I've never hidden my love for Mapo Dofu, the Sichuan dish of soft silken tofu flavored with beef and mouth-numbing, citrus-y Sichuan peppercorns. But it doesn't have to be a season-less dish. The past few years I've taken to adapting it to the spring by adding in a few big handfuls of sliced ramps, the ephemeral wild spring onions that how up by the bushel at farmers' markets (or if you're lucky, sister's backyard!).
'Mapo Dofu' on Serious Eats
[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt] Note: Both the chili bean paste and the Sichuan Peppercorns can be bought online (follow the links) if you don't have a good Chinese market nearby. Use tofu labeled "silken" in a hardness range of medium...
I'm here to set the record straight: tofu is emphatically not a meat substitute. It's an ingredient in its own right, and a delicious one at that! Indeed, in many traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes, it's prepared together with meat in a single dish. I grew up on the sweet-and-salty, heavy-on-the-beef version of Mapo Dofu that my mom used to make for us, sometimes with her own seasoning, but often just thrown together from a packet. When paired with her handmade beef dumplings, it was far and away my favorite meal.