Inspired by delicious mapo tofu, this vegan mapo beans dish adds sweet and nutty notes by substituting speckled calico lima beans for the tofu: a distinctly different flavour, texture, and nutrition profile.
Mapo tofu is perhaps the most well known Sichuan dish outside of China. It appears on menus in a diverse range of settings. And for a good reason. It is a delicious dish. Not that all mapo tofu dishes are created equal. Omitting critical ingredients like the chilli bean paste, fermented black beans, or Sichuan pepper is not uncommon and results in a decidedly inferior dish. These three ingredients do give mapo tofu its “special sauce.”
Tofu, like rice, is a vehicle for the flavours it accompanies. So can we retain the unique characteristics of the mapo special sauce and swap out the tofu for another relatively neutral but protein-rich “vehicle”? Why not! And beans make a great substitute. Speckled calico lima beans (aka Christmas lima beans) have a slightly creamy texture and a sweet and nutty taste profile not dissimilar to chestnuts. A perfect combination for this special sauce.
Fresh or dried, to soak or not to soak
I was lucky enough to be able to get fresh speckled calico lima beans. Of course, you can use dried speckled calico lima beans or other sorts of dried beans. You will need 300-400 g of dried beans, depending on how old and dry they are. Many recipes and cookbooks recommend soaking dried beans overnight before cooking them. There is some debate about this. Best read this article first.
Other bean recipes on delectabilia recommend soaking overnight, such as this amazing Black Bean Wellington. As with so many things in cooking, there is seldom a “right way”. Experiment, and see what works for you.
And if you cannot get speckled calico lima beans? Different beans will contribute different flavours and texture to this mapo beans dish. Using cannellini beans, for example, would result in a similar creamy texture but would not provide the same sweet and nutty flavours. Using garbanzo beans would bring nuttiness, but they do not have that same creamy mouthfeel. A combination of these two beans would likely work very well. Try it and let me know.
Non-vegan mapo tofu typically includes ground pork. This vegan mapo beans dish swaps out the pork and replaces it with some umami-rich shiitake mushrooms. The depth and complexity of the sauce will inevitably lead you to use it in even more exciting combos, such as these Sweating New Zealand Mussels.
Vegan Mapo Beans
- 600 g fresh speckled calico lima beans aka Christmas lima beans
- 1 carrot
- 2 onions
- 10 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 200 g fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 3 Tbsp chilli bean paste Doubanjiang
- 2 Tbsp fermented black beans
- 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 Tbsp chilli flakes
- 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns finely ground
- 2 tsp sugar
- 5 spring onions
- 2 Tbsp corn starch
- 2 Tbsp water
- Chilli oil
- Clean the carrot and cut into quarters length-wise.
- Peel the onion, keeping the root end intact. Cut into halves (the root end will help hold the onion together.
- Add the carrot quarters and onion halves to a saucepan.
- Peel the garlic. Bash 2 cloves of garlic and add to the saucepan.
- Add the speckled calico lima beans to the saucepan, along with the bay leaf and vegetable stock (or chicken stock).
- Add enough water so that the beans are just covered. (About 2 cups)
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the beans are soft and creamy but not yet breaking apart.
- Remove from the heat, and allow to cool.
- Crush the other 8 cloves of garlic.
- Wash the spring onions, then cut off the and dice finely.
- Cut the green parts of the spring onions into pieces 20-30mm long.
- If the fermented black beans are whole (as opposed to mashed up in a jar) then mash them up a bit.
- Remove the carrots, onion, and bay leaf from the saucepan containing the beans.
- Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a wok and add the grated ginger and diced white parts of the spring onion to cook for 30-40 seconds or so.
- Add the finely diced shiitake mushrooms (or ground pork or both!) to the wok and fry until just starting to brown.
- Add the chilli bean paste, fermented black beans, the rice wine or sherry, the crushed garlic, and the chilli powder to the wok. Continue to stir fry until very fragrant, 2 or 3 minutes.
- Pour in the beans and the cooking liquid. Add 1 tsp of ground Sichuan pepper, and the 2 tsp of sugar.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Mix the 2 Tbsp corn starch with the 2 Tbsp water to form a slurry.
- Add half of the cornstarch slurry to the simmering broth, stirring constantly.
- Allow to continue cooking for 5 minutes. If it is not thick enough, repeat with the other half of the cornstarch slurry.
- Serve topped with the green parts of the spring onions, and sprinkling on the other tsp of Sichuan pepper, as well as some chilli oil.