they may have never even heard of, and I hope to inspire you to do the same.
This week I cooked Mapo Tofu with the ayi. This was one of the first dishes I ate when I moved to China. Silky tofu in a Sichuan spicy sauce with tender minced pork always seemed to be a part of the selection of huge plates of food that Chinese friends would order when out at a restaurant, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
1 pack of silky tofu
200g minced pork
2 chopped spring onions
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1 tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup minced garlic
1 inch finely chopped ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup water
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp chili sauce
1/2 cup Sichuan chilis
1. Add the corn flour, 1 teaspoon of soya sauce, and half of the salt to the minced pork. Mix in well and set aside
2. In a wok heat the peanut oil under a medium-high flame. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and chili. For a milder dish, leave out the chili. Heat the peppercorns and chili until aromatic and the oil begins to turn slightly red. Take out the chili and peppercorns and discard.
3. Fry the pork in the infused oil until brown, add half of the minced garlic and the ginger. Mix in and then add the Sichuan chili oil. There are a number of versions you can choose from at most Chinese supermarkets; we chose chili oil made with salty black beans for added flavor.
4. Add the water, paprika, the remaining soy sauce and salt. Continue to stir and turn up the heat.
5. Carefully slice your silky tofu into squares and add to the wok. Keep the heat high and allow the tofu to cook through. Turn occasionally.
6. Dish out the Mapo Tofu and add the remaining garlic. Garnish with the coriander and chopped spring onions. Serve!
Photos: Nicole Bonnah