Ethnic Food Injection - and Ma Po Dofu Recipe

I grew up in Toronto, surrounded by restaurants serving the cuisines of nearly every nation on earth. By the time I was 25, I had sampled food from several regions of China, several regions of India, Ethiopia, Korea, Thailand, Italy, France, Lebanon, Portugal, even Mauritania. Milledgeville has a couple passable Mexican places (good Mexican has always been hard to find in Toronto), a rather good Chinese place (Lieu's Peking), and little else. So in the decade I lived in M'ville, my visits to Toronto were the culinary high points of my year (trips to Athens or Atlanta helped too). As with past visits, I'm stocking up like a bear eating before going into hibernation: I've been to the Chinese bakeries three or four times (probably again tomorrow), I've eaten Italian a couple times, Vietnamese, Chinese, and stuffed myself on Sushi. I've also cooked Chinese (Ma Po Dofu), Thai (chicken and potato curry - thanks Nichi!), and Indian (Aloo Gobi) at home. Have I mentioned that I love this city?

I've always had a preference for things with strong flavours. Subtlety in food is often lost on me. So I like the things that reach out and grab you: Thai over Italian, Indian over Polish, Laphroaig over Cragganmore (whisky). Cragganmore is subtle, and I don't get it at all. Laphroaig is like chewing on smoked peat - not a perfect experience, but you won't forget it.

This isn't the best intro for the recipe that follows - it's actually fairly sedate. Enjoy!

Ma Po Dofu

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger
6 scallions, very finely chopped
2 Tbs. chopped fermented Chinese black beans
red pepper flakes to taste
1 lb. lean ground pork
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1-1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 lb. firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 cup frozen green peas
1 Tbs. cornstarch

In a wok or a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add half of the garlic and ginger and a handful of scallions and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the black beans if you're using them, and then the meat and red pepper flakes. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes, or until the meat is almost cooked through. Add the soy sauce and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Gently slip the tofu into the wok. Add the remaining garlic and ginger, another handful of scallions, and the frozen peas. Cover and let simmer about 3 minutes. In a small cup or bowl, stir the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of hot broth from the wok. Slowly add the paste into the wok and let simmer about 2 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning. Serve over steamed rice and sprinkle each bowl with the remaining scallions.