I went to China for the first time in 2019 and spent a week in Chengdu, where Mapo Tofu is a speciality. I fell in love with all the Sichuan flavors and recreated this dish in a vegan version. Usually there is fried ground pork or beef in the chili oil over tofu, but in this case I used millet and shiitake mushrooms to create that texture. The Sichuan peppercorns, along with doubanjiang (fermented broad bean and chili paste), are essential to the recipe. You can find them in Chinese markets or online.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring a pot of water to a boil and set up a bowl of ice water.
Cook the gai lan in the boiling water, 3 minutes, then plunge into the ice water to cool. Drain and pat dry.
Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil and the shiitake mushrooms to a 12-inch cast-iron pan and stir to coat the mushrooms. Put the pan into the oven and roast, stirring as needed, until slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly before roughly chopping. Set aside until ready to use.
Heat a medium saucepan on medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil. Add the millet and toast, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add half of the chives to sweat for a minute. Add 1 tablespoon doubanjiang and 3 cups water. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. (Add more water if it is cooked out and the millet is too al dente).
Meanwhile, in a wok or wide saucepan, add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chives, along with the ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and stir to combine. Add the Shaoxing, dark soy sauce, sugar and remaining tablespoon doubanjiang and continue to cook until heated through, adding a little water if it becomes too dry.
Combine the two mixtures together and add the Sichuan peppercorns and soy sauce to season. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with the tofu, chile oil and gai lan. Garnish with the peanuts, crispy shallots, cilantro and more chives. Add a pinch of ground Sichuan peppercorns over the top.