Friday, March 11, 2011

Banana is Anna for Banchan

It is finally time to write the story of banchan. I have two visitors coming, and one of them definitely likes banchan. They are almost here. The cooking is done. I better write fast!

Banchan is actually ma po tofu. This is a vegetarian version that actually has almost nothing to do with actual ma po tofu, which usually is with ground pork and has Szechuan pepper. This version was taken a very long time ago from a cookbook on Chinese cooking written in Japanese that el Ponja translated since he can read Japanese. One of the essential ingredients in ma po tofu is a black bean chile paste called tobanjan. El Ponja has several cats back in Japan, one of which is named Banchan (aka Antonio Banderas). Now for some reason, in my head ma po tofu, tobanjan, and banchan were all swimming about indistinguishably. So after we made the first, in what came to be several, batches of ma po tofu, I was reminiscing about how good it was, and said, "mmmm that banchan was good, we should make some more." And henceforth, ma po tofu is Banchan. Maybe this is only interesting because of how much banchan we ate back then.

Here is what is needed:
1 clove garlic, minced.
150g or 1/2 package of Quorn ground beef style meat substitute

1-3 Tbsp Tobanjan. The original recipe calls for Lan Chi brand, but this has been difficult to find at times. I just found it again at one of the Boston Whole Foods though!

1 cup boiling water (have ready to go in advance)
1 package of Extra Firm Silken Tofu, cubed
1 tsp sugar
1.5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cooking wine

1-2 scallions, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp Potato starch, dissolved in half a cup of cold water

Heat a wok or broad, deep skillet until it starts to smoke. Add a few Tbsp of the cooking oil of your choice, then the minced garlic and the Quorn. Cook on high heat for several minutes, browning the Quorn. Add the tobanjan and stir.

Next add the 1 cup of boiling water, cubed tofu, soy sauce, cooking wine, and sugar. While everyone is getting to know each other in the pot, you can mince the scallions. Add the scallions to the top of the pot, without stirring, letting them cook in the steam.

The last step is to take the the dissolved potato starch and slowly add to the mixture. Do this in three batches to prevent clumping. The potato starch serves to thicken the sauce, and you can add as much or as little as you like. Your banchan is now ready to serve! I prefer it over sushi rice. Not sure why, but I find it goes best with beer from a can.