Goma dofu: Sesame tofu that's not tofu

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There are some dishes in Japan that look and have a texture like tofu, but are not tofu in the traditional sense; that is, they're not made from coagulated soy milk. One of these not-tofu tofus is _goma dofu_ (ごま豆腐)or sesame tofu. Goma dofu is made from three simple ingredients: ground sesame paste, water, and kuzu or kudzu powder.

Goma dofu, the poster child of shoujin ryouri

Shoujin ryouri (shojin ryori) is the mostly-vegan cuisine that was developed in Buddhist monasteries in Japan, and goma dofu is one of the best known shoujin ryouri dishes. Making it from scratch is hard; kuzu powder is difficult to process from kuzu roots, and the sesame has to be ground for a very, very long time in order for it to become totally smooth. The job of grinding the sesame was assigned to low-level novice monks - the hard work was considered to be good for their character.

But for cooking at home you take two critical shortcuts which make goma dofu a very easy recipe: use readymade kuzu powder, and pre-ground sesame paste. In Japan pre-ground sesame paste is sold as nerigoma, but elsewhere it's tahini is more readily available. Granted, grinding up your own freshly toasted sesame seeds does result in a slightly more fragrant _goma dofu_, but tahini based goma dofu is still very good.

Recipe: Goma dofu - Sesame 'tofu'

An easy to make version of the shoujin ryouri or Zen Buddhist temple cuisine classic, goma dofu is a tofu-like dish made with ground sesame paste and kuzu (kudzu) flour. It's delicious chilled and served with a little wasabi and soy sauce.

Cook time: 20 min :: Total time: 20 min (not including cooling and chilling time)

Yield: 12 to 16 squares

Serving size: 1 square

Ingredients:

  • 70g (2.5 oz) tahini or nerigoma ground sesame seed paste, stir well before using
  • 50 (1.75oz) kuzu or kudzu powder, available at health food stores and Japanese groceries
  • 500ml (2 U.S. cups plus a tablespoon) water, filtered water is preferred, especially if your tap water is heavily chlorinated

Directions:

  1. Equipment needed: bowl, pan, square container to mold the goma dofu.
  2. Combine the kuzu powder with a little water to make a smooth paste. Add it with the rest of the water to a small pan and mix well with a whisk or chopsticks.
  3. Put into a pan over medium heat, and add the tahini or _nerigoma_. Mix continuously, smooshing any lumps of sesame paste and incorporating it as well as possible into the liquid.
  4. When it heats up it will start to thicken and get a bit lumpy - keep stirring to smooth out the lumps. After a while, it will turn from milky to a bit more translucent in color and have the consistency of a thick pudding.

    gomadofu_pan.jpg
  5. Wet the inside of the square container you'll use as the mold. Pour in the hot pudding-like mixture and smooth out the top. Bang the container a few times onto a countertop or table to get rid of bubbles.
  6. Let cool to room temperature, and then put into the refrigerator to cool, about 2 hours.
  7. Unmold and cut into squares. Serve chilled, with wasabi or grated ginger and soy sauce. (The _goma dofu_ on its own is quite bland, so it does need the sauce.)
  8. It's really nice as a cold appetizer on a warm day. It can be stored, well covered, in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

If you want to grind your own sesame seeds

Use hulled white sesame seeds, toast lightly in a dry pan, and grind for about an hour or so in a suribachi for about an hour until totally smoooooooth. Character improving, indeed. Strain through a fine sieve before using.

Trivia: the term goma o suru (grind sesame seeds) is a Japanese euphemism for sucking up to (or brownnosing) someone!

Variation with peanut butter

Use smooth unsweetened (and preferably unsalted) peanut butter in place of the sesame paste for a peanut tofu.

A short intro to kuzu powder

If you have a gluten intolerence problem, chances are you have already encountered kuzu or kudzu root powder as a gluten-free thickening agent. It's the starch produced by processing the roots of the kuzu (or kudzu) plant. Here's what it looks like:

kuzu_closeup.jpg

Kuzu is a very good thickener when the dish needs to have a sort of starchy-gelatinous texture and be translucent. It's used in a variety of savory and sweet dishes in Japan. You can buy it at Japanese grocery stores or health food stores. I find that it's usually a bit cheaper at Japanese food stores than at health food stores, but it's still rather expensive since producing it from kuzu roots is a very laborious process.

Read more about kuzu and how it's made on this manufacturer's site.

See also: kuzumochi, "mochi" squares made just from kuzu powder and sugar.

(for search engines)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: May 20, 2008

Type: Japanese, washoku, vegan, shojin ryouri

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