Healthier Mapo Tofu

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The other day I had a craving for Mapo Tofu. For the uninitiated, this is a humble Chinese dish made of soft tofu, ground meat and a healthy dose of spice. I think the first time I had it was in college, served piping hot from one of the many food trucks that would gather near campus during lunch time. To the poor college student, less than $5 for a heaping serving of each dish plus a drink was a happy escape from cafeteria food.
Mapo Tofu is one of those dishes that speaks of comfort. The silky tofu snuggles into the well spiced ground meat. The potent sauce spreads out and soaks into the rice. You keep eating quickly so the burn becomes and dull roar in your mouth. Mmmmmmmm….
I read a bunch of recipes online and decided to email my college roommate, Deb, who is part Chinese, for some tips. She quickly came back to me with a simple set of guidelines. Soft tofu + ground meat + ginger + onion + chinese black bean sauce. Add dried chilis if you want more of kick.
With this in mind, I put together the recipe below. It’s a healthier take on the traditional dish, but definitely does not lack for flavor! Also, you will notice I did not use black bean sauce. This was b/c I thought I had black bean sauce at home, but ended up only having oyster sauce! D’oh. Luckily, the oyster sauce worked really well in this case. Those of you out there who are more familiar with Chinese food can let me know if this flavor is too far off from traditional Mapo Tofu, but I think it was pretty damn tasty!
Servings: 5-6

  • 1 block silken soft tofu
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 2 scallions/green onions
  • 4 dried red chili peppers
  • 2 TB oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 TB gojuchan/sriracha/sambal olek/other chili sauce
  • olive oil
  • salt


  1. Finely mince garlic & ginger. Dice the tofu & bell pepper. Chop up the green onions. Arrange each ingredient on some plates for easy access when you start cooking.


  1. In a small bowl, combine the oyster sauce, sesame oil, water, gojuchan/chili paste and stir until dissolved. Set bowl to the side.
  2. In a wok, heat up olive oil to very hot. Add the minced garlic & ginger. Stir and cook about 2 min until garlic is golden and it smells amazing!
  3. Add the ground turkey to the pan  and stir to break it up. Cook the turkey til it is browned and cooked through. Drain out any excess oil. Keep the burner on.
  4. Add the sauce in the small bowl to the hot pan and stir to distribute. Add the bell pepper and cook for about 3—4 minutes. The pepper should be juuuust starting to lose the bright green color.
  5. Add the diced tofu and carefully stir to distribute. Don’t overstir as the silken tofu will break up too much. It’s ok if it breaks up some!! Cook for another 5 min.
  6. Taste the dish to see if it needs any extra salt. Turn off the heat. Add the scallions and give it another gentle stir. Serve immediately over rice, or, if you want a healthier option, some plain cooked quinoa!


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