How do you usually eat Tofu? In the Japanese repertoire, there are plenty of recipes to choose from, from Yu-dofu and Nabe to Miso soup, Kenchin-jiru, Agedashi tofu and Hiya-yakko, a popular fresh tofu recipe that I’ve not yet presented here.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a kind of fancied-up hiya-yakko using sesame oil rather than soy sauce. Why the need to fancy it up? Because, while simple Hiya-yakko sure is delicious, it’s just a little bit too plain a dish to serve guests. If you want to make a fresh tofu dish that’s sure to impress, this recipe is the solution for you.
A note of caution: these uncooked tofu recipes will turn out impossibly light and delicious if you use the right kind of tofu. Really, they live or die on the quality of the tofu you manage to get. In Kyoto, where silken tofu is a prized artesanal specialty made fresh each morning by traditional craftsmen, it’s hard to go wrong. Here in Montreal, where the tofu is ok but not necessarily fantastic, results can vary. Wherever you are, you should only try these using the best quality, softest silken tofu you can find.
And a tip: in North America, some quite decent Korean brands market this type of tofu as “extra silken”. That’s the kind you want.
This is probably the version of Miso soup Western people are most familiar with, since it’s the one almost always served at sushi places. Still, you should remember: this is a miso soup, not the miso soup.
It’s easy to see why this version is so popular, though: simple, delicious, and easy to match with any Japanese dish, it’s always tempting to fall back on this recipe when the time comes to make 1-dish 1-soup.
Here’s another of many possible variants on Osuimono, a simple clear broth that we use as the main alternative to miso soup. As always with Osuimono, this recipe is simple: a light, delicate broth with a couple of ingredients suspended in it, nothing more.
Whichever variant you choose, you’ll find there’s really not a lot to Osuimono. It takes a certain sensibility to appreciate a soup as austere as this one. But in Japan, this kind of thing is deeply appreciated.
Butajiru is basically miso soup, but with one special ingredient: pork. The key thing here, though, is to go beyond just pork and add a lot of vegetables: enough to take it up a notch from the light broth you associate with Miso soup and turn it into the centerpiece of a meal.
What’s great about butajiru is that, once you chop all those vegetables, you don’t have to work a lot to make a really substantial meal. White rice, Butajiru and one small side dish (if you like) would make a perfect, well-balanced meal. So when cook is feeling a bit lazy, it’s a great solution: an easy warming dish for a cold winter day.
Because one thing I guarantee: Butajiru warms you up!
Osuimono is the other basic Japanese soup: the main alternative to miso soup when you’re making 1 soup-1 dish. At its best, osuimono is a very light broth: it should never be weighed down with too many ingredients, too much salt or – and this is a common mistake – too much soy sauce.
The basic ingredients are water, dashi, soy sauce and sake, but there’s a lot of room for variation with what you put into it. Dropping a beaten egg in it, for instance, works wonderfully. For this recipe, however, I used a filet of sole, some spring onion and lime rinds.
In Japan, I would use sea bream rather than sole, but we’re having trouble finding sea bream in Montreal, and frozen sole filets work well like this. Also, in Japan I would use yuzu rinds – which are soft enough to eat – rather than lime rinds – which you have to discard before serving. Living so far from home, you have to make some compromises.
Miso soup is a Japanese fixation: a shocking number of people in Japan will have a salty bowl of miso soup with every single meal, alongside the obligatory white rice. Even if we’re not quite so fanatical about it, we still make it at least three or four times a week at home.
Of course, there are different kinds of miso (white, red, brown) and you can add in different combinations of vegetables, tofu and/or seafood. So there is some room for variation. But the basic idea is always pretty much the same: miso paste suspended in dashi broth.
In Japan, we add vegetables according to the season. Since it’s fall, we thought pumpkin was a good choice.