I can’t stop cooking with ground meat lately.

Yeah, I know foodies turn up their noses at it. But we came into twenty pounds from our half-pig and thirty from the quarter-cow and the stuff deserved equal treatment. The obvious thing was to lay plans for homemade sausage, but I got distracted early on with thoughts of my grandmother’s wonton. She made hers from ground pork mixed with chopped shrimp, napa cabbage, bamboo, and mushrooms, and they were so freakin’ tasty.

My grandmother was always rigid about ingredients, quantities, and taste, so I doubt she’d approve of how I morphed the memory of her wonton into more improvisational cooking, adding dabs of ground meat to stir fries with bok choy and the like. In fact, the number of applications for ground meat in Asian cooking are probably infinite. I love ground pork with fried rice noodles and eggplant; sometimes I scramble in an egg for flavor and color. I especially love adding a bit of fried ground meat to that old Chinese standby, mah paw tofu, a numbingly spicy dish I could eat every day. The numbing effect comes from Sichuan pepper, which looks more like a dried pink flower than like a peppercorn but packs a fragrant punch. If you don’t have them, consider adding more of something else that’s red and hot. That’s the key, the way I see it. Here’s the recipe:

Recipe: Mah Paw Tofu

1 tbls ginger / 2 tbls pickled hot pepper such as pepperocini or jalapeno / 1 tbls fresh hot pepper / 1 clove garlic / 1/4 pound ground pork / 1 lb tofu, cubed / 2 tsps chili-garlic paste or to taste / 1 tbls sherry or xiaosing wine / 1 tsp cornstarch / 1 tsp sugar / 2 tsp soy sauce / 1 tsp dark soy sauce or more regular soy / dash sesame oil / 1 cup chicken stock / 2 tbls ketchup / pinch ground Sichuan peppercorns / 1 stalk green onion, minced

Mince ginger, pickled peppers, fresh peppers, and garlic. In a mixing bowl, combine sherry, cornstarch, sugar, soy sauces, sesame oil, stock, ketchup, and Sichuan peppercorns to make a chili sauce. Cornstarch should be completely dissolved.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in vegetable oil when hot. Add ginger, pickled pepper, and fresh pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic, stir a few times, then add ground pork and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in tofu and chili paste. Brown slightly, then add chili sauce. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, until sauce is thickened. Stir and scallions and serve. Adapted from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. Feeds 2 or 3.

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