It’s that time of year again, the annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, where you can discover the joy of soy! On top of the Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition, live musical performances and soy and tofu vendors offering free samples, you’ll probably run into the city’s reigning Cherry Blossom Queen and her court. Of course you’ll have to take my word. Why? I’ll still be here in the 50th, since I usually “burn” my Bay Area vacation in the fall. But hopefully, I’ll inspire you to add more soy to your diet from 2,500 miles away.
Early on in life, the basics simply meant Mom draining a container of tofu, placing it in a shallow bowl, then slicing the block roughly into 1-inch cubes. These cubes were simply dipped or drizzled with plain shoyu and consumed as is. It was as basic as it gets. But during my undergraduate days at the University of Hawai‘i, I frequented a Japanese restaurant where the chef had a simple tofu dish — he grilled the tofu on one side, then topped it with shaved bonito flakes and finely sliced green onion. Due to the residual heat of the tofu, the bonito flakes “danced” on the surface of the tofu, which probably made it taste better — mentally at least — than if the bonito flakes laid there motionless. The tofu was then drizzled with a flavorful teriyaki sauce instead of plain shoyu and served with a little dish of daikon-tsuri (grated white turnip). Something about creamy fresh tofu, smoky bonito, herbal and sharp green onions with a salty, sweet, peppery sauce made for a tasty dish. It was a little more involved than Mom’s tofu, but worth every minute of that extra effort.
The Gochiso Gourmet’s Teriyaki Sauce
1 cup low sodium shoyu
1/2 cup sugar
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp awamori or sake
1 tbsp awamori or sake
2 tsp corn starch
Dissolve the cornstarch in the awamori/sake and set aside. Bring the shoyu, sugar, ginger, garlic and awamori/sake to a simmer then stir in the cornstarch slurry, constantly whisking until it thickens.
I believe I finally have a teriyaki sauce that’s not too salty and doesn’t overwhelm any dish, and tofu is as subtle as they come. Enjoy with a tokkuri of sake!
The Avant Garde
This dish isn’t really avant garde in the truest sense. There’s no dehydrated tofu or soy powder, powdered soybean oil or other forms of molecular gastronomy. The main soy component is still pretty recognizable, it’s just been processed a little differently than your usual block of tofu. It’s first been frozen. If you remember a previous column (“If at first you don’t succeed, soy again,” published in the May 16, 2013 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly) I wrote on the joys of soy, totally freezing then defrosting a block of tofu reduces the water content of tofu a lot more than simply draining it on a cheesecloth. Throw in a little smoky flavors from unexpected sources and process your “greens” a little differently and you’ll have my:
Smoked Tofu Club Sandwich
One block fresh tofu frozen for at least 24 hours then defrosted then sliced into 3/4 inch “patties”
2/3 cup low sodium shoyu
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried sage
3 Roma tomatoes sliced in half, lengthwise
1 small sweet onion with ends removed and sliced in half
1 to 1 1/2 cup mayonnaise (use egg-free if you want a vegan sandwich)
A couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce (leave out if you want a vegan sandwich)
A couple dashes of garlic powder
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
4 cups fresh arugula
1/4 cup macadamia nuts or almonds
1 large clove fresh garlic
6 500 mg Vitamin C tablets, crushed
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (leave out if you want a vegan sandwich)
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Roughly 1/2 cup olive oil
Sliced fresh tomatoes
Combine the first block of ingredients — be careful handling the tofu, as you want it to remain as intact slices. Place in a Zip-Top bag, remove as much air as possible and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Remove and drain as much moisture from the tofu as possible — I place it between several folded paper towels and place a small frying on top as a “weight” to help press some of the liquid out of the tofu. Place in a smoker for about 1 hour — if you don’t have a smoker, place your fired coals on one side of your grill and the tofu on the other side so they aren’t over direct heat. Add wood chips on the coals and cover your grill. I flip the tofu over about 30 minutes into the smoking process but once again, be careful while flipping so the slices remain intact.
While the tofu is smoking, you can also add the sliced Roma tomatoes and sliced onion to smoke at the same time. After the tomatoes are smoked, remove the skins and inner pulp. Allow the tomato flesh and onions to cool before proceeding. Place the tomatoes and onions in a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients in the second block and process until they’re fully incorporated. This Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise improves in consistency if it’s allowed to chill overnight.
Combine all of the ingredients in the third block except the olive oil in a food processor. Process until a slightly chunky “paste” is achieved. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a thick, sauce-like consistency is achieved. This Arugula Pesto firms in consistency after it has chilled overnight.
To create the sandwich, slather the Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise on the bottom of a toasted hamburger bun then top with the lettuce. Place the smoked tofu on top of the lettuce then top with the sliced tomatoes and finally slather the top toasted bun with the Arugula Pesto to complete the Club Sandwich. And if prepping the mayonnaise and pesto seems a bit mendokusai for you, just smoke the tofu which you can use on its own as a smoked meat alternative.
This dish is an adaptation of a dessert I first sampled at Pah Ke’s Chinese Restaurant in my hometown of Kaneohe, Hawai‘i. Chef Raymond Siu has a Soy Milk Custard on his dessert menu that’s to die for. He infuses the soy milk with a little sorbet and fresh vanilla beans along with gelatin to create a custard-like consistency then serves it with chopped fresh local fruit including mango and strawberries and it’s served with a scoop of berry sorbet. As luscious as a panna cotta but without any cholesterol and very little fat!
In lieu of Chef Raymond’s recipe, this is my basic version of his superlative dessert offering. Heat 2 cups of soy milk and 2 teaspoons of powdered gelatin in a microwave for 45 to 60 seconds until the soy milk is hot enough to dissolve the gelatin. Place in a 1/2 cup mold of your choosing and refrigerate until the “custard” sets. Obviously, plain soy milk and gelatin alone do not make good eats, there must be flavoring components so experiment on your own!
The basics are 1/2 teaspoon of powdered gelatin and 1/2 cup of soy milk for every serving, the rest is up to your imagination but here are some of my suggestions for every 2 cups of soy milk. Since soy milk does have an inherent sweetness, I just add agave syrup for a little more sweetness though you can substitute sugar or honey for additional sweetness:
Vanilla soy milk, 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise and scraped of the inner vanilla seeds, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoon agave syrup
Chocolate flavored soy milk,1/4 cup chocolate syrup, 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tablespoon agave syrup
Substitute 1/2 cup of fruit puree for 1/2 cup of the soy milk
Though I enjoy the simplest preparation of tofu just as is, you can also pump up the flavor volume with just a little tweaking on your own. Who said that soy and tofu are just flavorless, bland products that only hippies can enjoy? I can assure you that it wasn’t me as soy and tofu always have a place on the Gochiso Gourmet’s dining table. And it should always have a place on your dining table as well.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.