What do you do when it finally hits you you’re out of a job? If you’re Ruth Reichl, who’d been the editor of Gourmet for more than a decade when the magazine ceased publication in 2009, you start cooking.
“This classic Szechuan dish struck me as a perfect way to start fresh,” she writes in the just-published “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (Random House, $35) “Blistered with chiles, it’s warrior food.”
Like most Chinese dishes, this dish requires a bit of prep work. But once you’ve got your ingredients lined up and ready, “it comes together in a fast flash of joyous heat,” says Reichl.
Think tofu is too bland? The hot intensity of the peppercorns brings it to life in this easy dish.
Ma Po Tofu
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. Chinese black bean sauce with chile
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 knob fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced or smashed
1 bunch scallions
1 lb. soft tofu
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns
Peanut or grapeseed oil for cooking
Toasted sesame oil
1/2 lb. fatty ground pork
Pour chicken stock into measuring cup. Add Chinese black bean and soy sauces. Set aside.
Chop 2 tablespoons of ginger and mince or smash an equal amount of garlic. Slice 4 scallions very thin, separating the white and green parts.
Drain block of tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes.
Put cornstarch into a small dish and stir in 2 tablespoons water to make a completely smooth slurry. Toast Szechuan peppercorns for a minute or so in hot dry skillet until they are fragrant. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder.
Set all those little dishes out next to your wok, along with some peanut or grapeseed oil, the bottle of toasted sesame oil, and the ground pork.
Heat wok until it is very hot. Coat it with peanut or grapeseed oil and add the garlic, white part of the scallions and ginger, tossing quickly just until they become fragrant. Add pork and cook quickly, stirring and breaking up meat until it goes from pink to gray. Add chicken stock mixture, then stir and toss in the tofu. Cook for a couple of minutes until tofu begins to fall apart. St in cornstarch mixture and allow sauce to thicken. Add a splash of sesame oil and scallion greens, toss it all together and sprinkle on the Szechuan peppercorns. Serve with white rice.
— “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Random House, Sept. 2015, $35)