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!).
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[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.