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I’ve gushed before about how our repertoire of spicy Asian food has been expanded by Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. All the dishes we’ve tried from the book have been both simple and delicious, and have also increased my confidence in trying out more of the sauces, pickled vegetables etc in the many Asian grocers we’re luck enough to have in Canberra.

The essential ingredient in this dish is Sichuan chilli bean paste (dou ban jiang or sometimes toban djan). It’s an incredible savoury-spicy-salty mixture of salted chillies and fermented soy and broad beans that is a Sichuan staple, and also used in the classic Mapo Tofu.

The other key feature of this dish is the tofu. We use firm or extra firm tofu in many dishes, but for this dish you need a firm-soft tofu that is just firm enough to not fall apart when fried, but will stay tender inside and wrinkle slightly when cooked in the sauce. A large supermarket, or any Asian grocer, will have it.

Because of the beautifully tender tofu, we like to serve this with a side dish with crunch as well as rice and greens, often doubling down on the heat with radishes in chilli oil, or crunchy kohlrabi salad (pictured above).

Bear’s paw tofu

Adapted (barely) from Fuchsia Dunlop’s wonderful Every Grain of Rice

  • 900g firm-soft tofu
  • 3 Tbs canola or rice bran oil
  • 3 Tbs Sichuan chilli bean paste (dou ban jiang)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • about 5cm piece ginger (aim for same amount as garlic)
  • 6 spring/green onions
  • 300ml stock (or water and stock powder)
  • 3/4 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp potato flour

Slice the tofu about 1cm thick, and cut into squares or rectangles about 4cm wide. Heat the oil over high heat in a large wok or heavy based pan, and fry the tofu until golden both sides.

While the tofu is frying, peel and finely slice the garlic, peel and cut the ginger into slivers, and diagonally slice the spring onions.

Remove the tofu once browned, reduce the heat to medium, and add the chilli bean paste. Fry until aromatic, then add the garlic, ginger and white part of onions. Fry for another couple of minutes, then add the stock and tofu. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and add the sugar and soy sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes until slightly reduced, and the tofu is well coated in the sauce.

Combine the potato flour with 1 Tbs cold water. Stir the onion greens into the sauce then add the potato flour and quickly stir through, it will thicken the sauce almost immediately.

Serve with rice and steamed gai laan or similar.

Serves 4