Anything but Leftover

With about half the heaping mound still staring back at me, my enthusiasm began to flag. Fragrant, glistening vaguely in the afternoon light, it was some of the most genuinely meaty dumpling filling I had ever prepared, and yet I couldn’t muster the patience to keep stuffing it into those tiny little wrappers. The final total of “40 – 50” is admittedly a wild estimate, a complete stab in the dark if we’re being honest, because I never made it to either of those numbers. An extra set of hands would do wonders on a recipe like this; simple but time consuming, demanding few skills but undivided attention. Giving up on the project never crossed my mind, but it became abundantly clear that there would be leftover filling.

This is not what I’d call leftovers, bearing the negative connotations of unwanted extras. Before neatly packing everything away for a later date, the next recipe was already jumping about through my synapses, the full procedure and list of ingredients unraveling itself in my brain. Perhaps we can call this concept an alternative preparation, since it’s worth making the original filling to enjoy, with or without any dumplings in mind.

Mapo tofu won’t win any beauty contests, but someone who turns down this dish based on looks is making a terrible mistake. Packing in umami flavor with ease, the soft cubes of tofu bear a spicy bite, swimming in a meaty stew of chili-spiked seitan. Naturally, my approach is far from authentic, spanning a number of Asian cultures just through the ingredients.

Malaysian sambal oelek brings the heat while a spoonful of Chinese fermented black beans add their characteristic salty and savory twang. You could jump borders again and opt for a Japanese soy sauce, if you were after a genuine cultural melting pot… But it would taste just as delicious no matter what. Mapo tofu is the kind of dish that a cook would really have to try to mess up. Go ahead, experiment with sriracha instead of the sambal, dark miso paste instead of black beans; after it all simmers together and melds as one, it’s all good.

Yield: Makes 3 - 4 Servings

Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu

Packing in umami flavor with ease, the soft cubes of tofu bear a spicy bite, swimming in a meaty stew of chili-spiked seitan.


  • 1 1/2 Cups Seitan Dumpling Filling
  • 1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal, Divided
  • 1 - 3 Tablespoons Sambal Oelek
  • 1/2 Cup Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth or Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons Fermented Black Bean Paste
  • 2 - 3 Tablespoons Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Brown Rice Syrup or Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Pound Soft Tofu, Drained


  1. Prepare the ground seitan according to the dumpling recipe and set aside.
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a medium stock pot or large saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and ginger once the oil is shimmering and quickly saute, just until fragrant and lightly browned. Add the prepared seitan mixture into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the black pepper, two of the sliced scallions, the first tablespoon of sambal oelek, broth, and cornstarch. Beat out any lumps of starch so that the liquid is perfectly smooth before using it to deglaze the hot pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula to make sure nothing sticks or burns, and turn down the heat to medium-low.
  4. Stir in the black bean paste, first two tablespoons of soy sauce, and brown rice syrup. Let it cook and mingle for a minute or two before giving it a taste; add more sambal or soy sauce as desired, but as you adjust seasonings, don’t even think of reaching for the salt shaker. These are all very salty ingredients, and you’ll end up with something inedible if you don’t manage the sodium level very carefully.
  5. Once you’re pleased with the flavors developing, cut your tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and gently lower them into the stew. Soft tofu is rather fragile, so don’t go haphazardly stirring the whole mixture and smashing them to bits. Rather, use your spatula to fold everything together.
  6. Continue to cook until the liquid has thickened and reaches a rapid bubble. Let cool for a few minutes before topping with the remaining sliced scallions, and serve with white rice (or any other cooked grain) if desired.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 297Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1172mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 3gSugar: 11gProtein: 23g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.


23 thoughts on “Anything but Leftover

  1. I am just about to attempt to make some seitan and was looking for recipes to use it up with. Cheers for what looks to be a solid flavour punch. My kind of meal :)

  2. I’ve never made dumplings because I know the tediousness of stuffing them would drive me CRAZY. I much prefer this delicious deconstructed approach!

  3. I love using leftovers in a creative & tasty way, just like you did! :) Well done you! :)
    A pretty & tasty looking recipe! :) Yummmmm! x

    1. The chilies come in from the sambal oelek. I always have it on hand so it’s easier than remembering to get fresh chilies every time I want something with a bit of spice. :)

  4. This sounds so similar to what I made for dinner tonight! We must be sharing brain waves. Something about this kind of sauce is just so satisfying and savory. I used coconut aminos and coconut sugar in my sauce, but I love the idea of the brown rice syrup!

  5. This is hardly how leftovers look like. I won’t use the word on that as well.
    I love mapo tofu and they may not look pretty (actually you managed to photographed these really nicely!)..but the taste more than make up for it.

  6. There was a year some time back when i loved mapo tofu and would eat it every few times when out.. some decent.. some not so.. i need to make my own and amp up all that flavor!! this looks delicious

  7. I have to admit, this looks really good, but I think the Malaysian sambal oelek might be a little too much for me. I can stand a little heat, but this sounds like something I would leave out of it if I make it. Thank you for the recipe.

  8. Nice! I’ve had mapo tofu made with turkey before– which is also unusual– but then I just had my first ever vegan version of it last week! (Someone brought it to my potluck engagement party. :) I think my friends who made it actually just used a bunch of tofu, and mashed up half of it (to be “the meat”) and left the other half in larger cubes, but using some seitan for that stewy texture sounds like a great idea, too!

  9. This sounds great! Question: do you just use the ground seitan/mushrooms/scallions from the dumpling recipe without the seasonings, or the prepared mixture with the seasonings here?

    1. Seitans, mushrooms, seasonings and all! I really did have lots of filling after getting it all prepped to go, so it ended up having another built-in layer of flavor for the next dish. :)

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