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Ma Po Tofu

This dish uses a unique type of chile that not only is spicy, but is also known for causing numbness. If you love spicy, this dish is for you!
Recipe Box
Chef Ryan Callahan
Author of Cooking for Chemo...and After! and Cooking for Kids with Cancer

A spicy authentic Chinese classic. Savory brown sauce with sweet tofu and a mouth numbing spicy finish. This dish uses a unique type of chile that not only is spicy, but is also known for causing numbness. If you love spicy, this dish is for you!

Tasting Guidelines:

  • Taste is savory and very spicy.
  • Weight is light.
  • Texture is soft.
  • Best categorized as authentic Chinese.


  • 1 package soft tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 lb. Portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 carrots, diced small
  • 1 c. frozen green peas
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped small
  • ¼ c. water
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 tbsp. garlic, minced

Flavor Balancers:

  • 1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sugar, granulated


Remove tofu from packaging and place on a plate. Place another plate lightly on top of the tofu to force excess water to drain from the tofu.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add canola oil and allow to heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic, mushrooms, carrots, frozen peas, and yellow onion. Stir fry until onions are translucent.

Take all flavor balancers and mix in a measuring cup. Whisk in cornstarch and water. Add this mixture to sauté pan when onions are translucent. Allow sauce to come to a light boil and thicken. When sauce is sufficiently thick, cut tofu into ½ inch by ½ inch cubes and gently stir into sauté pan. Lightly toss sauce over tofu and allow to come to heat. About 5 minutes. After tofu is hot, dish is ready to serve.

Chef Tips:

Many people have a bad or negative association with tofu. I assure you it is both delicious and edible when cooked correctly. The key is to remove excess moisture by pressing, deep frying, or sauteing and then coating it with a flavorful sauce.

Tofu must be pressed before cooking, unless you are going to deep fry it. This pressing removes excess moisture that the tofu absorbs while sitting in the packaging. Removing excess liquid also makes it easier to cook with. Tofu is also extremely delicate and cannot be man-handled like animal proteins can. Treat tofu gentle and it will reward you with great flavor.

Tofu is very much like cheese in its construction. It is made by diluting soy bean solids into water, to which a congealing agent has been added. This agent allows the solids to form a curd-like substance. This curd is then placed into a mold and pressed to a desired moisture content. This moisture content whether it is a soft tofu (high moisture) or a firm tofu (low moisture). The remaining product is drained and then sold as soy milk. Just like soy milk, tofu has a naturally sweet flavor to it. This same tofu creation process is the same process by which cheese is made.

The highlight of this dish, for me, is the very unique Chinese red pepper. The correct red pepper for Ma Po Tofu has a numbing effect on the inside of your mouth.

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