Tofu for the Summer
Which tofu do you use for what, and how do Japanese people eat it?
We’ve all probably eaten tofu by now. It’s a super versatile food that can be served hot and cold, savory and sweet. And in these times of high prices and small budgets: this bean curd can be an excellent, economic option to keep your protein in your diet — vegan or not!
Soft or Firm?
The texture of the tofu depends on the water content within: the less water, the more dense. Typically, Japanese dishes don’t really use the über firm tofu that you might find in the US or other Western countries and often it is refrigerated instead of being shelf-stable.
The typical range of tofu (from softest to most firm) is: silken, regular, firm, and extra firm. There is “super firm” tofu, but typically that is used for meat substitute and processed vegan proteins. In Japanese cuisine, we typically use those between silken to firm.
When you think of silken tofu, think of the texture of soft flan or jello. The mouthfeel is, as you guessed it, like silk! This is a very popular option as a last ingredient in soups, as well as desserts. Regular tofu is slightly pressed and can be a versatile option when you’re just not sure what you’re gonna use it for. Lastly, firm tofu is great for dishes that require more rough-handling like stir-frys and deep fries!
Fortunately, tofu is super easy to find! For the biggest variety, check out your local asian market but your closest supermarket will probably have something in stock. If you cannot find one in the refrigerated section, go to the asian food aisle to see if they have a shelf-stable version!
Shelf-stable tofu does exist in Japan, but it’s just not used as often as the refrigerated type. If you cannot find the chilled kind, the one off the shelf is perfectly fine — it just may be a bit on the softer side.
Next, here’s some ideas of how Japanese people eat tofu:
You’ve probably had your introduction to tofu in miso soup, but in Japan: tofu is a perfect addition to almost any savory meal.
A simple tofu appetizer is Hiyayakko(冷奴): chilled silken tofu with a drizzle of soy sauce. To dress up the dish, you can add bonito flakes, scallions, fresh grated ginger, or even wasabi! In fact, you can put almost anything on top of Hiyayakko. Try experimenting with different asian aromatics to make your own signature version! (One of our team members recommends putting salted kombu, ponzu, and green onion for a vegan summer delight!)
Another stunner is Age-Dashi Tofu (揚げ出し豆腐)— a battered and fried tofu dressed with dashi broth and topped with fresh aromatics (much like the hiyayakko). You will find in a lot of Asian recipes, the coating for fried foods is not just wheat but different types of starches. In Japan, potato starch (katakuriko) is often the starch of choice for classics such as age-dashi tofu and Japanese fried chicken (kara-age)! Using starches, or cutting it with regular flour, will give you a quick and light crisp when fried.
For this tofu dish, you can buy premade dashi concentrate (a.k.a. “tsuyu”/つゆ) and dilute according to your taste. When thinking about toppings, think about accouterments that will lighten and freshen up the oily, fried base.
When shopping for Hiyayakko and Age-Dashi tofu, make sure to buy the best quality tofu since the bean curd is the main feature of the recipe!
A popular East Asian option found in Japan is Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)! This japanese recipe is inspired by the chinese Mabodofu and so it will be a bit on the spicier side in comparison to most Japanese recipes. While you can make this dish from scratch, most Japanese people buy the pre-made sauce packet and add minced pork. For the tofu, make sure to buy the silken version and break it gently within the sauce! After everything has cooked, eat it over steamed rice and top with scallions!
Tofu burgers are another option, but not all burgers are eaten in a bun in Japan! In Japan, there is “hanbaagu” (ハンバーグ) and “hanbaagaa” (ハンバーガー). The former is a classic Japanese dish similar to a hamburger steak while the other is what you would find in fast food restaurants. The tofu burger we’re talking about here is the vegetarian version of the classic dish. For this recipe, use firm tofu and press between two cheese clothes and a weight on top before adding to the food processor.
Blend the tofu with different vegetables (like mushrooms and carrots) until uniform and then add some garlic, ginger, white pepper, and a splash of soy sauce. Blend for a few seconds before finally adding one egg and a ½ cup of panko! You can save the mix in the fridge or form into balls and pan fry on medium heat. A quick, easy meal that is healthy and light!
Tofu being such a flavor sponge means that it can be used for desserts as well! A traditional almost-tofu dessert called Annin Tofu (杏仁豆腐) is actually made out of almonds and is served with diced fruit. If you’re in Japan, you will often find this almond dish in Chinese restaurants. Try out this recipe by the classic Cooking with Dog!
For those who are lactose intolerant, tofu can be another creamy substitute without the strong coconut flavor found in most dairy-free desserts! Blancmange is traditionally a sweet, milky, gelatin dessert found in Europe that is closely related to the panna cotta. But what we’ve found is a Japanese-style, dairy-free, tofu version by Just One Cookbook — an excellent source for traditional and modern Japanese recipes! Dress the blancmange with anything that you like, but we recommend a bright, fruity topping to make a nice contrast against the creamy, sweet base.
Lastly, you can also make this light and airy Chocolate Mousse by As Easy As Apple Pie by using silken tofu. You will probably use silken tofu for most of your dessert options as the texture provides a perfect medium to be blended with other flavors and will keep a mousse-like texture without the use of animal-derived stabilizers like gelatin!
So there you have it — tofu doesn’t have to be that weird white block that you have no idea how to use. Use the texture guide above to experiment with your own rolodex of recipes or or even make your own for the freshest option!
It’s time to bring out the barbecue, but this year why not throw in a little Japanese twist to your marinades? Check back on June 4th at 12pm EST to learn about sake kasu — a sake byproduct that boosts flavor, helps reduce waste, and keeps your skin fresh and healthy. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!