Tofu, it seems, isn’t just for eating…
Every year on February 8th, various temples and shrines around Japan have a memorial ceremony for worn out and broken sewing needles. People bring their old and broken needles to the temple and place them in a block of tofu or konnyaku. The soft bed is offered as the final resting place for the needles that have worked so hard. The pilgrims who bring their needles are offering their gratitude for the needles’ hard work and also praying to improve their skills in sewing. As well as being an act of gratitude, the pilgrims also pray that all the things that are broken in their lives are laid to rest in a bed of softness – taking away all the sharp pain in their lives.
The gentle soft taste of silken tofu is to be enjoyed perfectly unadorned, as it is. In Kyoto, the best tofu is prepared using the natural spring water that is so delicious in Kyoto. There are a number of famous temple restaurants in Kyoto that serve yudofu 湯豆腐, which is just plain cubes of tofu simmered in spring water, that you eat dipped into a light soy sauce and topped with spring onions and grated ginger. The texture and subtle favour is enjoyed in the meditative surroundings of an ancient garden, so that all of the senses are engaged in the simple act of eating this perfect humble food. It is a sublime culinary experience.
The key to this dish is to use only the highest quality tofu, spring water and konbu.
1 x 15cm piece of konbu
4 cups of spring or filtered water
Silken or regular tofu cut into cubes about 5cm
1 cup dashi
3 Tbsp shoyu
Sliced spring onion
Traditionally, this dish is prepared in a donabe clay pot on a small table burner, but you can use a regular saucepan and then transfer the tofu and water into a warmed casserole pot.
Place the konbu in the water and leave for about 5 hours. Put the saucepan on a low heat until the first bubbles appear, then turn off the heat and pour into a pre-warmed casserole dish with the tofu in it.
Each person takes a piece of tofu and puts it in their bowl, adding the dipping sauce and condiments to their own liking.
This is Genbo Nishikawa’s recipe for tofu & vegetable stuffed mini-pumpkins.
Recipe makes one stuffed pumpkin
Mini-pumpkin about 15cms diameter
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
Small amount of kikurage mushrooms
3 runner beans
Usukuchi shoyu [light soy]
250g firm tofu
Kuzu-an [Ankake] sauce:
1 1/2 cups of water
2 Tbsp konbu dashi [see “dashi” in the glossary page for details]
2 Tbsp usukuchi shoyu [light soy sauce]
(1) Remove the top portion of the pumpkin – to be used as a lid; Scoop out the seeds; Place the pumpkin in salted water for about 30 minutes
(2) Rehydrate the mushrooms in water and cut finely, reserving the soaking liquid for stock; Cut the carrots into sliced quarters [called icho in Japanese – see glossary for a video on how to slice “icho”]; Slice the gobo down the length into two halves, then thinly slice into “half moon” shapes; Slice the beans into 1cm pieces
(3) Take the ingredients in (2) and put them in the shoyu and chill in the refrigerator; Place the tofu in a muslin cloth or paper towel and allow to drain, then wring lightly to remove the water; Mix the tofu with the chilled ingredients
(4) Boil the pumpkin in the water for about 15 minutes; Stuff the pumpkin with the tofu and vegetables; Put on the pumpkin ‘lid’ and boil for a further 10 minutes
(5) Put the ingredients for the kuzu-an in a saucepan and heat to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until it thickens
(6) Pour some of the warm kuzu-an sauce into the base of a bowl and then place the pumpkin on top.
Source: 禅寺のおばんざい四季の膳 by Genbo Nishikawa