This version of a spicy Chinese classic was judged "the best" by journalist and author Jen Lin-Liu's husband-to-be, Craig Simons. It was one of the first meals she served him when they were dating in Beijing.
A small amount of ground beef is used, more as flavoring than as main ingredient. Cubes of either firm or soft tofu can be used.
Usually, Sichuan peppercorns are sprinkled on at the end, providing a numbing sensation as the dish is eaten. But Lin-Liu prefers a more subtle use, infusing the cooking oil with Sichuan peppercorns for a few seconds, then removing them before cooking the remaining ingredients.
Serve with steamed rice.
Servings: 4 - 6
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/4 pound lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons minced leek or scallion (white and light-green parts only)
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger root
- 1/4 cup broadbean paste (a fermented, reddish-brown condiment available at Asian markets)
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 12 to 15 ounces (1 package) firm or soft tofu, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the Sichuan peppercorns and cook for a few seconds, until some of them pop and crackle. Remove the wok from the heat; use a spoon to remove and discard the peppercorns.
Return the wok to high heat; when the oil is hot, add the beef, breaking it into small pieces and stirring for a minute or two, until it begins to brown. Add the following ingredients in order, stirring for 1 minute between each addition: leek or scallion and ginger, broadbean paste, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, if desired, and sugar. Then add the water, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4 to 5 minutes; the mixture will bubble at the edges.
Add the tofu and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; serve immediately.
Adapted from Lin-Liu's "Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China" (Harcourt, 2008).
Tested by Jen Lin-Liu.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.