Grappling the Bear’s Paw with Fuchsia Dunlop (and Stir-Fried Green Soy Beans)

Bear's Paw Tofu

No, the color isn’t off. The brand of chili bean paste we used was just really, really red.

While we wait for the magical time Gourmandistan can plant its flag (and food-eating faces) somewhere in Asia, we at least have Fuchsia Dunlop. Her cookbooks have been a main gateway to Gourmandistan’s greater understanding of Chinese food and culture. We find Dunlop’s recipes so useful we months ago rush-ordered her new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, from the UK, not content to wait for its recent release in the USA.

Every Grain of Rice focuses on dishes Dunlop says are “cheap,” “simple” and “extravagantly savoury” (the British version has all the cool spellings). One of our favorites so far has been Bear’s Paw Tofu (recipe here, following interview). Robust with chili bean paste, garlic, ginger and scallions, it makes a great meal. As so far our tofu slices have been barely bear paw-ish in appearance, we realize now we need a tofu that is softer than the local-ish firm variety we’ve been using, and look forward to trying the recipe again. With or without the optional ground pork, it’s delicious!

Bear's Paw Tofu

At a recent meal we paired our un-ursine entree with a side of Stir-Fried Green Soy Beans. We did not have any of the “snow vegetable” called for in the original (though Steve plans to look for some at an Asian market soon), but Michelle added some tiny squares of fresh red pepper and it came out quite scrumptiously.

Stir-Fried Soy Beans

Someday, we swear we’ll take on Indian cuisine. But China is a very big place—and with Fuchsia’s help, we’re going to try and cook our way through it.


(adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking)

  • 2-3 TB peanut oil
  • 5 dried chilis
  • 12 oz. shelled green soy beans (edamame), thawed if frozen
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into small dice
  • Sichuan peppercorns, ground
  • Salt
  • Drizzle of sesame oil

Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add dried chilis, tossing. Then add beans and red pepper squares and stir-fry until fully cooked. Season liberally with Sichuan peppercorns and salt. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil to taste.



  1. Eha

    Delightful recipe! Having cooked ‘Chinese’ for quite some decades, yes it will take you awhile to cross all the provincial boundaries as there really is no such thing as ‘Chinese Cooking’ and the styles/recipes vary considerably.. My favourites are Szechuan, Hainanese and Hunanese and definitely Shanghai cuisine for tremendous flair and elegance. Also love the Nonya [fusion] cooking so readily available in Singapore. Can leave the Beijing style: too much unhealthy fat and smoke! A lot in Europe praise Fuchsia Dunlop which I do not have – I suppose amidst my hundreds of volumes in the style i am most enamoured by Kylie Kwong’s ‘My China’, which won the worldwide cookery book of the year award a few years back: do look at Amazon 🙂 !

  2. Eha

    Have just been on a book search I could not afford timewise, but absolutely loved: NOW: if you are not interested, do delete but: found some very interesting volumes recommended by Amazon worldwide besides Dunlop and her latest book. Amongst the mains: two delightful oldtimers who really taught me to cook [I mean they are even more ancient than yours truly!] : Ken Hom [a really nice guy, whose recipes mostly sound alike after the first half-dozen!] and our own brilliant Charmaine Solomon [well, she taught me to cook all across the board and I still do 1-2 of hers a week!]. Then beautiful Paula Wolfert is included: ‘course I have her Moroccan Bible and swear by it and she has done brilliant work around the Med: Chinese??? The one name I truly would love you to add is that of Luke Nguyen: books, tapes, films: anything! If I have ever adulated a guy he is the one: basically Vietnamese cooking, which is the most popular by far at the moment in Oz, but he has done ‘The Greater Mekong’ of some six countries, which is just great! Down Under I would say we go Vietnamese > Thai > Nonya > Szechwan > various Indian [as bad a s China of course] > Malyan/Indonesian > increasingly Burmese/Sudanese/ Ethiopian etc et al . . . . Personally, being a nutritionist, am very much into Lebanese/Egyptian/Iranian etc et al . . . Just for fun and hope just one person is interested 🙂 !

    • Thanks for the tips. I am going to have to enact a rule that requires me to get rid of a cookbook for every new one I bring in, though. Else the house will soon overflow!

  3. Reading this post and realizing how wonderful it would be to be able to prepare a meal like this one, I think it time that I put down the ravioli die and pick up a good cookbook featuring the food of Asia, China in particular. I’m in an area with many Asian markets, so, finding ingredients wouldn’t be a problem. I just need to re-think my menu planning — once I get this cookbook, that is. Thanks for the recommendation and inspiration!

  4. This looks and sounds wonderful. I used to do a lot of Chinese cooking back in England, where we had all the Asian shops and market. In fact, in the 70’s, I wrote the Chinese recipes for the leaflet that came with the first woks sold at Habitat in London. There’s a blast from the past:)

  5. I’ve been paging through this book since its arrival last week, and now you’ve keyed on where to start. All of this sounds delicious, and a bit off the usual track, which is great. Thanks. Ken

    • Isn’t she great? I love her recipes and her writing. We’ve been cooking with this one for several months (impatient souls that we are) and have really enjoyed it. I don’t think anything will ever surpass the dry-fried beef from the first book though. That’s probably our most-made recipe of all time, with multiple variations.

  6. Another great post guys. What I love is that you take a recipe and make it your own by using what is available to you. Asian food can be flexible like that. You don’t have to follow the recipe to the dot. For example recipe for the Sweet and Sour Pork can be modified to become Sweet and Sour Fish/Crab. If you are not fond of seafood try Sweet and Sour Chicken 😉 Great photos once again.

  7. I adored Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper memoir and I’m so looking forward to receiving Every Grain of Rice any day now. I ordered it a couple of weeks ago and it it making it’s way to me now. Would you say that this dish is hot or very hot? I like a little bit of spice, but it prefer to be able to taste other flavours in a dish too. I guess it all comes with practice.

    • I guess I’d call it hot, but not mouth burningly so. The brand of chili bean paste probably makes a substantial difference and, of course, you can just use less. It is interesting how different the color of the dish is in the photo in the book. Again, I suspect its just a difference in brands. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. The Patterned Plate

    Excellent choice! Such a special book. I have cooked from it a fair bit and nothing has disappointed. I adore tofu and love the fact that there is a wide range of recipes to choose from. Have you made your own chilli oil? It’s my new addiction, oh! SO good. Once you make that, try the sweet and sour tofu. Meal in minutes!

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