Japanese Tofu (two ways) and Kurogoma Dressing
The little Japanese market in Santa Barbara is dangerously close to the Trader Joe’s. (And Trader Joe’s is already dangerous enough as it is, whether I go on an empty stomach or not…)
If I am lucky enough to have some free time to swing by the Japanese market, I like to take my time and wander around it, looking at every single item in the store.
It doesn’t take long; it’s a small enough shop. Stacks of sweet packaged mochi and large sacks of rice give way to three narrow aisles of Japanese (and other Asian) staples and condiments. (Cardboard boxes stuffed with daikon, taro, and avocados line the aisle floors.) A few small refrigeration units display the more delicate vegetables– shiitake, eringi, and enoki mushrooms, Japanese eggplants, and gobo root– along with jars of umeboshi and kimchi, frozen sushi-grade seafood, and plastic packs of natto.
The store is so compact it actually inspires interaction; you have to verbally excuse yourself as you navigate around store clerks and other customers. No matter where you stand, you are always in someone’s way. (Like the contents of the store itself, this too, reminds me fondly of Japan.)
I like to linger there in my nostalgia. I haven’t been able to afford a trip back across the Pacific for a while now, but at least I can step into a space where I surround myself with the foods that pull me back to Japan, sparking memories.
When I first moved to Japan, I used to linger in the grocery stores there as well. I lived in a very small town (about the size of Santa Barbara, come to think of it), and I had nothing better to do on the weekends. I hadn’t met many friends yet, and couldn’t yet speak the language.
It wasn’t just indecisiveness and hunger that kept me loitering around the store shelves. I was learning about a brand new country, culture, and cuisine, one supermarket item at a time. (That and, as any new Japanese learner knows, it takes a while to sound out katakana.)
My nostalgia for Japanese food is not just for super fresh sushi or elaborate restaurant dishes (although that’s mostly what I ate when I lived there), it’s also for the simple meals I cooked for myself, which of course were shaped by the easy availability of Japanese grocery store fare.
Not that you could call this dish “cooking”; it’s more like assembling. Chilled tofu is something I crave– along with zaru soumen— when the weather gets warm. Wandering around the little Japanese market this past week, I spotted silken nigari tofu, perfect for enjoying chilled and raw.
Silky soft tofu topped with fresh grated ginger and scallions, and a dash of soy sauce. (Just the kind of non-cooking I used to be up for on my lunch breaks or after work.) The distinctly Japanese blend of punchy yet refreshing flavors wakes up the mild tofu so that even tofu skeptics might enjoy it. (I’m going to stick with “might” on this one instead of “will”… some tofu-haters have their limits.)
The tofu salad with creamy sesame dressing is more of a restaurant-style dish– though in Japan I used to pour storebought bottles of creamy goma dressing over fresh tofu or my go-to bowls of chopped up avocados and tomatoes (when I wasn’t using Sriracha).
Here I’ve incorporated both sesame (goma) and black sesame (kurogoma) to give it a darker color and a sweeter flavor, without adding sugar. Japanese sesame dressing is lovely on any type of salad, and particularly delicious on tofu; something about that blank slate of smooth, nutty tofu welcomes the richness of the creamy dressing.
If the tofu-to-other-stuff ratio in either of these dishes is daunting, you can also use far less of it, and slice it into smaller cubes. The most important thing is that you find the softest, freshest tofu you can. It will taste worlds away from the more familiar extra firm, extra bland tofu that requires pressing and cooking. Think of silken nigari tofu as a savory custard– just dress it up a little and it begs to be eaten, chilled, with chopsticks or a spoon.
Chilled Japanese Tofu with Ginger and Scallions (Hiyayakko)
How to make it:
1. Fresh soft tofu should be stored in the fridge, so it should already be chilled before serving. Open the tofu package and carefully drain as much liquid as possible from around the tofu. Gently pop out the tofu onto a serving plate and slice into smaller portions if desired.
2. Top with freshly grated ginger (I used about ½ tsp. for each block of tofu pictured) as well as the juice created from grating it. Sprinkle over scallions and optionally katsuobushi. Serve with soy sauce that each person can drizzle over their tofu, to taste.
Chilled Japanese Tofu with Creamy Kurogoma Dressing
~ fresh silken (very soft) nigari tofu
~ kurogoma sesame dressing (see recipe below)
~ salad greens
~ cherry tomatoes
~ sliced cucumber
~ grated daikon radish
How to make it:
1. Fresh soft tofu should be stored in the fridge, so it should already be chilled before serving. Drain as much liquid as possible from around the tofu package, and slice it into smaller portions if desired.
2. Assemble salad greens on a serving plate and top with tofu (either large blocks or small cubes). Arrange other vegetables around the tofu, then drizzle over sesame dressing and serve.
Creamy Kurogoma (Black Sesame) Salad Dressing
(Adapted from Just One Cookbook.)
~ 2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds, toasted
~ 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
~ ¼-½ tsp. chia seeds (optional)
~ 3 Tbsp. Japanese mayonnaise (or other mayonnaise, plus ½ tsp. red wine vinegar)
~ 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
~ 1 Tbsp. mirin (or ¼ tsp. sugar)
~ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 tsp. sesame oil
~ pinch of salt
How to make it:
1. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a skillet (if they’re not already toasted). Then grind the sesame seeds (1 Tbsp. at a time) with a mortar and pestle or a Japanese suribachi. The finer you grind them, the smoother and thicker your dressing will be, but the texture is up to you.
2. Grind the chia seeds, too (if using), and combine with the ground sesame seeds. Chia seeds will make the dressing slightly thicker, especially if you’re making it ahead and it can sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
3. Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl.
- Note: A good vegan option besides veganaise might be to substitute some silken tofu for the mayonnaise– though I haven’t tried that– but then you might want to use a blender rather than a whisk. You might also want to add more vinegar or sesame oil, to taste.
4. Serve immediately or store covered in the fridge for up to a week.
Related recipe posts:
|Zaru Soumen and Tangy Dipping Sauce||Hearty Miso Soup||Black Sesame Coconut Milk Ice Cream||(Travel Photos) Kyoto Tofu and Takamatsu Udon|