Eihei-ji is a center of goma-dofu
There are some dishes in Japan that look and have a texture like tofu, but are not tofu in the traditional sense; that is, theyfre not made from coagulated soy milk. One of these not-tofu tofus is goma-dofu_or sesame tofu. Goma dofu is made from three simple ingredients: ground sesame paste, water, and kuzu or kudzu powder.
Goma-dofu, the poster child of shoujin ryouri
Shoujin ryouri (shojin ryori) is the mostly-vegan cuisine that was developed in Buddhist monasteries in Japan, and goma-dofu is one of the best known shoujin ryouri dishes. Making it from scratch is hard; kuzu powder is difficult to process from kuzu roots, and the sesame has to be ground for a very, very long time in order for it to become totally smooth. The job of grinding the sesame was assigned to low-level novice monks - the hard work was considered to be good for their character.
But for cooking at home you take two critical shortcuts which make goma-dofu a very easy recipe: use readymade kuzu powder, and pre-ground sesame paste. In Japan pre-ground sesame paste is sold as nerigoma.
Recipe: Goma-dofu - Sesame tofu
An easy to make version of the shoujin ryouri or Zen Buddhist temple cuisine classic, goma-dofu is a tofu-like dish made with ground sesame paste and kuzu (kudzu) flour. Itfs delicious chilled and served with a little wasabi and soy sauce.
Cook time: 20 min :: Total time: 20 min (not including cooling and chilling time)
Yield: 12 to 16 squares
Serving size: 1 square
70g (2.5 oz) nerigoma ground sesame seed paste, stir well before using
50 (1.75oz) kuzu or kudzu powder, available at health food stores and Japanese groceries
500ml (2 U.S. cups plus a tablespoon) water, filtered water is preferred, especially if your tap water is heavily chlorinated
1.Equipment needed: bowl, pan, square container to mold the goma-dofu.
2.Combine the kuzu powder with a little water to make a smooth paste. Add it with the rest of the water to a small pan and mix well with a whisk or chopsticks.
3.Put into a pan over medium heat, and add the nerigoma. Mix continuously, smooshing any lumps of sesame paste and incorporating it as well as possible into the liquid.
4.When it heats up it will start to thicken and get a bit lumpy - keep stirring to smooth out the lumps. After a while, it will turn from milky to a bit more translucent in color and have the consistency of a thick pudding.
5.Wet the inside of the square container youfll use as the mold. Pour in the hot pudding-like mixture and smooth out the top. Bang the container a few times onto a countertop or table to get rid of bubbles.
6.Let cool to room temperature, and then put into the refrigerator to cool, about 2 hours.
7.Unmold and cut into squares. Serve chilled, with wasabi or grated ginger and soy sauce. (The _goma dofu_ on its own is quite bland, so it does need the sauce.)
8.Itfs really nice as a cold appetizer on a warm day. It can be stored, well covered, in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
If you want to grind your own sesame seeds
Use hulled white sesame seeds, toast lightly in a dry pan, and grind for about an hour or so in a suribachi for about an hour until totally smoooooooth. Character improving, indeed. Strain through a fine sieve before using.
Trivia: the term goma o suru (grind sesame seeds) is a Japanese euphemism for sucking up to (or brownnosing) someone!
A short intro to kuzu powder
If you have a gluten intolerence problem, chances are you have already encountered kuzu or kudzu root powder as a gluten-free thickening agent. Itfs the starch produced by processing the roots of the kuzu (or kudzu) plant. Herefs what it looks like:
Kuzu is a very good thickener when the dish needs to have a sort of starchy-gelatinous texture and be translucent. Itfs used in a variety of savory and sweet dishes in Japan. You can buy it at Japanese grocery stores or health food stores. I find that itfs usually a bit cheaper at Japanese food stores than at health food stores, but itfs still rather expensive since producing it from kuzu roots is a very laborious process.