Chinese Ma Lan Tou (Kalimeris Indica) Tofu Salad 涼伴香乾馬蘭頭
By Ellen L.Published: 2015-12-01
This special little dish, the Chinese Ma Lan Tou (Kalimeris Indica) Tofu Salad, or 涼伴香乾馬蘭頭, is one of my personal favorite vegetable dishes of Shanghainese cuisine. It reminds me, in its simple yet very presentable ethereal grace of those Shanghai ladies of old, so classy with their beautiful cheongsams, not a permed hair out of place, delicately floating by trailing scents of flowers and soap. Never before and since have Chinese ladies looked so good! (In my humble opinion, that is.)
I, much to my regret, only discovered this dish relatively recently when my 媽媽 took me to an old style Shanghai restaurant one lovely day. You know, the kind with lacy white curtains covering the windows. And she blithely ordered the Ma Lan Tou Tofu Salad. It came out of the kitchen looking very humble and green in its small dish. I was like, meh, what is this chopped up veg? I then had a taste and did a double double take. Wow!! And then proceeded to scold my 媽媽 (poor thing!) for not telling me about Ma Lan Tou... How did I not know about this!
(I know, I know, as if she could tell me about everything... But she could try, amiright?)
So it was that when we discovered a fresh supply of the vegetable that makes this dish unique, the singular Ma Lan Tou 馬蘭頭 or Kalimeris Indica, we were ecstatic! Right away we knew exactly what had to be done! Off to the chopping board we marched!
We unearthed the Ma Lan Tou Kalimeris Indica, or 馬蘭頭, at the fabulous Shanghai foodstuffs store in Causeway Bay, Shanghai Lao San Yang 老三陽. If you like to cook Shanghai style food, this is the store for you! They have everything delicious and Shanghai there that you could possibly want, plus a bit more. They have really, really good Jinhua Ham and we also get our Chinese Pickled Yellow Mud Clam 黄泥螺 there, yum, yum!
|Kalimeris Indica by the roadside|
The Ma Lan Tou 馬蘭頭 originally grew as a wild flower plant by the waysides of the old Chinese roads, the fields and hillsides. They have, as you can see, the most lovely little purple daisy like flowers. It also has value in Chinese medicine, being cooling and detoxifying. (Warning: Don't eat when pregnant.)
It's not easy to source fresh Ma Lan Tou 馬蘭頭 in Hong Kong. Actually we've never seen it in the wet markets or supermarkets. So we were super excited to discover this source which enabled us to make this delicious Ma Lan Tou Tofu Salad. This dish is usually quite pricey (and small servings) at restaurants and what a joy to be able to eat as much of this deliciousness at we wanted!
The taste of Ma Lan Tou Kalimeris Indica is slightly bitter, slightly grassy, kinda herby. A very unique taste. Rather like how unique the taste of rocket is. (I love rocket, don't you?) Doesn't sound like much when I describe it thus but trust me, it's delicioso! A bit of salt, sugar and a splash of high quality 100% sesame oil makes this simple dish magical and addictive.
Dried tofu, or 豆腐干or 豆干, is tofu that has most of the water pressed out of it. The resulting texture is firm, meat like, a bit rubbery and squeaky between your teeth when you bite. I like to get the dried tofu, 豆腐干, that is flavored with five spice. A bit more flavor is always welcome!
Dried tofu can be bought at your local chinese/asian grocery store and also at your local wet market tofu vendor. They are precooked and ready to eat. You can also use dried tofu, cut into slices, as a part of a stir fry to add great textural contrast. Tofu, dried or not, is bland in taste but great at picking up the flavors of the other food that it is cooked with.
I suppose the only hard part of this dish is the chopping. You have to really get in there with your sharp knife and chop the ma lan tou and the dried tofu up pretty fine. This is important to achieve the proper smooth and silky texture of the dish. A extra benefit of all that chopping is that you can then create, with your finely minced salad, any number of interesting shapes for your plating presentation. Just pack your Ma Lan Tou Tofu Salad 涼伴香乾馬蘭頭 into an cone or cup and invert onto a pretty dish. Ta-da! An edible tower of jade!
Shanghai Ma Lan Tou Kalimeris Indica Tofu Salad Recipe 涼伴香乾馬蘭頭
3 squares dried tofu 豆腐干or 豆干
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soy sauce (optional, I like the added flavor)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil
Wash Ma Lan Tou, then blanch briefly in boiling water until just limp. Remove, drain and immediately rinse thoroughly with cold water, squeeze dry and finely chop.
Finely chop dried tofu. Mix together with the chopped Kalimeris Indica. Add salt, soy sauce (optional), sugar and sesame oil. Toss until well mixed. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Cover and keep in fridge until ready to use. For serving, pack tightly into bowl or cup and invert onto presentation dish.
Tip: If you can't find it at your grocers you can buy Ma Lan Tou Kalimeris Indica here and grow it in your garden and harvest it for years. (Thanks to our reader Dingyi for the great tip!)
Greens Galore at The Hong Kong Cookery:
Stir Fry Chinese Pea Shoots 炒豆苗
Stir Fry Lotus Root and Chives 韭菜花炒蓮藕
Spinach with Gold & Silver Eggs 金银蛋菠菜