This dish, known as Ma Lan Tou Spiced Tofu, is typically served in Shanghai. Ma Lan Xiang Gan or liang ban xiang gan ma lan tou translates to “cold tossed fragrant tofu and ma lan tou” in Chinese.
The main ingredient, ma lan tou, is a fragrant vegetable that, when mixed with cold spicy tofu, provides for a deliciously light and refreshing summertime meal.
Due to its relative rarity outside of China, if we come across this chilly dish we almost always eat it as an appetizer. This meal is not just common in Shanghai, but also in Beijing and other major cities across China, where you may find restaurants serving Shanghainese food.
Herbal in nature, ma lan tou has a flavor resembling that of chrysanthemum leaves but is much more subtle.
Technically known as Kalimeris Indica, Indian Aster, or Indian Kalimeris, we were unable to locate ma lan tou in any US marketplaces. However, we were able to locate online resources selling both seeds and live plants (for those of you who enjoy home gardening).
To learn more about this aromatic vegetable and where to find some, please go to our item on Chinese Leafy Greens.
DRIED TOFU WITH SPICES
Now let’s move on to the dish’s other mainstay: the dry tofu that has been seasoned with spices. As you can see from our Tofu & Bean Curd Ingredients page, dried tofu comes in a wide variety of textures, shapes, and flavors.
Since the aromatic ma lan tou flavor is meant to shine through, it is important to choose a dried tofu with a subtle flavor for this meal.
Not everyone can’t produce these vegetables specifically for this dish, so feel free to use alternative fragrant vegetables such as fresh celery leaves, tong ho (chrysanthemum leaves), or a combination of Shanghai bok choy leaves and cilantro in their place.
The ingredients for this recipe are open to your interpretation, so use whatever you have on hand.
- 340g of ma lan tou
- 115g of dried spiced tofu
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- Remove any yellow leaves from the ma lan tou and give it a good wash. In our household, we prefer to wash our greens three times before eating them.
- Blanch the ma lan tou for about 15 seconds in hot water, or until just wilted, in a wok. Cool in an ice bath right away.
- The vegetables should be rinsed well and then the excess water drained and squeezed out using a sieve. When you’re done, you’ll have a few ma lan tou.
- Finely cut the vegetables while keeping them together as much as possible. Tofu should be cubed into bite-sized pieces, as seen in the photo.
- Toss the tofu and ma lan tou with the salt, sugar, and oil in a mixing dish. Combine in depth. If you wish to tone down the strong aroma of the sesame oil, use only one teaspoon and add two teaspoons of peanut oil instead.
- Slowly add the salt, sugar, and sesame oil; after 10 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference after allowing the flavors to combine. I ran the amounts in this recipe by Judy’s mom to make sure they were right, and she said it was spot on for how Shanghaiese like it (salty with a touch of sweetness).
- Fancy it up by lightly packing the mixture into a mold (we used a rice bowl), flipping it over onto your serving dish, and eating it!