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Ron St. Angelo  /  P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Chef John Hrinkevich is in charge of nearly 20 restaurants.
By "Today" Food Editor
updated 5/24/2005 10:46:52 AM ET 2005-05-24T14:46:52

In this special weekly feature, “Today” food editor Phil Lempert brings you recipes “stolen” (with permission) from notable restaurants across America. See how much money you can save — and fun you can have — by cooking these dishes at home!

THIS WEEK:  Ma Po Tofu, from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in Dallas, Texas

The use of tofu in cooking has become more and more popular in recent years, not just for vegetarians but also for a population that is becoming more health-conscious. 

A high-protein, low-fat food made from soybeans, tofu has long been used in Far Eastern cooking and is a favorite on the menu at P.F. Chang’s Chinese Bistro, a rapidly expanding chain of restaurants with headquarters in Arizona. That’s where we get this week’s “stolen” recipe, Ma Po Tofu, a dish of crispy silken tofu in a spicy vegetarian sauce. It is served with steamed broccoli.

About the chef:
John Hrinkevich joined P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in 1997 as executive chef of the North Park branch in Dallas, Texas.  In 2001, Hrinkevich was promoted to market chef and is responsible for the culinary operations, training, development and quality control of 19 restaurants in Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Louisiana.

“You can always count on two things at P.F. Chang’s,” says Hrinkevich. “Every dish is made to order using the freshest, highest quality ingredients, and we are all about wok cooking.

“Wok cooking is unlike any other style of cooking,” he adds. “We build the flavor of each dish using aromatics and spices which the Chinese call bao syang or ‘exploding into fragrance.’  The sauce ingredients are added and then the vegetables and proteins. This is all done under very high heat and very quickly, giving the finished dish the ‘breath of the wok’ or ‘wok hey.’ ” 

Hrinkevich makes his home in South Lake, Texas, with his wife and two daughters.

(PLEASE NOTE: Ingredient prices are estimates and based on national averages. Amounts listed are for one portion. Increase proportionately according to number of portions desired.)

Ma Po Tofu
($6.95 at P.F. Chang’s; cook-at-home cost is $3.25)

1 small block tofu ($1.65)
2 tablespoons canola oil ($0.04)
1 tablespoon Sichuan pepper-corn oil ($0.17)
2 tablespoons Sichuan chili bean paste ($0.28)
2 tablespoons Sichuan preserved vegetable ($0.12)
1 tablespoon fermented black beans ($0.05)
1 teaspoon ground Sichuan chilies ($0.11)
1 cup vegetable stock ($0.55)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar ($0.03)
2 teaspoons soy sauce ($0.05)
2 scallions, chopped ($0.18)
4 tablespoons cornstarch ($0.02)
6 tablespoons water

Ron St. Angelo  /  P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Cook tofu in simmering salted water for a minimum of 3 minutes, then strain well and reserve. Tofu is also known as soybean curd or bean curd. Small blocks, packed in water, can be found in some supermarkets and most Asian markets. Tofu has a texture that is soft and silky yet is firm enough to slice. One-inch diced cubes are best for this recipe.

Next, use a hot wok to heat both oils and chili bean paste. Cook over medium heat for 30 seconds, then add preserved vegetable, black beans and ground chilies. Cook for an additional 20 seconds. These Sichuan items can be purchased from an Asian market. (Here are some suggestions if you wish to substitute the Sichuan items: Canola oil can be used in place of the pepper-corn oil. Miso and chili paste can be mixed together to form a chili bean paste, and kosher dills are a good substitute for Sichuan preserved vegetables.)

Next, add the stock, sugar, soy sauce and tofu, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add scallions and simmer an additional 30 seconds. Mix together the cornstarch and water, then add to the mixture in the wok one small bit at a time until it reaches desired thickness.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro
225 North Park Center
Dallas, TX 75225
(214) 265-8669
www.pfchangs.com

Want to nominate your favorite restaurant dish for a "Steal This Recipe" feature? Just e-mail Phil at Phil.Lempert@nbc.com (or use the mail box below) with the name of the restaurant, city and state, and the dish you would like to have re-created. Want to know more about Phil and food? Visit his Web site at www.supermarketguru.com.

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