THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The 2021 Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival


The Gochiso Gourmet’s Soy Festival Poké. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALThis month would have marked the 11th annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival … OK, maybe 10th, since last year’s event was canceled due to the raging worldwide pandemic. But since large gatherings still aren’t allowed as, despite having three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. we haven’t hit herd immunity status, I guess we’re still holding at nine annual events in the books. Until today. This column marks the ninth … and-a-half Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival. The “Otto e Mezzo” Soy and Tofu Festival! And like director Guido Anselmi in Federico Fellini’s classic 1963 movie, I too suffer from “director’s block,” or more likely, writer’s block, as I haven’t had any new material from the Bay Area to write about since 2019. No Alba fresh white truffle dinners at Poggio in late autumn, no new California dim sum interpretations from State Bird Provisions or modern interpretations of Middle Eastern cuisine from Noosh.

In its Primal Form
I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind whenever someone mentions soybeans is those little green steamed orbs of goodness that you pop directly into your mouth from their fuzzy coverings in singlets, doublets or if you’re lucky, triplets and quadruplets. Sometimes they’re simply steamed or boiled then tossed in salt, on other occasions they’re sprinkled with furikake or stir fried with garlic, which makes for the perfect partner with a frosty glass of beer or sake. Therein lies the dichotomy of enjoying edamame. While the flavoring that covers the outer fuzzy “shell” makes for messy eating, it’s a necessity as simply spooning shelled edamame into your mouth is nowhere near the same eating experience. Edamame consumption is simply not genteel in order to be fully experienced.

Garlic Shoyu Edamame

Garlic Shoyu Edamame

1 lb unshelled edamame
8 to 12 cloves of garlic, smashed through a garlic press
1 to 2 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Though you may have excellent knife skills, I recommend “smashing” the garlic cloves through a garlic press, which coats the soybean shells better than minced garlic. In a wok or frying pan, heat the oil and cook the garlic just before it starts browning, then add the shoyu and toss the edamame until all pods are thoroughly coated. Keep your disinfectant wipes handy for messy eatin’!
Once the edamame have matured, the pods split open, revealing the fully mature dried seeds, which are usually tan or black. And unlike other dried legumes, which I usually soak overnight before pressure cooking, I simply cook dried soybeans in my pressure cooker, without any soaking. One hour under pressure, then letting the pressure naturally dissipate over the next 30 to 60 minutes usually produces tender beans. While making the traditional kuromame for Oshogatsu, I add water, shoyu, sugar and a little sake and dried konbu and pressure cook them together. When cooking the tan variety, seasonings added to the pressure cooker depend on the intended ultimate dish. Sometimes it’s curry powder, sometimes it’s chili powder, sometimes it’s berbere, a classic Ethiopian seasoning or Ras al hanout, a classic Middle Eastern spice blend. If the final dish is a soybean fortified patty, I cook the soybeans about 15 minutes longer so they’re easier to mash.

Soybean Waste
When soybeans are prepped for eventual conversion into tofu, the bean hull is removed, as you want that smooth, custardy texture, whether it’s for silken or soft tofu. Even medium or firm still has a smooth consistency, so all the fiber and solid matter is strained out of the soy milk. These solids still contain all the fiber along with protein and fat from the soybean, but because they were prone to rapid spoilage, tofu factories gave the okara away during my parents’ generation. Simply wait at the back door of any tofu factory and you could take home a bucket load for free. Whatever okara was leftover was given to pig farmers. However, when okara is cooked with a little shoyu, carrots, shiitake and gobo, it creates a healthy dish that not only fills your stomach but adds fiber, protein and vitamins to your diet. Aloha Tofu now sells traditionally cooked okara that costs more than their tofu!
I now purchase bags of plain okara that I simply keep in the freezer and use it as a substitute for breadcrumbs as a filler for various patties or meatloaf. I won’t belabor the point since I highlighted it in my June 2014 column:

Variations on the Custardy Classic
Other than the silken, soft and medium blocks of tofu, there lies my favorite varieties, the firm, extra firm and super firm varieties along with the baked and deep-fried varieties. Don’t I like that smooth, silken texture? When consumed alone, yes. But when using tofu in other culinary applications, anything less than firm simply crumbles and dissolves into the dish, leaving no semblance of that original block of tofu. And the softer varieties contain quite a bit of moisture, containing up to 85 percent water, so when added to a sandwich, it simply leaves a soggy mess of a sandwich. The firmer varieties, however, maintain their shape and texture. You can freeze the block of tofu, which liberates most of the water upon thawing as in my smoked tofu sandwich:’q=smoked+tofu

But sometimes you want those intact cubes of tofu as in this vegan take on the classic Hawaiian raw fish dish, poké. Our local Aloha Tofu sells deep fried tofu (which I also use in my nishime) but you can use any firm, extra firm or super firm block of tofu for this poké which contains four different soy products from the whole immature beans to the firm soy custard to the liquid fermented bean to the solid fermented bean paste.

Quadruple Soy Festival Poké

The Gochiso Gourmet’s Soy Festival Poké. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

1 block of firmer tofu cubed into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup of edamame
1/4 cup of grated carrots
1/4 cup rehydrated hijiki
2 to 3 tbsp sliced green onions
1 tbsp miso paste
2 tbsp shoyu
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp ginger juice

Toss the first five ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix the next five ingredients in a separate bowl then toss with the solid ingredients. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled while dreaming of the 2022 Soy and Tofu Festival.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University 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 The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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