Ma La Tofu

This dish gets its name (má là = numbing and spicy) from two types of pepper, the numbingly hot aroma of sichuan pepper and the fiery hot flavour of chili pepper. This combination is great even if you’re not that fond of super-spicy food. The tongue-numbing effect of sichuan pepper is felt only after consuming bigger quantities of it, and its unique, rich aroma can be enjoyed by using it in moderation as well. This recipe is based on the ma la tofu recipe from Bryanna Clark Grogan’s excellent Authentic Chinese Cuisine for the Contemporary Kitchen.


One teaspoon of chili and sichuan pepper each don’t yet make a fiery dish, but it’s enough to enjoy the combination of their flavours. If you prefer more spiciness in your food, don’t hesitate to add more, but take it easy on the sichuan pepper if you’re not familiar with it – if you add it too much it starts to dominate the dish.


  • 1 teaspoon toasted and freshly ground sichuan pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (or to taste)
  • ½ dl dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fermented black beans
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Stir-Fry Ingredients:

  • 350 g broccoli
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • a quarter of a leek (or maybe 1 small leek, we didn’t have more!)
  • ½ kg tofu
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil for frying
  • 2 teaspoons starch diluted in 4 tablespoons water

First we drained and pressed the tofu. Then we toasted the sichuan peppers over medium heat on a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes, stirring them every now and then so that they would not burn, after which I ground them in a mortar. Next, I mashed the fermented black beans with a fork, and then mixed all the sauce ingredients together: sichuan pepper, chili, sherry, soy sauce, black beans and garlic.

Then we cut all the veggies and the tofu into small pieces. You could also cut them into thin strips, squares, triangles or whatever shape pleases you!

Now, we put a wok over high heat, added the oil, and when the oil was really hot, we added the leek and paprika first, stir-fried them for a minute or so, then added the broccoli, fried it for maybe two minutes or so, then added the tofu, and stir-fried for maybe a minute more. Next, it was time to pour in the sauce, cook and stir for about one minute or so. Then we added the thickener, and stirred it in. We removed the wok from heat, and served the dish with yasmine rice immediately.