THE GOCHISO GOURMET: If at first you don’t succeed, soy again


Korean Style Tacos. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

After consuming countless blocks of tofu with shoyu or downing little cubes of tofu in your miso soup, you’ve probably lost interest in adding tofu or other soy products back into your regular diet. I don’t blame you. Tofu doesn’t look exciting. Plain tofu doesn’t really taste exciting. It’s just a non-descript wiggly mass of soy protein and fat. But like any individual musical instrument that doesn’t sound great by itself, add lead and supporting instruments and you now have a band or an orchestra that produces a wondrous sound. And so can soy and tofu with the right cast of supporting ingredients.

Question: Where was the largest block of tofu made?
Answer: 13’ x 13’ 4,000-plus-pound behemoth was made in Sichuan, China

So what better way to spice up that non-descript block of soy protein than with heat? And nothing spices things up like chili peppers. This got me thinking about that classic American dish — chili, and not just any chili, but chili with roasted green chilies and tomatillos. That’s like adding a jazz quartet to the solo soy! And since chili often uses a variety of meats, how about a variety of tofu products, like extra firm and deep-fried tofu?

Both varieties have the “chew” to satisfy even the most diehard carnivores. And since we’re on this soy kick, how about substituting edamame for the usual kidney or pinto beans found in traditional chili? This is really shaping up to be a Soy Chili Verde! All I need is a catchy name. It’s soy, it’s green. How about Soylent Green? Wait a minute, that name is probably already trademarked. And if you did see that classic movie 40 years ago, naming any foodstuff Soylent Green probably isn’t the most appetizing since it represents the ultimate in protein recycling. So I’ll stick to Tofu Verde made in the spirit of Chili Verde.

Tofu Verde. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Tofu Verde. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Tofu Verde
1 package atsu-age or deep fried tofu (about 14 ounces) cut into bite-sized cubes
1 package extra firm tofu (about 20 ounces) cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cans (7 oz each) roasted green chilies
2 cans tomatillos or 1 bottle of tomatillo salsa
1 tsp dried granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin powder
3 tbsp dried cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 can vegetable broth (optional)

Puree the green chilies and tomatillos in a blender or food processor. Stir fry both of the tofu products just until they’re heated through (two to three minutes) then add the chili/tomatillo puree and the seasoning agents and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes then serve with a starch of your choice.

Q: If edamame is green, how come tofu isn’t green?
A: Edamame are immature soybeans while tofu is produced from mature beans which are light yellow.

Playing with Textures
Another way to jazz up your soy concoctions is to play with the various textures found in soy products. Freezing a block of tofu then thawing it releases a lot more of the water in tofu giving it a coarser texture more akin to firmly scrambled eggs. The thawed product will still absorb the flavors of any marinade it’s soaked in but it’ll have a “meatier” texture.

Another soy product with a coarser texture is aburaage or fried tofu. It’s created by thinly slicing tofu and quickly deep frying so that a “pouch” is formed in the interior which can then be filled with your choice of ingredients — filling with sushi rice creates inarizushi. The aburaage can also be sliced and added to miso soup or marinated and stir-fried as another “meatier” soy alternative.

This got me thinking again, what’s one of the hottest trends over the past year or two and will definitely enliven any soy-based product? Korean flavors! Specifically Korean tacos! So I marinated both sliced aburaage and thawed frozen tofu in a Korean inspired marinade and stir-fried both along with the usual banchan (complimentary side dishes found in Korean restaurants) like stir-fried watercress, bean sprouts and kim chee. Then in place of salsa or sour cream, I topped the tacos with a Sriracha and sesame oil flavored mayonnaise. Though I placed these in soft taco shells, there’s no reason why mini Chinese bao wouldn’t also work — just order them from your neighborhood Chinese restaurant without the usual Peking duck or kau yuk.

Korean Style Tacos. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Korean Style Tacos. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Korean Style Tacos
1 container (14 oz) firm tofu frozen for 1 day then thawed
1 package aburaage (about 3 ounces)
¼ cup shoyu
¼ cup soju
1 tsp Ko-chu-jang chili paste
1 tsp sugar or agave syrup
1 tbsp sesame oil
½ bunch green onions sliced on the bias
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger liqueur (or minced fresh ginger)
1 bunch fresh watercress cut to two-inch lengths
1 package bean sprouts Fresh garlic thinly sliced Salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle won bok kim chi
1 package small tortillas

After the tofu has thawed, drain the water then slice into ½ inch by two inch “matchsticks.” Slice the aburaage to ¼ to ½ inch strips. Mix the next eight ingredients then marinate the tofu and aburaage for at least 1 hour or overnight. After marinating the tofu and aburaage, pan fry over medium heat then set aside.

Stir fry the watercress with garlic then set aside. Do the same with the bean sprouts and set aside.

Drain the kim chee and julienne to roughly two-inch lengths and set aside.

Place three tortillas on a plate then fill with the watercress, bean sprouts and kim chee then top with both the cooked tofu and aburaage. Serve with a sauce of your choice — I mixed a little Sriracha with mayonnaise and sesame oil and drizzled it over the top of each taco.

One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons
So if you are craving more than just ‘spicy” soy based faire, head on down to the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival on June 1st the San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza at Post and Buchanan Streets from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Along with various food and clothing vendors, there will be musical and dance performances along with the Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition at 2 p.m. so you can satisfy your soy sweet tooth. Soy, more than just edamame and plain tofu!

For more information, visit

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at

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