vegan

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.

Type:  feature Filed under:  japanese ingredients vegetarian tofu vegan

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In the fall, many universities throughout Japan have big festivals called 大学祭 daigaku-sai, meaning university festival, or 文化祭 bunnkasai, Culture Festival. They are basically street fairs held on campus, with lots of food and fun stalls, concerts, even ghost houses and amusement rides. Many of the big ones also hold concerts in which top Japanese singers and bands appear. Daigaku Imo, which means University Potato, are candies sweet potatoes, a sweet and slightly savory snack that is often served at university festivals in Tokyo.

The snack itself probably originated as a cheap, calorie-rich, affordable snack sold to cash-poor students around universities in Tokyo around the turn of the 20th century. The idea for deep frying and then sugar coating potatoes most likely came from similar snacks in Chinese cuisine.

Daigaku imo is simple to make, yet a bit tricky. You ideally want to coat the sweet potato slices completely with a hard caramel sugar coating, but too often the sugar gets crystallized. It doesn't taste bad when it does, but it looks far better with a shiny, smooth coating. I've found the best way to accomplish this is to make a fresh batch of the sugar coating for each batch of potatoes cooked. This is not diet food by any means, but regardless, to me they are one of the main treats of fall.

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Being a sucker for anything On Sale, a couple of weeks ago I was lured by a big AKTION sign at the supermarket into buying a 3 kilo (about 6.6 lb) bag of sweet red peppers. As much as I love peppers, it was going to be impossible to consume all of it in regular ways. Making a jam or jelly out of them was an obvious answer.

I wanted a jam that could be used as condiment or sauce as well as in regular jam-like ways, e.g. spread on bread. I set about trying to find a good, easy to make and not too sugary red pepper jelly or jam recipe on the internets, but nothing I read really stood out on its own to me. So I set about taking this from that and that from the other recipe, and after ruining about a kilo of the peppers in the first attempt, came up with something that is not bad at all.

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[From the archives: Today (September 23rd) is the first day of the fall o-higan (お彼岸), when ohagi or botamochi are offered to ones ancestors, as well as oneself! My mother and my grandmother always made these at home around this time of year - I love their not-too-sweet stickiness. O-higan ends on the 26th, so if you like wagashi, why not give these a try? Originally published March 2007.]

botamochi1.sidebar.jpgThe seven days centered around the bi-annual days of the vernal equinox is a Buddhist festival period known as higan (or o-higan for the honorific term) in Japan. The fall (autumn) higan is aki no higan, and the spring higan is haru no higan. Since the day of the spring equinox is March 21, we're about to enter the haru no ohigan period.

During haru no higan, a sweet confection called botamochi is eaten. The mochi part means sticky, pounded rice, and the bota part comes from botan, or the tree peony. Botamochi is supposed to ressemble a tree peony flower.

During the autumn equinox (aki no higan or simply (o)higan)) period, a very similar confection called ohagi is eaten. This is supposed to look like a hagi or bush clover flower (Latin: Lespedeza thunbergii). Botamochi and o-hagi look the same to me, even though a hagi flower looks nothing like a tree peony flower, but the good old ancestors were probably a lot more imaginative than I am.

Botamochi and o-hagi are made of sticky rice and sweet tsubuan, 'chunky-style' sweet azuki bean paste. They are a bit fiddly to make but not difficult, especially if you use one of my favorite cooking helpers, plastic cling film. Since these are best eaten freshly made, it's well worth the effort to make them at home if you like bean-based Japanese sweets. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the tsubuan to your taste. Here I have made three variations: coated with black sesame seeds; coated with kinako (toasted soy bean powder); and the most traditional form with the rice cake wrapped in a layer of the tsubuan.

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It's hard to take an appetizing picture of this eggplant (aubergine) dish. But I promise you that it's absolutely delicious. Plus, it's so simple to make, requiring just 6 ingredients and water.

I found it in an old Japanese cooking magazine, which had an even worse photo of the dish than the one here. I was a bit sceptical but had bought a too-big batch of eggplant at the market, and wanted a way to use some of them up. I am so glad I tried the recipe, because it's now one of my favorite ways to have eggplant. And it's vegan too.

There's a saying in Japanese, akinasu yome ni kuwasuna (秋なす 嫁に食わすな). It means "Don't let your daughter in law eat fall eggplants". People debate what the intent of this saying is; does it mean that fall eggplant are too delicious to feed to the daughter in law, who was traditionally the lowliest member of the family? Or perhaps it's a thought of kindness, since eggplant is supposed to be a 'cooling' vegetable, which is not good for a pregnant or fertile young woman. Either way, there's no doubt that eggplant is particularily delicious in late summer to early fall, when they usually produce a second crop after a first one early on.

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Just about anyone who takes a trip to the historical city of Kyoto goes home bearing a box of yatsuhashi (八つ橋), a small delicate sweet that is flavored with nikki or cinnamon. While I am not from Kyoto, I get a fit of nostalgia for yatsuhashi on occasion. Fortunately they aren't that hard to make at home. Added bonuses: they are more or less fat free, gluten-free, and vegan!

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Here is another great way to enjoy new potatoes. It's almost as simple to make as new potatoes with soy sauce and butter, though it uses a few more ingredients. Boiled whole new potatoes are panfried in a little sesame oil, then coated in a sticky sweet-salty-spicy miso sauce. The strong flavors of the miso sauce really go well with the blandness of the potatoes.

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[From the archives: This eggplant/aubergine dish is really nice served cold, though it can be served warm too. It doesn't heat up the kitchen since it's made in the microwave (yes, the microwave, and it works great!) so it's great to make on a steamy hot summer evening, with in-season eggplant. Originally published July 2007.]

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Here is another summer dish. I love eggplants (aubergines), but cooking them without using a lot of oil can be a bit tricky. I read about this method of steam-cooking eggplants in the microwave in a Japanese magazine some time ago, and ever since it's one of my favorite ways of preparing these rather spongy vegetables - they're done in just 5 minutes without heating up the kitchen, which is hard to beat on a hot summer's day. The whole dish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Here they are served cold with a spicy peanut sauce, which makes it a very nice vegetarian/vegan main dish. Serve with rice or cold noodles.

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn't belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I've had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it's even better.

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the _goma dofu_ (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it's a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky 'mochi' cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It's traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert.

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