I'm a spicy gal. The more heat the better. And yet, I couldn't decide for a long time whether I liked the tingly sensation of Szechuan peppers on my tongue. It was so distracting at first. I focused on the prickly heat, and couldn't taste the food.
Fortunately, living in Chinatown, I've had plenty of opportunities to get used to Szechuan peppers and grow to love it....in moderation. When it gets to be too much, I gulp down some carbonated water. The bubbles tackle the tingles on my tongue.
Recently, I bought a package of whole Szechuan peppers from the Asian market beneath the Manhattan Bridge (Shh! It's a secret, magical place) and decided to try my hand at ma po tofu. I used Fuchsia Dunlop's wisdom in "Land of Plenty" to make this one. It's a spicy dish, and the tingles are definitely there, but aren't overwhelming. —GSmodden
firm tofu cut into cubes
garlic cloves minced
leeks thinly sliced, sans green bits
chili bean paste
fermented black beans
Szechuan whole peppers, pounded into coarse powder or ground into finer powder
While the tofu soaks, pour the oil into a deep skillet or wok over high heat. Stir fry the pork. Turn the heat down a bit and throw in the garlic and leeks. When it starts to smell delicious, add in the chili bean paste, black beans, and Sichuan pepper. Stir the mixture some, and let the flavors meld.
Pour in the stock.
Drain the tofu and dump that in ... but don't stir! You'll break up the beautiful cubes. Use the back of your ladle to move the pieces around gently.
Add the sugar, soy sauce, and salt (if needed). Let the mixture simmer some more (~5 mins).
Now put in the cornstarch mixture, but bit by bit. You may not need all of it. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of your ladle.
Serve while its still hot, fresh off the burners, with some white rice, garnished with scallions and a bit more Szechuan pepper powder...if you dare.