Simmered tofu gets zesty with sauce and seasonings

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Nothing could be simpler than a cake of tofu simmered in a light broth. The Japanese dish Yudofu is the very definition of simplicity in both preparation and presentation. Condiments of grated ginger, a sprinkling of katsuo (bonito) fish flakes, and finely cut rings of scallions not only add to the spare beauty of this dish, they also provide the zing. Traditionally this dish is served from a simmering pot atop the table. Diners place tofu in their own bowl and choose their toppings, which are stirred into a sauce made from soy sauce, dashi (bonito fish stock), and mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine).

Not only does tofu absorb the seasonings it is graced with, but it also takes on the season. When the weather turns warm, this warm dish changes like a chameleon and is served icy cold, to refresh body and palate.

Tofu — made from soy beans, spring water, and a coagulant — is a great source of non-animal protein and is available in most local supermarkets. Packaged tofu, like Nasoya, has come a long way as far as taste, but for a real treat try to find the fresh tofu available at all Asian markets. Blocks of tofu sit in large baths of cold water and are scooped into a container for you. One popular manufacturer in Cambridge is Chang Shing. They sell from their factory at 35-37 Rogers St. and also have their product in most of the Asian groceries. If you do not use the tofu all at once, make sure you change the water daily. Try to finish the tofu within two-three days of purchase.

Tofu comes in many varieties. For this dish, firm is the preferred consistency. Yoshiko Furukawa, the owner of Yoshinoya’s on Prospect Street in Cambridge, refers to them by their Japanese description: kinu-silk (soft) and momen-cotton (firm). Yoshinoya, a Japanese specialty food market for 43 years, has a refrigerator case that boasts a large selection of tofu. Furukawa has endless patience and is only too happy to explain cooking techniques and share recipes. She gets fresh tofu daily. At $1.59 a block, that is a lot of nutrition power in a small package.

You don’t need a special Japanese pot to make this dish. Cook the tofu on the stove and bring it steaming hot to the table in a covered dish. Serve with Japanese rice and freshly made cucumber and crab viniagret salad and you have a great but simple meal.
Bon Appetit — or as the Japanese would say, “Itadakimasu!”

Shopping sources

Yoshinoya, 36 Prospect St., Cambridge, 617-491-8221

Chang Shing, 35-37 Rogers St., Cambridge, 617-868-8878

Super 88, 1095 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-787-2288

Yudofu (simmered tofu) 4/8/2004

Most of these items are available at Bread and Circus, but one field trip to a Japanese or Asian grocery and you are sure to find everything. Serves 2.

2 cakes of tofu (firm)
4 cups water
1 4-inch strip of kelp (dried seaweed)
1 tablespoon peeled, freshly grated ginger
4 tablespoons bonito flakes
4 scallions, finely chopped into rings
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup dashi — bonito fish stock
1 tablespoon mirin, sweet rice wine, or sugar

1. Set a pot of cold water on the stove. Wipe the kelp clean and place it in the water.

2. Cut the tofu block into 4 to 6 pieces. Set gently in the water.

3. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Heat gently. This takes about 8-10 minutes.

4. In a small pot, make the dashi according to instructions on package.

5. Add soy sauce and mirin (or sugar), and heat through. Place in small pitcher.

6. Place the grated ginger, bonito flakes, and scallions in three small serving bowls.

7. Remove the kelp and discard.

8. Each diner receives a bowl and adds a few tablespoons of the warm sauce.

Note: You can either add the seasonings to the sauce and then the tofu or put the tofu in the bowl and then sprinkle on the seasonings. . . . Bonito flakes are shavings of the dried bonito. They add a briny depth to the dish. They come in multiple small packets in a package or loose in a bag. . . . Dashi comes in many forms. A small jar of granulated dashi is the most convenient. A few teaspoons for 1 cup of boiling water is sufficient. . . . Shitake mushrooms (fresh or reconstituted) and Chinese cabbage, quartered, can be added to the simmering liquid to make a more substantial dish.

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