Making a really good meatless rendition of Sichuan mapo tofu has eluded me for years. Many of the versions I’ve tried used mushroom to mimic the ground beef or pork. The result was texturally off. I’d tried combining shiitake with white mushroom but it was so strong tasting, woodsy more than anything else. Plus, the mushroom cooked up dark, making the dish totally not like regular mapo tofu. The savory depth and richness of the ground meat that’s used in mapo tofu was missing.
Then there’s the use of weak chile bean sauce. You really need the punchy stuff from Sichuan if you want to makes something that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the conventional version of mapo tofu.
I was looking for a result that looked and tasted quite similar to the real deal. I was looking for a dish that could satisfy by culinarily punking your eyes and palate. That is no easy feat. I know that because I've been trying and thinking for some time.