Shiraae or shiraae (白和え): A classic all-purpose tofu paste

Shiraae (白和え)

There are several Japanese recipes that I take so much for granted that I'm sure I've uploaded to this site already...but I haven't. Shira-ae or shiraae, a classic tofu paste that was born from the Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine called shojin ryouri, is one such recipe.

It's often described as a 'dressing', but that doesn't adequately describe its thick, rich texture. It's usually mixed with various shredded vegetables, but there's nothing stopping you from mixing it with poached and shredded chicken, or ham, or toasted pine nuts, or anything you like. The rich taste comes from ground sesame seeds and a touch of miso, and the texture is so thick because the tofu is well drained. To be honest, it's yummy enough to just eat by the spoonful.

I've used tahini, which is easier to get for most people, instead of the nerigoma (sesame paste) that's usually used, supplemented by some toasted ground sesame seeds. I also use a bit of white miso instead of the usual soy sauce, to keep the paste very pale in color as well as to add a bit more richness.

Recipe: Shiraae (白和え)- Tofu paste with sesame and miso

A versatile tofu and sesame seed paste that's great with vegetables. The key to the texture is to drain the tofu very well.

Prep time: 30 min :: :: Total time: 30 min (includes time needed to drain the tofu, about 15 minutes)

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 a block (about 100g / 3.5oz) good fresh firm tofu
  • 2 teaspoons tahini or nerigoma , sesame paste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted whole white (light brown) sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or an equivalent amount of artificial sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon white miso
  • a pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Drain the tofu. Wrap it in a couple of layers of paper towels, and put it on a plate with another plate on top to act as a weight. Leave for about 15-30 minutes to drain. You can speed up the process by putting it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Drain off the water that came out, wrap the tofu and wrap it in a fresh layer of paper towels. Press gently to eliminate more water.
  2. Grind up the toasted whole sesame seeds in a suribachi or mortar with a pestle until it's a fine powder.
  3. Crumble the well drained tofu into the mortar or suribachi. Add the tahini or nerigoma, miso, salt and sugar. Start grinding and mashing with your pestle.
    Making shira-ae
  4. Grind everything up with your pestle, until the mixture becomes smooth and cohesive. Taste and adjust the seasonings with a bit more salt or sugar etc.

    Making shira-ae

  5. Mix well with the vegetables or other ingredients of your choice (see notes below).
  6. This doesn't keep too well, so it should be eaten up within a day or so.

Ingredient and other notes

If you don't have any white miso, light colored soy sauce (1/2 teaspoon) is the best substitution. Regular dark soy sauce is ok too, although it will make the paste a little brown.

To toast the sesame seeds, use a dry frying pan. Stir the sesame seeds around in it until they start to pop. Take out of the pan immediately or they may burn. Let cool.

Notes: What vegetables (or other ingredients) to mix in

For the shiraae in the photo, I used some of the All-purpose vegetable mix that I posted a recipe for over on JustBento recently. (Note that I didn't put this recipe on JustBento because uncooked tofu is too perishable to put in a bento, unless you carry it with an ice pack.) You can also use any kind of vegetables, including leftovers, as long as they've been very well squeezed out to eliminate any excess moisture. If the vegetables are wet the paste will get rather runny.

Here are some ideas:

  • Leftover kinpira, chopped up a bit smaller. The sesame oil used to saute the kinpira vegetables marries well with the shira-ae paste
  • Blanched and very well squeezed out spinach, mizuna, komatsuna, bok choy or other greens, chopped up roughly, and optionally sauteed a bit with sesame or regular vegetable oil
  • Thinly sliced and lightly salted cucumbers, well squeezed out.
  • Bitter gourd, salted and massaged, then blanched and well squeezed out
  • Edamame cooked in salted water and shelled
  • Green beans, blanched and then briefly sauteed in sesame oil.
  • Cooked broccoli and toasted and crushed walnuts
  • Pine nuts sauteed with some greens
  • Cooked shrimp with mitsuba or parsley
  • Any kind of leftover stir-fry, well drained of any sauce etc.
  • Konnyaku and shirataki noodles are classic ingredients to mix in shiraae. They're best cooked with other ingredients though. Try some mixed into the all-purpose vegetable mix listed above.

I'll featuring several light, fairly low-cal recipes like this leading up to the summer. I hope you'll enjoy them. ^_^

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By Makiko Itoh

Published: May 09, 2013

Type: Japanese, washoku, vegan, tofu

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