30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 17 – Love Tofu!

Demystifying Tofu: It’s Just a Bean!

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2fe“An ancient food, tofu originated in China about 2,000 years ago. While the details of its discovery are uncertain, legend has it that it was discovered by accident when when a Chinese cook added nigari seaweed to a pot of soy milk, causing it to curdle, and the result was tofu. Tofu was introduced into Japan in the 8th century where it was known as “okabe” until the 15th century, though it didn’t gain widespread popularity in Japan until the 17th century.

Tofu’s rise in the West mirrored the increasing interest in healthier foods. First gaining attention during the 1960s, tofu has been skyrocketing in popularity ever since research began to reveal the many significant benefits of this delicious legume-based food.”

Colleen Patrick-Goudrea, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

I really fell in love with tofu when I was living in Japan. The Japanese do to tofu what the French do to wine. Handmade tofu is an art form passed down through generations. People will travel just to eat a particular region’s speciality tofu. It’s not just the base ingredient, but what is done with it.

A page from the 1782 Edo cookbook Tofu Hyakuchin (One Hundred Unique Types of Tofu)
A page from the 1782 Edo cookbook Tofu Hyakuchin (One Hundred Unique Types of Tofu)
Studio hand coloured 19th century photograph of a tofu seller.
Studio hand coloured 19th century photograph of a tofu seller.
(c) Japan Centre
(c) Japan Centre

A sign of how incredible good tofu can be is Hiyayakko – fresh, soft tofu chilled and served with grated ginger, katsuobushi, shallots and soy sauce.  The tofu is so delicate and distinctive you can eat it as a centrepiece dish. Although, now I’m vegan I would do without the katsuobushi.

Click here to see a wonderful photo essay of a small, centuries old family run tofu shop in Kyoto called Tofu Iriyama.

“Two large vats of soybeans simmer over the old wood-burning cookstoves inside this 120-year old building on the same site where the Iriyama’s ancestors cooked soybeans in the late Edo period. The sagging stone floors, old well and crumbling clay ovens comfort each other in modern times when most other tofu-makers have turned to concrete and stainless steel.”

Durston, D. (2005). Old Kyoto: A guide to traditional shops, restaurants and inns. Kodansha: Tokyo

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Takashi Iriyama (45) of Kyo Tofu Iriyama, one of oldest tofu shop in Kyoto, making Tofu in the shop, Nov. 16, 2009. Photograph by Ko Sasaki (c) Ko Sahaki
Takashi Iriyama (45) of Kyo Tofu Iriyama, one of oldest tofu shop in Kyoto, making Tofu in the shop, Nov. 16, 2009. Photograph by Ko Sasaki
(c) Ko Sahaki

Probably, my favourite tofu dish is Agedashi tofu. Soft tofu coated lightly in potato starch and deep fried. Then topped with grated ginger, katsuobushi (or not if you are vegan), shallots and diakon. Tyushu sauce is poured over and allowed to soak into the tofu. It is served piping hot and has a wonderful texture of crispy shell with soft, soft tofu soaking up this incredible sauce, with the creamy-cool diakon, the sudden heat of ginger and bite of green onion. Tyushu sauce is made from handmade dashi, mirin and soy sauce. Traditional dashi is made by soaking katsuobushi, but I have found a vegan version and it is delicious. Wakame and dried kelp are available at the Asian grocery store.

For the recipe below, leave out the katsuobushi and replace dashi with the vegan version, made from kombu, if you can get it, or any dried kelp if you can’t.

Koyadofu, another to die for Japanese tofu dish, is a speciality of the Buddhist temples of Koya. It is freeze dried tofu that soaks up any sauce it is put into like a sponge. Colleen does something similar when she describes in Day 17 how to work with frozen tofu.

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