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Friday, November 4, 2016

Yudofu (湯豆腐)

Kyoto, since it was the capital of Japan for so long, is steeped in history and tradition. One of those traditions still popular today is shojin ryori, or Buddhist cuisine. As Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century, so was the idea of vegetarianism for religious ideals. This cuisine became synonymous with Kyoto as Kyoto is home to some of the longest standing Buddhist temples and sects that still carry on this tradition.

As a whole, Japan is not very vegetarian-friendly. Dashi, made with dried bonito shavings, is omnipresent and veggie dishes on most menus will have some sort of fish in it, if only the broth. If you're a pescetarian, you're in heaven, but if you're vegan or vegetarian, I'm not going to be the best person to tell you how to navigate Japan and I recommend finding a blog that specializes in both Japan and veganism. I ate things in Japan that I'm still not quite sure what I ate, so I'm not going to claim any sort of authority on either subject. I normally write about Japanese American food!

I do, however, know that shojin ryori in Kyoto is exactly where you want to go if you're a vegetarian in Kyoto. And even if you're not a vegetarian, I urge you to go in order to discover a cuisine that brings ingredients down to their bare essence and teases out the best taste with the least amount of adornment. To say the food is plain would be an insult to a carefully honed craft intent on bringing out the best. You would be surprised to taste how tofu tastes without any spices to cover it up.

Yudofu is one of Kyoto's most popular shojin ryori dishes. Fresh tofu, sometimes made specially at the restaurant, is served in a hot pot and served simply to highlight the freshness of the tofu. Even with store bought tofu, you can really appreciate the nuttiness of the soybean curd, the silkiness of the texture, and appreciate how well the simple dipping sauce adds a savoriness and brings out the natural umami of the tofu.

My mini donabe!
Traditionally the tofu is boiled in a clay pot with a domed lid called a donabe (土鍋), which is special because most clay pots these days are not used over an open flame like they are. Here, I have a mini one that I don't use for cooking, but for serving at the table. I warm it with hot water before serving and I find it makes for a great presentation and keeps things nice and warm at the dinner table. I have a bigger donabe for hot pot meals that I will showcasing later on!

Yuzu kosho isn't exactly subtle or traditional to shojin ryori, but I love it to add a punch to this dish. I fly in the face of tradition, and would make a horrible monk, let's be honest.

Yudofu (湯豆腐)
serves 2-4

4 cups of tepid water
2 3"x3" pieces of kombu
1 block of soft tofu

dipping sauce:
1/4 cup shoyu
2 tbs kombu dashi reserved from above
2 tbs mirin

to garnish:
grated daikon
chopped green onions
yuzu kosho

Place the water and kombu in a donburi or medium saucepan. Soak the kombu for 2 hours, then fish out and discard. This will give you kombu dashi. You can make this ahead of time or even soak overnight for more body to the dashi, or heat gently on low heat for 20 minutes (do not simmer!) but I really recommend the long soak. Reserve 2 tbs for the dipping sauce, and heat the rest on medium-high heat until it boils. Cut the tofu into fourths and place in the kombu dashi and simmer until heated through. If you're not concerned with making this vegan, please feel free to substitute regular dashi instead of kombu dashi.

Meanwhile, prep the dipping sauce by mixing the reserved kombu dashi with shoyu and mirin. Heat over low heat until warmed through, then set aside. This can be done in advance and kept in the fridge.

To serve: bring the hot pot to the table and serve a chunk of tofu and a saucer of the dipping sauce. I like to either plunk the tofu directly in the bowl or pour the sauce on top. Garnish with grated daikon and chopped green onions, as well as some yuzu kosho if you're feeling spicy.

See Also:
Mapo Tofu

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