For the bean paste substitute:
For the stock:
For the main dish:
1Mix the bean paste substitute ingredients well in a small dish. Set aside.
2For the stock, put the dried mushrooms in a heat-proof jug or cup and pour over ¾ cup (180ml) boiling water. Balance something like a food-safe plastic lid on top of the mushrooms to keep them submerged. If you can't find something appropriate, use paper towels (these are less ideal as they will absorb some of the stock). Set aside for 10 minutes.
3Use a fork or spoon to take out the now rehydrated mushrooms. Mix the soy sauce, white wine vinegar, sugar and brandy (but not the cornstarch yet) into the soaking liquid. Set aside. Finely chop the rehydrated mushrooms and transfer to a small bowl for later.
4For the main dish, finely chop the button/chestnut mushrooms into ½ cm/¼ inch pieces. This could also be done with a quick pulse in a food processor.
5Place a fine-mesh sieve (strainer) over a heatproof bowl in the sink. In a wok, heat the ⅓ cup oil over a high heat. Add the chopped fresh mushrooms and fry for 10-15 minutes. They will sputter so be careful. At first they will bubble a lot too - this is normal. Eventually they will shrink down and crisp up.
6Once the mushrooms are crispy but before they burn, drain them through the sieve in the sink over the bowl. Put the fried mushrooms with the rehydrated porcini mushrooms from earlier. Return the oil to the wok. Put the sieve and bowl back in the sink as you'll be using them again.
7Fry the peppercorns and red chilli for 1 minute in the wok. Drain the oil again through the sieve into the bowl. Discard the peppercorns and chilli but return the oil to the wok.
8Put the rice in a medium saucepan with 3 cups (750ml) boiling water. Put the lid on and cook over a med-low heat for 10 minutes, watching that the water doesn't boil over.
9While the rice is cooking, stir fry the garlic, ginger and spring onions (scallions) over a high heat in the wok, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Quickly move onto the next step if they look like they're burning.
10Add the rehydrated and fried mushrooms to the wok. Add the bean paste substitute too and stir so everything is coated.
11Use a fork to whisk the cornstarch into the stock. Now add this to the wok and stir. Cook for about 1½-2 minutes until the mixture has thickened.
12Carefully add the tofu and fold it in. Remove the wok from the heat.
13Sprinkle over some of the chopped green parts of the spring onions. Fluff up the rice with a fork then divide into 4 bowls. Spoon over the mapo tofu and serve.