The weekend is a blink away and summer mornings are perfect for ambitious brunch plans. So what better way to celebrate a Friday in July than with a delicious and surprisingly simple brunch recipe? This Mapo Tofu Frittata may seem complex and yes, it does require a few ingredients that you may or may not be familiar with. But I promise this frittata is as easy to pull off as any other. It just has more fire and moxie than its more pedestrian peers. The truth is complex flavors don’t always require complex techniques. So let’s dive right in.
Have you ever had Mapo Tofu? It’s a fiery dish that hails from the Sichuan province in China. It’s made up of ground pork and silken tofu tossed in a thick, glossy sauce punctuated by Sichuan peppercorns. And if you’ve never experienced the curious, tongue-numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns, you really ought to. They are an adventure unto themselves. And aside from their unique heat, they impart a smokey quality to everything they touch. I use them quite often and I can tell you they are addictive. Definitely worth the trip to an Asian market.
Another key ingredient that may require a special trip – broad bean paste or la doubanjiang. This paste is made from fermented soybeans, broad beans, and chilies. It’s the ingredient that gives mapo tofu its signature color and is a staple of Sichuan cuisine. It’s rich in umami and, unsurprisingly, heat. But a word to the wise, la doubanjiang is quite salty, so go slow when adding this paste to dishes and taste frequently.
The mapo tofu you will find in this Mapo Tofu Frittata is not traditional because it’s vegetarian. In place of ground pork, this mapo tofu features dried wild mushrooms and finely diced fresh shiitakes. Everything else is more or less done by the book. But if you’d rather not mess with the perfection that is classic mapo tofu, I completely understand. Replace the mushrooms with a pound of ground pork, and sub in chicken, pork, or beef stock for the mushroom steeping liquid. The method remains the same.
Now, let’s talk frittatas. If you’ve never made a frittata, allow me to introduce you to the easiest breakfast food you’ll ever meet. Frittatas are like low-maintenance, crustless quiches. And if a crustless quiche sounds joyless to you, let me reassure you, frittatas can be quite decadent. And unlike the quiche where, you know, pastry is involved. Frittatas require whisking, pouring, and baking. That’s it!
Frittatas are also incredibly versatile. It is admittedly a little, um, quirky to put mapo tofu inside a frittata, so if you’re not interested in rocking the brunch boat, feel free to add slightly more classic additions. Various cured meats and cheeses are often popular choices. And whatever veg is in season can find a home in a frittata. Basically, what I’m saying here is a frittata can be anything you want it to be. Or anything the leftovers in your fridge dictate. In my opinion, simple recipes that make use of what you have are the most valuable recipes a person can commit to memory. They will save your butt time and time again.
Okay, but having said all that, I think you should make this Mapo Tofu Frittata straight-up, as written because it is spectacular. And yes, I am biased but I like to think my tastebuds aren’t. Trust me, when I make things that are merely okay or “need work” you don’t see them. And every weird combination you see on this site is not just a vain attempt to differentiate myself. I go in the direction my cravings take me and sometimes they most definitely lead me somewhere gross. There’s a fair amount of risk, trial, and a whole lot of error in cooking fusion. And in the time I’ve been cooking it, I’ve found there is no sense in forcing it. If the flavors don’t work, they don’t work no matter how clever they may look on paper.
Now, finally the salad. I’m not usually a fan of the tack-on side salad but it really seems to work here. Generally, I like my salad to be bursting with personality, lousy with cheese, and meal-sized. But every now and then a simple green salad is all that is called for and this is one of those moments. The Mapo Tofu Frittata is so intense, so loaded with umami that pairing it with anything more aggressive than a pile of greens would be overkill. And serving it alone seems, if I’m honest, a little sad. But a cute little mountain of red leaf lettuce simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt? Well, that just seems kinda classy.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Mapo Tofu Frittata. It’s one of the most memorable brunches I’ve had in a while and I didn’t have to wait in line to get it.
Mapo Tofu Frittata with Green Salad
- Cast iron skillet
Vegetarian Mapo Tofu **
- 14g (0.4oz) dried mixed mushrooms
- 1 cup boiling water
- ¼ cup neutral oil I used canola oil
- 6-8 dried chili peppers
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger minced
- 1 ½ tbsp Sichuan peppercorns ground into a semi-fine powder
- 200g (7oz) shiitake mushrooms stems removed, finely diced
- 2 tbsp La Doubanjiang (spicy broad bean paste)
- 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
- 1 brick medium tofu cut into cubes
Mapo Tofu Frittata
- 6 large eggs
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 1½ tsp all-purposed flour
- 1 tsp kosher salt divided
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 batch Vegetarian Mapo Tofu
- 3 scallions finely sliced
- ½ head red leaf lettuce washed and coarsely chopped
- 2 mini cucumbers thinly sliced
- 3 radishes thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
For the Mapo Tofu
- Place the dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Leave the mushrooms to soak for 30 minutes.
- When the 30 minutes have passed, drain the mushrooms, reserving the steeping liquid. Squeeze the mushrooms to release any excess moisture. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside.
- Pour the oil into a large wok and place over medium-high heat. Add the dried peppers and sauté until fragrant. When the peppers start to turn black, fish them out of the oil using a slotted spoon. Discard.
- Place the garlic, ginger, and peppercorns in the wok and sauté until fragrant. About 30 seconds or so. Add the shiitakes and dried mushrooms and fry until softened. Stir in the la doubanjiang and sauté briefly. Pour in 2/3 cup of the mushroom steeping liquid and bring to a simmer.
- In a small bowl whisk to combine a 1/4 cup of the mushroom steeping liquid and the cornstarch. Pour the mixture into the wok and stir until the sauce thickens. Gently fold in the tofu and cook until heated through. Take the wok off of the heat and set it aside.
For the Frittata
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Grease a cast iron skillet with neutral oil. Pour the Mapo Tofu into the skillet and spread to form an even layer. Set it aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk to combine the eggs, cream, flour, half of the salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the mapo tofu and place over medium heat. Cook until the egg begins to set around the edges of the pan. About 2-3 minutes
- Transfer the frittata to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until set in the center. While the frittata is baking, place the lettuce, cucumber, and radish in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and the remaining salt and toss to coat.
- When the frittata is done, take it out of the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the green salad piled on top or serve on the side.