Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion 
Korean red pepper paste adds heat to this Mapo tofu recipe.

Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion Korean red pepper paste adds heat to this Mapo tofu recipe.

A spicy meal to burn away the sadness

This hearty meal can be adjusted to be as mild or spicy as you wish

For the past year I’ve been chasing a dream I thought would be easily mine. Having already accomplished this goal once before without effort, I had no doubts that, once again, all I would have to do is decide the time was right and the events would be set in motion, but it seems my luck ran out.

Three times this year I have been shown my prize only to have it suddenly wrenched from my hopeful hands, a painful ache left in its place to add insult to my injury, and nothing left to do but wait and try again. Each consecutive tragedy raises the stakes in my heart, and this most recent loss left me shattered.

I paced circles through my kitchen for hours and wailed in vocal agony, sadness turned to despair, and ice was left inside. I won’t give up, but my hope might have already.

In these times of mourning, I barricade myself inside my mind and think of little else. Time stops, the world stops turning around me, and for days I exist in a miserable fog.

In this state I cannot dream of eating, but the possibility of future success depends upon my health, so I made myself the spiciest meal I could to burn the grief from my body, slap me painfully back to my senses, and bring me back to life.

This hearty meal can be adjusted to be as mild or spicy as you wish with the addition or omission of Korean red pepper powder.

Ingredients:

8 ounces meat cut into small cubes, or 1 pound mushrooms, sliced. Pork belly or pork shoulder is traditional, but shiitake mushrooms are an excellent alternative.

1 block soft or silken tofu, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ of a large white onion, finely chopped

6 stalks green onion, chopped Reserve some for garnish.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons Korean red pepper paste

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Salt and black pepper to taste

Korean red pepper powder — as much or as little as you can handle. I added 1 heaping teaspoon to my plate at the very end to spare my family from the flames. For a mild version, omit entirely.

Directions:

Heat your oil in a large pan, or a wok if you have one, and briefly fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant.

Add the meat, season with salt and pepper, and stir fry until cooked.

Add the onion, green onion, mushrooms (if using) and red pepper paste and stir fry for 3 minutes.

Add 1 cup of your chicken or vegetable stock and soy sauce and bring to a simmer.

Add the tofu and gently stir.

Using the rest of the stock, make a slurry with the cornstarch and add to the pot.

Cook until thickened and serve.

You can either add the red pepper powder on top of your finished plate, like I did, or to the pot when you add the red pepper paste.

Garnish with green onion.

Serve on top of steamed rice.

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