Mabo Nasu is a mildly spicy, flavour packed eggplant dish influenced by Chinese cuisine. If you're a fan of Mabo Tofu, you're gonna love this dish! I've also used all vegan ingredients for this recipe so it can be enjoyed by everyone who loves a bit of spice!
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What is Mabo Nasu?
Mabo Nasu is a spicy stir fry dish made with eggplant and ground meat (usually pork). It's served in a fragrant sauce flavoured with fresh ginger, garlic and a spicy bean paste called tobanjan. It's most commonly served with rice.
My mabo nasu recipe is really a combination of mabo tofu and mabo nasu. I've taken out the pork mince and made sure to use all vegan friendly ingredients, you're gonna love it!
The origin of Mabo Nasu
Mabo Nasu is a little similar to a dish called "Yú Xiāng" (鱼香茄子), from the south western province of China, called Szechuan. Szechuan is well known for their spicy Szechuan peppers and the dishes that use them.
Yú Xiāng actually means "fish fragrant" in Chinese. This is not because it's fishy, but because it was originally cooked with a sauce meant for fish.
Despite some similarity to Yú Xiāng, Japanese Mabo Nasu is cooked and prepared in the same way as Mapo Tofu, the tofu is simply replaced with eggplant. "Nasu" (ナス) is the Japanese word for eggplant.
Although most Japanese people don't have a high tolerance for spicy food, Szechuan dishes are the most famous Chinese dishes in Japan.
Mabo Nasu became popular after Japanese companies started selling pre-made Chinese style sauces at supermarkets. These sauces are usually quite mild to suit Japanese tastes. Thanks to them, dishes like Mabo Nasu became popular and easy to make at home!
With a dish called Mapo Eggplant, of course you need eggplant for this dish!
I use Japanese eggplant which is characterized by it's deep purple colour and long shape, but most kinds of eggplant work for this recipe.
It's important to leave the skin so that the eggplant pieces hold their shape when cooking.
I also soak the eggplant in cold water with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes, and then dry it with a paper towel before cooking. This helps remove any bitterness from the eggplant and also prevents it from soaking up too much oil when we fry it!
One of the most important ingredients in this dish is called tobanjan (also known as la doubanjian). It’s a spicy fermented bean paste from Szechuan and it’s delicious! It's also often called chili bean paste in English.
I can't say that every tobanjan is suitable for vegetarians, but I used the "Lee Kum Kee" brand tobanjan which doesn't contain any animal products. You can see the full list of ingredients used to make their tobanjan here. (And you can purchase on Amazon here.)
Although you can make this dish simply with eggplants and tofu, I wanted to create a firmer texture. That's why I decided to replace the pork mince with soy meat, also known as "texturized vegetable protein" or TVP.
The great thing about soy meat is, it's quick to cook, has a good texture and absorbs flavours really well!
I'm happy that soy meat is becoming more popular in Japan these days. There's so many recipes I wanna try!
I also add some crushed nuts for a bit of added crunch! You can use cashews, peanuts or macadamia nuts!