Far from the real deal served in the Sichuan province of China, my inauthentic version of the Mapo Tofu with Aubergine might be frowned upon, but you have to taste this to believe how good it is. Disclaimer-you may have to open up a few jars or take a trip down to a gourmet food store near you for some of these ingredients, but I’ll do my best to guide you through them.
The Mapo aubergine’s base is chilli oil. This means that your end result will also be slightly oily, but ridiculously delicious. Making this chilli oil with sediment is easy, and I make quite a large batch of it to use in my Chinese cooking. My recipe can be found here. However, if you’re more content with using a shop bought chilli oil, look out for the red lidded jar with a grumpy old woman on it. That’s the real MSG-ed up, delicious chilli oil with chilli sediment that will make a superb mapo.
The second important thing too keep in mind is the use of Sichuan peppercorns. You need to use them here, and quite a bit of it too. Lightly toss the peppercorns and fill a pepper mill with the Sichuan peppercorns you’ve bought and keep ready. Next up, shiitake mushrooms.
We’re going to make a ragu-style base for this vegetarian Chinese dish, and so we want there to be tons of umami at the end when the aubergines break into a silken mush. To ensure this, I use shiitake mushrooms two-ways. Buy a packet of dried shiitake mushrooms that weigh 100g in total. Blitz a little less than half of these into a fine powder. This is GOLD-naturally occuring MSG, this dried mushroom powder adds depth and umami to anything it touches. I use both this powder, as well as refreshed shiitake mushrooms to flavour my mapo base.
The final two things on your checklist-I assume you’re already tired of all these exotic ingredients-are Doubanjiang/Toban djan/Chilli bean sauce and Black bean sauce. I insist that both these be from Lee Kum Kee. I’ve tried the black bean sauce from Ong’s and Woh Hup and they don’t hold a candle to the Lee Kum Kee bottles. That’s it. Now head home and make this.
Mapo Aubergine Rice Bowl
I cook the mushroom and chilli gravy long and slow to deepen the flavours much like a ragu before adding in the fried aubergine and tossing everything through before serving it over rice.
Aubergines 2, large, cut into medium-sized dices
Salt for salting the aubergines
Vegetable oil for frying
Shiitake Mushrooms 100g in weight, divided in half. Half of it blitzed to a powder.
Water 3 cups just-boiled water to soak the mushrooms
Soy Sauce 1/3 cup (I prefer to use Kikkoman), plus extra to adjust the salt at the end
Doubanjiang/ Toban Djan/Spicy Bean Paste 1/2 cup
Tomato puree 1 whole tetra pack
Chilli oil 1/4 cup with quite a bit of sediment drained out
Garlic 12 cloves
Black bean sauce 1/4 cup
Beer 1 bottle of Kingfisher. Something cheaper is good too.
Sichuan peppercorns 1 tsp, toasted lightly and ground, plus extra for finishing
Cornstarch and water 1 tbsp each mixed together and set aside (if necessary)
Scallions 2, green parts chopped for garnish
Coriander 2 tbsp, freshly chopped
Steamed rice for serving
Begin by soaking the shiitake mushrooms in the just-boiled water for at least an hour, or until they are completely rehydrated and soft. Squeeze the liquid from the mushroom gently after an hour is up and strain this liquid. Set aside. In a food processor, blitz the mushrooms till to very small pieces, the same as if making a mushroom bhurji.
At the same time, salt the aubergine dices rather generously and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a kadai and while it gets hot, rinse the salt off the aubergines and pat it dry to get it ready for frying. In batches, fry the aubergine dices till a reddish gold. Use a slotted spoon to rescue the aubergine dices from the hot oil and transfer to some kitchen paper to drain out any excess oil. Do this for all the aubergine.
In a bowl, Whisk together the mushroom soaking liquid with the spicy bean paste and tomato puree and to this, add the blitzed mushrooms. Set this aside.
Next up, take a medium-sized stockpot and heat over a medium flame. To this, add the chilli oil with the garlic and let it start to sizzle, tossing it all together till everything is fragrant being careful not to burn it. Add to this the black bean sauce and toss for 2-3 minutes. Add in the beer, 2 tsp of mushroom powder, the Sichuan peppercorns and 2 cups of the base holding some back just in case the ragu begins to dry out. Bring everything up to a good simmer and reduce the heat to low and let it simmer merrily for 45 minutes, checking in to see how the gravy is doing and giving everything a good toss now and then. If it’s drying out too quickly, add more of the chilli bean base, or simply add it all and let the mixture cook down. Once an hour is up, if you want a thicker sauce, add in the cornflour and water mixture to thicken it. If not, at this stage, grind in a bit more Sichuan peppercorns, check the salt and adjust with soy sauce instead.
Tip in the fried aubergine and toss everything together lightly. Add in the chopped coriander and scallions and serve ladled over steamed rice.