“Comfort food” means something different to everyone. Our youngest child (soon to leave the nest and graduate into adulthood) has always been our pickiest eater. I gave up long ago on trying to see the logic in what she likes and dislikes. But one thing is consistent: she hates bland food. She wants nothing to do with hot dogs, hamburgers (or any variation like meatballs/meatloaf), pizza, roast chicken/turkey, and ANYTHING in gravy or a tomato-based sauce. But she LOVES most ethnic foods that come packed with flavor and spiciness. She especially loves Mexican and Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese), with a few un-explainable exceptions.
So to her, comfort foods DO NOT include soups, stews, pot pie, roast beef or chicken, or pretty much any American food. Mapo tofu, however, is one of her very favorite meals. It is packed full of mouth-tingling flavor! And tofu (which is the blandest thing ever, but provides a nice texture in the spicy sauce).
Mapo Tofu (also spelled mabodofu) is a Szechuan dish that we first came to love while living in Japan. It is made with ground pork, tofu, chili paste, onions, garlic, and other Asian seasonings. The best place we have ever eaten it is in a Szechuan restaurant in Beijing; it was so spicy it was hard to swallow, but soooo good. When we moved back to the US, I needed to find a way to make it from scratch.
In addition to other ingredients, I use a few tablespoons of this spicy bean sauce to flavor my mapo tofu. This requires a special trip to an Asian market for me, but that is one of my favorite outings, and the family loves it when I also come home with Aloe drinks, ramune, and senbei snacks.
Part of the flavor of this dish comes from ground Szechuan peppercorns, which are unique because they are not especially spicy (that quality comes from other ground peppers). But they cause a slightly numbing sensation to your tongue when you eat them.
So as our weekend forecast is for cold and snow, this is what our Little J hopes to see on the menu!