By Joe Yonan
There's a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full way of looking at tofu. The former is that it's too bland to be interesting. The latter is that it's a versatile backdrop for powerful flavours.
Consider this: Have you ever heard somebody say they find fresh Mozzarella too bland and boring for a Caprese salad?
On the contrary, it's celebrated as the soothing counterpoint to acidic tomatoes, grassy olive oil and peppery basil. There are lots of other possibilities, too, including balsamic vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes.
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I view this tofu recipe as the Japanese equivalent of the Caprese, with some obvious exceptions: It's built using a single block of silken tofu, which you might never have eaten in such a way, but trust me, you should.
You top it with a riot of herbs, aromatics, scallions, peanuts and high-quality soy sauce, serve it cold, and let your guests spoon their portions out, eating it as an appetizer as is or perhaps with rice as a main course.
The tofu is almost puddinglike, and its subtle nutty flavour and smooth, creamy texture play off the crunchy, salty toppings.
Gochiso-Dofu (Decorated Tofu) (Serves 2-4)
Creamy, neutral silken tofu meets pungent, crunchy, colourful toppings in this take on a traditional Japanese no-cook dish that's perfectly suited for warm weather.
Consider the tofu a blank canvas, and feel free to substitute your favourite nuts, seeds and herbs for the ones listed here. If you have a garden, this is a great use for herb or other plant blossoms.
This is a wonderful appetizer to serve four, but you could also serve it as a main course for two, with rice. Use tamari in place of soy sauce to make the dish gluten-free.
Where to Buy: Mirin, Japanese sweet rice cooking wine, can be found in well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets.
One (340g) package silken tofu, drained
1 tbs chopped fresh mint, basil, shiso or a mixture, plus small leaves for optional garnish
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tbs chopped roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 tsp white and/or black sesame seeds
Chive blossoms, for garnish (optional)
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tbs mirin
Place the tofu on a serving plate. If it was in a shelf-stable package and at room temperature, chill for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours before topping and serving.
Sprinkle the top of the tofu with the chopped herbs and scallion, then with the ginger, peanuts and sesame seeds. Garnish with the small whole herb leaves and chive blossoms, if using.
In a small measuring cup with a pourable spout, mix together the soy sauce or tamari and mirin. Pour the sauce around the tofu on the serving dish, and serve.
Adapted from "Harumi's Japanese Kitchen" by Harumi Kurihara (Octopus Conran, 2020).
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