I wanted to share one of the most common, yet maybe not-so-famous Japanese dish, Koya Tofu (高野豆腐, read "Koya-Dofu"）which is a freeze-dried tofu that is cooked in a sweet and salty broth. You might have seen this in a small side dish or a bento box and the traditional recipe is PRETTY SWEET.
As I'm not a huge fan of using sugar for cooking, I've skipped the sugar part in my recipe but if you'd like to make it the traditional way, I've added the sugar on the recipe as "optional" so please try. I think this can almost be a dessert.. (maybe? let me know what you think?!)
For me, the Mirin that is used in the recipe gives enough sweetness and I like it just like that.
Going back to the Koya Tofu, I really like this ingredient as it naturally has a long shelf life and it can be cooked very quickly. When I was a child, I learnt that Koya Tofu was made by accident in the mountains during the winter when someone left the tofu out in the cold and it got frozen. When you freeze tofu, the water in the tofu will become into ice and if you melt the tofu, the little ice particles will create a whole in the tofu and make it into a sponge! Therefore the name is Koya ("高野" highland or mountain) , or some say it came form the word "氷" (read "Kouri" meaning "ice") because it was 'iced tofu".
Anyhow! This is one of the most popular vegan ingredients and it is often served to the monks at temples.
There is another recipe I'd like to share where you fry this but today, I'm going to introduce the most common way of serving this with the Dashi broth.
If you haven't noticed yet, it is VERY hard to be a vegan in Japan because many dishes call for Dashi broth which uses bonito flakes. The broth from Kombu kelp and bonito flakes are the base for many dishes, so if you ask the chef to make vegan dishes they will have to prepare a separate broth from scratch.
I have been teaching how to make a "cold brewed" vegan Dashi broths for many years now and I use this a lot in my Japanese cooking classes. It is basically swapping the bonito with dried shiitake mushrooms.
It is very easy and tasty so do not skip this when you make this Koya Tofu dish!
The Koya Tofu dish can be served hot, room temperature or chilled. I do like the cold dish during the hot summer. It is really easy to prepare and also can make a batch up front and serve in small amounts as a side dish.
Chilled Vegan Koya Dofu (no fish!)
(2 servings )
2 pcs, Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
10 g, Dried Kombu (approx 10cm square)
600ml, Filtered Water
2 Tbsp., Mirin
2 Tbsp., Cooking Sake
1 Tbsp., Tamari Soy Sauce (Gluten-free)
½ tsp., Sea Salt
4 Tbsp., Cane Sugar (For if you like the traditional flavor, but optional)
4 pcs, Dried Koya Tofu (Approx. 66g)
5 ~ 6pcs, snow peas
- (Preparing the "cold brewed" Dashi upfront) To make the vegan Dashi (soup stock) wipe the dried shiitake and kombu with a dry towel. The white marks on the Kombu Kelp is part of the flavor and not a mold so dont' worry! Soak them in 600ml filtered water in room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or in the refrigerator overnight. No need to boil this Dashi. Do not skip this process as the soup stock is a very important to get the "Umami" into your dish! When the flavor is infused, there will be a slight brown color to the Dashi broth.
- Wash the Koya Tofu with hot water. Place the Koya Tofu in a medium bowl and pour boiling hot water and soak for about 10 minutes. The Koya Tofu should expand.
- While you are waiting for the Koya Tofu to soak, prepare the dashi's flavors in a pot. Remove the kombu from the dashi and add mirin and sake. (You can leave the Shiitake in.) and start to simmer the dashi.
- Add the tamari soy sauce, sugar (optional), and salt. Mix well and bring it to a boil again.
- To prepare the Koya Tofu, wash it off with filtered water. The Koya Tofu has soaked up hot water so be careful! Gently squeeze the Koya Tofu like a sponge. It is fragile so be gentle with the squeezing! After a few squeezes, do a final squeeze to get out the water so that the tofu is ready to soak up the soup.
- Cut the Koya Tofu into bite size ( I like to cut them in to small cubes) and set aside.
- Once the dashi broth boils, add the sliced Shiitake that was used to make the dashi broth and cubed Koya Tofu to the dashi and simmer for about 10 minutes on low-heat without a lid. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface with a skimmer.
- If you have a drop lid (Otoshibuta), use it to help the dashi to infuse into the Koya Tofu.– if you don’t have a drop lid, you can make one with baking paper too!). Do NOT use a lid to cook this. Simmer with low flame for 10 minutes. This dish is to be served with the soup so make sure it doesn't dry out!
- You can serve this dish hot or cold. As we are serving this cold, remove the pot form the flame and let it cool off at room temperature. Once its "warm" you can put this in an airtight container and chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
- When you are ready to serve, prepare the snowpeas to garnish. Remove the tough fibrous part and make some decorative cuts if you like.
- In a small pot, boil the snowpeas for 10 seconds and run it under cold water till it becomes room temperature. By doing this, the snowpea will have a brighter green color. Plate a few peaces of the cold Koya Tofu in a serving bowl with the broth, a sliced shiitake and snowpeas. Enjoy it while its cold!
You can keep the cooked Koya Tofu in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. If it’s frozen, melt it before serving!