Kouya Dofu or Kohya Dofu, Freeze Dried Tofu

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I've talked a little about kohya dofu or kouya dofu (高野豆腐)in the past, but I thought I'd describe it in detail so that I can refer back to it when I use this very versatile Japanese pantry staple in recipes.

Kouya dofu is freeze dried tofu. It's a long lasting pantry staple of most Japanese households. It comes in plastic packaging, usually 5 to a pack, like so:

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Each square is about the size of a business card, and about 1cm or 1/2 inch or so thick. Each kouya dofu square is about 90 calories. They look like dehydrated squares of bread, or one of those sponges that you soak in water to reconstitute and use. The packets require no refrigeration.

Indeed, it is a sponge - a block of tofu that's been reduced to its cell structure. It's a very old traditional preserved food, that probably got invented by accident when someone left out some tofu in the winter and it froze solid. It's made by repeatedly freezing and thawing tofu, until all the moisture can be extracted.

Usually, kouya dofu is used by reconstituting it first. The easiest way is to soak it for a while in boiling water to cover. When the water has cooled down enough for the tofu to be taken out and genty squeezed, it's ready to use. It swells up to about 3-4 times its original size.

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From here, you can just cut it up and use it in soups or stews. You can also marinate it. It has a more dense and firm texture than regular tofu, and like regular tofu it soaks up any flavor it is soaked or cooked in. It's usually stewed in a standard japanse soy sauce - mirin - sake - dashi - sugar mixture.

Here I've cooked some reconstituted kouya dofu in the same way that I cooked frozen tofu cutlets, to make kouya dofu nuggets. But I didn't have to take the time to freeze and defrost regular tofu. The results are much 'meatier' than nuggets made with frozen regular tofu. You might even be able to fool some unsuspecting people into think it's some sort of meat....

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Another interesting way of using kouya dofu is to turn it into a powder by grating it or whizzing it in a food processor. The powder can be used instead of breadcrumbs, as a filler or binder in burgers and meatballs. This can be a good thing for celiacs and gluten intolerant people. The spongy texture soaks up any excess moisture and flavors. And of course, it provides and extra protain boost.

In Japan, kouya dofu is very cheap. Outside of Japan it can be more expensive, but the packet of 5 in the photo above was only $1.99 at Nara Foods in Port Washington, Long Island. So, look for it next time you are in a Japanese grocery store and give it a try, especially if you or someone you cook for has gluten allergies, or are vegan or vegetarian.

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