Shannon Martinez's ma po tofu

Photo: by Nikki To (courtesy Hardie Grant Books)

Ma po tofu, but make it vegan? Not an impossible ask when Shannon Martinez is calling the shots. Try her meat-free version of this Sichuanese classic and see for yourself just how delicious a plant-based ma po tofu can be.

“This is one of my all-time favourite things to eat,” says Smith & Daughter chef Shannon Martinez in her new book, Vegan With Bite. “As a meat-eater, I am confident that this version is as satisfying and delicious as one containing meat.

"If you want to convince the meat-eater in your life that food can be just as good without it, or you’re looking  to reduce the amount of meat you eat, this recipe is a fantastic place to start.”


Serves 4-6


500 g firm silken tofu (momen is my favourite)

Boiling water, to cover

3 tbsp vegetable oil

200 g veggie mince or soaked textured vegetable protein

6 cm piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 spring onions, sliced

25 g dried black fungus (wood ears), soaked and sliced into strips

2 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy fermented broad bean paste)

1 tbsp douchi (fermented black bean paste)

2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine

600 ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and coarsely ground

2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch) blended with 80 ml (⅓ cup) cold water

1 handful chopped coriander leaves

3 tbsp Sichuan chilli oil (recipe below)

Sichuan chilli oil

Makes approx. 750 ml (3 cups)

60 g chilli flakes

2 tbsp Korean chilli flakes (or just add an extra 2 tbsp normal chilli flakes)

1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, ground

4 star anise

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

50 g (⅓ cup) toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 bay leaves, crushed

625 ml (2½ cups) vegetable oil

2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves, crushed


1. To make the Sichuan chilli oil, place the chilli flakes, Sichuan pepper, star anise, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, fennel seeds and bay leaves in a large heatproof bowl and mix together.

2. Pour the oil into a saucepan, add the ginger and garlic and warm over a medium heat to 180°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’ll know the oil is ready when the garlic and ginger begin to turn a light golden colour around the edges.

3. Carefully pour the hot oil over the chilli mixture – it will bubble up slightly. Using a metal spoon, stir the oil through the chilli mixture to make sure everything is evenly cooked. Leave to infuse for 1 hour before removing the star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, ginger and garlic.

4. Store the oil in a clean jar. It’ll be fine on the bench for a few weeks, or in the fridge for a few months. Not that it will last that long.

5. When you’re ready to make the ma po tofu, drain the tofu and cut into 2 cm cubes. Carefully place in a bowl and cover with boiling water and a big pinch of salt. Allow to sit while you proceed with the recipe.  

6. Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat, add the mince or textured vegetable protein and fry for a minute, breaking it up into small bits if using veggie mince. Add the ginger, garlic and spring onion and stir-fry for a minute or so until the ginger and garlic are slightly golden. Throw in the fungus and toss to combine.

7. Add the doubanjiang and douchi and stir-fry for 30 seconds, making sure everything is evenly coated, then deglaze with the shaoxing wine. Pour in the stock and soy sauce, add the Sichuan pepper and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.

8. Drain the tofu, then very carefully slide it into the wok and gently stir. Allow to simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes, then stir in the cornflour slurry and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Add the coriander and Sichuan oil and stir, then pour into a serving dish and serve.

This is an edited extract from Vegan with Bite by Shannon Martinez, published by Hardie Grant Books (RRP $34.99) and available where all good books are sold.