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Japanese Tofu (two ways) and Kurogoma Dressing

May 16, 2013

Japanese Tofu (two ways) with Kurogoma DressingPin it!

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.

Japanese Tofu with Ginger and ScallionsPin it!

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.

How to make Japanese creamy sesame salad dressing

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.)

Japanese Tofu with Ginger and Scallions

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.

Japanese Tofu with Ginger, Scallions, and Katsuobushi

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.

Japanese Tofu (two ways) and Kurogoma Dressing

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.)

Japanese Tofu with Ginger, Scallions, and Katsuobushi

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.

Japanese Tofu (two ways) and Kurogoma Dressing

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.

Japanese Tofu with Ginger and ScallionsPin it!

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.)

Japanese Tofu with Creamy Kurogoma (Black Sesame) DressingPin it!

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).

How to make Japanese creamy sesame salad dressing

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.

Grinding black sesame seeds with a suribachi for Kurogoma 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.

Japanese Tofu (two ways) and Kurogoma DressingPin it!

Print these recipes. (PDF)
Print tofu recipes only. (PDF)
Print sesame dressing recipe only. (PDF)


Chilled Japanese Tofu with Ginger and Scallions (Hiyayakko)

~ fresh silken (very soft) nigari tofu
~ scallions, thinly sliced
~ fresh ginger, grated (including ginger juice)
~ soy sauce, to taste
~ katsuobushi dried fish flakes (optional)

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.

Grating fresh gingerGrating fresh ginger

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.)

(Serves 4-6)

~ 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.

Grinding black sesame seeds with a suribachi for Kurogoma DressingJapanese Tofu with Creamy Kurogoma (Black Sesame) Dressing

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.

Print these recipes! (PDF)
Print tofu recipes only. (PDF)
Print sesame dressing recipe only. (PDF)

Japanese Tofu with Creamy Kurogoma (Black Sesame) DressingPin it!

Japanese Tofu with Ginger and ScallionsPin it!

Related recipe posts:

IMG_0112-5 IMG_7372-5 IMG_2676-5 IMG_1268-5
Zaru Soumen and Tangy Dipping Sauce Hearty Miso Soup Black Sesame Coconut Milk Ice Cream (Travel Photos) Kyoto Tofu and Takamatsu Udon
55 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2013 9:14 am

    Those sauces look fantastic. I’m working on making my own tofu now, these look like they would go wonderfully.

    • May 16, 2013 9:32 am

      Thank you! Yes, these are both delicious ways to eat fresh, homemade tofu!

      I’ve only gotten to try homemade tofu a few times when friends have made it, but it’s definitely one of my goals to make my own tofu someday, too…

      • May 16, 2013 9:57 am

        I’ll be posting a tofu recipe on Simple and Complex in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know.

      • May 16, 2013 10:00 am

        I’ll look forward to it! :)

      • vixbakes permalink
        May 21, 2013 2:54 pm

        How beautiful! Light inspiring dishes and gorgeous photography. I love everything Japanese and am on a mission to learn to cook more Japanese food, and this is just perfect. Now, where to find fresh silken tofu….

      • May 21, 2013 4:52 pm

        Vix, thank you for your comment! I wish you luck finding fresh silken tofu in your area so that you can try out this dish! :)

  2. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    May 16, 2013 9:51 am

    Ohhh I absolutely love this dish, Allison! Love the kurogoma dressing on Hiyayakko! I usually use soy sauce or ponzu for Hiyayakko, and sometimes goma dressing, but was never been creative enough to make it kurogoma dressing. LOVE IT! I buy the same tofu too (1/2 of it is a perfect size for our daily miso soup). Enjoyed hearing your story about your time in Japan. :) Sharing your post on my page…. :)

    • May 16, 2013 10:03 am

      Thanks, Nami! Especially thank you for your goma dressing recipe inspiration.

      I also usually just eat hiyayakko with soy sauce (or ponzu– I forgot to mention ponzu in the post!), but mainly because I don’t eat goma dressing very often anymore (Paula doesn’t like creamy mayo-based dressings), so even if I buy goma dressing it seems to expire quickly before I eat much of it.

      I love knowing that I can make just a small batch of fresh homemade goma or kurogoma dressing by myself to enjoy with tofu (or just a green salad) when I feel like it! :)

  3. May 16, 2013 11:05 am

    Beautiful…..I love Japanese food though i do find it a bit overwhelming…..this is gorgeous!

    • May 18, 2013 11:19 am

      Thanks! Yes, some Japanese recipes can be kind of complex to make (and many of them involve deep-frying, which I’m intimidated by), but this is the simplest kind of cooking/assembling, with fresh ingredients and Japanese flavors!

  4. May 16, 2013 11:30 am

    – I enjoyed reading your narrative about your shopping experiences, both in Santa Barbara and in Japan. very well written too. Natuskashii!
    – Here you are with beautiful and creative recipe for soft tofu. It cannot be better than this. Oisshiso~!
    – Your presentation and photography also is very creative and brilliant. Urayamashii!
    Delightful post, Allison! Gochiso sama deshita. :D

    • May 18, 2013 11:24 am

      Thanks, Fae! そう言ってくれて、どうもありがとう!

      Your lovely posts about Japanese food always make me feel very natsukashii, too!

  5. May 16, 2013 12:30 pm

    I love trying new forms of tofu and yours looks exotic and delicious :)

    Choc Chip Uru

    • May 18, 2013 11:25 am

      Thanks, Uru! It’s definitely new to some people to eat fresh tofu raw (and both of these ways might also be “plainer” than people are used to), but it’s really delicious like this, even though it may be an acquired taste… :)

  6. May 16, 2013 11:23 pm

    Stunning, Allison! Simply stunning!

  7. May 17, 2013 6:31 am

    Oh the tofu looks exotic and flavorful. I would love to try.

    First time on your blog and you have a wonderful space.

  8. May 17, 2013 1:33 pm

    Very interesting recipes, thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely try the sesame dressing

    • May 18, 2013 11:27 am

      Yay, I’m so happy to hear that! I hope you enjoy the sesame dressing (on tofu, or not!). :) Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  9. May 17, 2013 2:14 pm

    I thought I didn’t like tofu, but my mouth is watering. I have to try this! I’ll have to track down a Japanese grocery and find the soft tofu. Yum! Do you know if there’s a difference in the fermentation process of the soft tofu vs. firm tofu?

    • May 18, 2013 11:40 am

      Thanks for your comment! :) I think the main difference is in the coagulation (and the amount of moisture pressed out) rather than the fermentation of soft vs. firm tofu…

      Soft tofu uses nigari, while firmer tofu is made by curdling thicker soy milk or using some other coagulant, and definitely has more of the water pressed out of it.

      Most tofu is not actually fermented though. Fresh tofu (the kind that’s nice to eat raw and that needs to be stored in water) can be either soft or firm, as I just described; fermented/seasoned tofu, like Taiwanese “stinky tofu” is better cooked. (Other types of fermented soy stuff include natto, miso, and tempeh.)

      • May 18, 2013 12:43 pm

        Oh, I see-thanks for all the interesting and helpful info.! :) I encountered ‘stinky tofu’ when I was in Shanghai, and never did figure out why there’s was so different than the tofu we buy here in the US. I didn’t realize that there are fermented and non-fermented types.

  10. May 18, 2013 11:36 am

    You are very patient! With the very same kind of tofu, I just chopped green onion, spread wasabi on the tofu (still in the container), and pour soy sauce over. Then I scoop it up eat it just like that! Barbaric, I know. I just like them so much and still can’t make them as good at home!

    • May 18, 2013 11:42 am

      Haha, well I guess I’m patient with the sesame dressing recipe, but your way of eating it sounds very similar to my scallions/ginger/soy sauce, except with wasabi instead of ginger! (I’ll have to try that!)

      And believe me, I’ve also eaten it straight out of the package like that before, especially when I lived in Japan. :)

  11. May 18, 2013 8:57 pm

    I have some tofu in the fridge and I know what to do with it now! This looks delicious!

  12. May 18, 2013 10:52 pm

    Tofu is my son’s latest discovery and love! Your dishes look delicious!

  13. May 20, 2013 8:05 am

    i adore tofu, tho i rarely get the silkened variety. i have yet to see an organic and non-gmo kind at the markets.
    to be honest, i’ve never had Hiyayakko before, but i have seen it often and would love to make this when the weather finally gets to the oppressive heat it’s promising to do this summer. i also loooove me some zaru soumen, tho like you said, it is not filling and as such, would not be able to fill up Mr. MoreStomach!
    last, i never seem to make the correct flavor balance when i made the dipping sauces, it’s always too sweet, too salty, to whatever, and never just right.

    PS. i am adoring your space, i wish i had known about it sooner!

    • May 21, 2013 4:48 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Lan!

      You might be right that it’s difficult (or impossible?) to get organic/non-gmo silken tofu… I’m not sure. I don’t eat this very often since I moved back to the states from Japan, so I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve still never tried making my own tofu, but I know that both of these recipes would taste good with homemade tofu as well! (I’ve tried ginger & scallions with some homemade tofu that one of my friends made, and it was delicious.)

      I’m glad to hear we share the same love of zaru soumen, too! Dipping sauces can be tricky, especially since soy sauce and ponzu are always somehow stronger or saltier tasting then I think they’re going to be… (even though I usually think of ponzu as lighter and citrusy, when I use it to make a dipping sauce I’m reminded that it still tastes nearly as strong as soy sauce). I’ve found that the lighter the better with dipping sauces– like starting with less soy sauce or ponzu, then adding it only gradually; you can always try thinning them out a little with water.

      • May 31, 2013 8:02 am

        so i made this last week, as well as the zaru somen. i walked around hmart looking for katsuobushi and i refused to leave until i had it on hand. as per usual my sauce was off but it was still delicious and lovely. i was lucky, i found organic non gmo silked tofu, will be grabbing more at the next grocery run as the temps have risen quite a bit this week!

      • June 5, 2013 2:23 pm

        Yay, I’m so happy to hear that you tried these recipes! (And wonderful that you found organic non-gmo silken tofu, too!)

        I used to go to Hmart every chance I got when I lived in Philly. :)

  14. May 20, 2013 10:25 am

    Yummm! I know it’s so simple, but fresh tofu with ginger and scallions is so good! I’m going to try to find that kind of tofu in my local japanese place. It never tastes as good from the store, and maybe this is because I’ve been buying the wrong stuff!

    • May 21, 2013 4:49 pm

      Yes! I hope you can find the right kind! Even if you don’t see a tofu with the same packaging as mine, just ask for silken/nigari tofu in a Japanese market (or for “sundubu” in a Korean market).

  15. May 20, 2013 1:45 pm

    Great colors. Japanese food is so beautiful and you captured it perfectly. I must try the dressing. Sounds delightful.

    • May 21, 2013 4:50 pm

      Thank you! I think Japanese food is beautiful, too. I feel I barely did it justice, especially because in Japan, there would be even nicer little dishes and table settings! :)

  16. May 22, 2013 11:48 am

    Just incredible Alison, each and every piece is like a work of art, you sure did the elegant Japanese cuisine a justice:)!! you inspired me to have a go at these beauties, thank you!!

    • May 30, 2013 9:09 am

      Thank you, Ozlem! Yes, Japanese cuisine is nearly always beautiful; it’s one of the things that’s so satisfying about it! I hope you do get to try this out; I hope you enjoy it!

  17. 太郎 permalink
    May 29, 2013 5:00 am


    • May 30, 2013 9:18 am


  18. Kanji Honma permalink
    May 29, 2013 5:33 am

    I think this chilled tofu (Hiyayakko) to be more delicious than a Japanese restaurant. Because Japanese I say, it is not wrong.

  19. かいな ろうあ permalink
    June 26, 2013 2:54 am

    Spontaneous Tomato様は日本語がわかる方と見られるので、






    • July 5, 2013 12:31 pm

      コメント、どうもありがとうございます! そして、初めまして、私のブログにようこそ! ^_^





  20. September 8, 2013 1:14 pm

    Lovely image! I like the different textures that are going on here.

    • September 8, 2013 5:49 pm

      Thanks, Sophia! Glad to see you blogging again—it seems like you’re having a wonderful time in Paris!

      • September 10, 2013 10:20 am

        Not too shabby in Paris. In München now and seeing what sort of treats this city has to offer. So far, I’ve found gelato. :)

  21. Toshi permalink
    November 24, 2013 6:13 am


  22. May 16, 2014 1:37 pm

    I have never made anything with silken tofu. I always gravitate towards extra firm but perhaps I’ll give it a try. Your ginger scallion tofu looks delicious, especially on these hot California days


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