For a long time I have loved Ma Po Tofu. But I must admit most of the time I have had the version with meat (usually pork). I even have a video on YouTube how to cook that version. Now that I suffer from Gout that version is mostly off the menu. From what I read the dish started out as cheap vegetarian meal so now we go back to basics.
To me Sichuan Peppercorns make the dish. Something about than numbing effect and the fragrant aroma. But if you use to much its not fun. If you have never cooked with it before use only a little and see if you like it. For this I recommend using one teaspoon but save some for garnish.
Just before using grind in a coffee grinder. Warning do not breath the dust.
Spicy Broad Bean Paste is also an important ingredient. You will need to find a market with a large Chinese section or order online. This is the one that I used today.
The dish also needs dried spicy red peppers. The Mexican Chile de Arbol (tree pepper) are my go to. They are easy to find no matter where I am at in the US. I do cut off the steams and shake out most of the seeds. But I do not eat them……
For oil since this is not cooked at high tempature you can use just about any neutral flavored oil that you want. This dish does have a lot of oil. It is used to carry flavors but if you want to reduce that I understand.