If you’re not familiar with Sichuan cooking, and especially with the weird numbing effects of Sichuan peppercorns, mapo tofu might come on a little strong at first, but the generous dose of heat combined with the literally mouthwatering tingling from the Sichuan pepper make it all kinds of exhilarating.
3Tablespoonsof red chile bean paste (I used Korean gochujang, since that's what was in my fridge, though Pixian toban jiang is probably ideal. You can also use chile-garlic sauce if that's what you have on hand)
1Tablespoonof jarred fermented black beans
1Tablespoonof soy sauce
1 1/3cupsof water
3scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2Tablespoonsof cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
Put one of the packages of tofu in the freezer and freeze for at least 24 hours. Remove from the freezer and thaw. (If you want to speed the thawing process up some, you can put it the package in a bowl of warm water for an hour.) Open the package, drain the tofu, and, working over a colander to catch any bits that might fall off, press the block of tofu between your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Rinse under cold running water, and squeeze again, repeating until the water coming out of the block is clear. Gather the tofu into a ball and squeeze out as much water as you can, then crumble until it looks like ground meat. Set aside.
Open and drain the other package of tofu. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces, put into a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes (during which time you can get all your other prep done), and set aside.
Put the Sichuan peppercorns in a skillet, turn the heat to medium, and toast, tossing frequently, until fragrant and slightly darkened, around 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, and grind to a powder in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. (Or put the peppercorns in a plastic bag, and use the bottom of a small pan to grind them.) Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. When hot, add the crumbled tofu to the pan and stir fry until slightly browned, around 1-2 minutes. (Some will stick to the bottom of the pan, most likely - don't worry too much about that, though try to scrape up what you can while stir-frying.) Add the ginger, chile flakes, red chile paste, and fermented black beans. Stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and soy sauce, stir to combine, then add the cubed tofu and toss to coat. Add the water and let the mixture cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the scallions and stir to combine. Stir up the cornstarch and water, then add to the pan. Stir in the ground Sichuan pepper, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve with steamed rice.