Black sesame cold tofu 黒ゴマ 冷奴 / 黑芝麻凉拌豆腐
Just as white pepper is superior to black pepper (my opinion), black sesame is superior to white sesame (similarly & yet I will espouse it as objective truth). This is so good in ways you don’t expect: how the cold creaminess of tofu blends with the taste of sesame, golden toasted fat with nudges of sweetness and salt; how the generously torn and heaped coriander and chopped scallion provide freshness, bite, the kind of fresh-air clear green sting. You can steam the tofu beforehand, or just slice it out of the box after you’ve drained the excess liquid away.
For the sauce: I mix together 2 large spoons of unsweetened black sesame spread, 1/2 teaspoon of miso, 1 spoon of rice wine vinegar, 1/2 spoon of sugar/liquid sweetener, a bit of toasted sesame oil, and soy milk to thin.
Maitake mapo tofu (Japanese style) 舞茸麻婆豆腐
I made this on a sad day. I love maitakes – the trumpeted skirt of their cap, the way it curls slightly like a pouting lip, the way they retain chew and have a slight note of pine/wood to them as compared to other more spongier, docile fungi.
Unlike typical mapo tofu, the Japanese-style version employs miso instead of spicy doubanjiang and is hence much milder than the chilli-packed, Sichuan peppercorned Chinese variant. When my sinuses are already delicate and filled with the kind of red flowering haze of precipice edged emotion, I don’t need to have every facial orifice watering from making my own chilli oil. I remember having this in a restaurant in Hokkaido and feeling the kind of hugging solace from a velvet brown broth over creamy cakes of well-coated tofu, down to the curls of fresh Japanese leek over the top, and how it warmed a winter-chilled body, so that is how the dish feels to me in the midst of other internal winters.
1 box soft tofu
1 small stalk spring onion + 2 cloves garlic + 1 thumb minced ginger
maitake mushrooms, about a handful
1 tbs brown miso
1 tbs mirin
1/2 tbs soy sauce
black pepper to taste
1 spoon nutritional yeast (optional)
a splash of vegetable stock or water
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbs water
Fry aromatics over medium heat in neutral oil + a small dribble of sesame oil until fragrant. Add your mushrooms and fry until they start to brown and release liquid and steam. Add a splash of vegetable stock (as soupy as you prefer; I like my mapo without too much loose gravy). Tumble in your soft tofu (you can cube it beforehand or break it up with your ladle if you’re like me) and let it bubble for about 5 minutes.
Add the miso, mirin, soy sauce and nutritional yeast and mix to dissolve in the broth. Turn the heat to low to prevent curdling before pouring and quickly mixing in your cornstarch slurry; stir and heat till thickened to preferred consistency. Taste & adjust for seasoning with black pepper and enjoy.
Vegan sticky plum eggplant with cold noodles
Honestly there’s barely any recipe for this – I just seared the eggplant halves (scored with grids) until golden, removed them from the pan & wiped it down. Then to the pan I added about 3 spoons of sour plum sauce, 1/2 spoon sugar, 1 spoon light soy sauce, 1 grated clove of garlic and a splash of water; I cooked this down till it became thick before returning the eggplant halves with a pair of tongs and turning to coat.
I served this with quick pickled cucumber, shredded herbs, and fresh rice vermicelli noodles lightly seasoned with sesame oil and white pepper, before later pouring in a vegetarian dashi green tea broth – just dashi stock granules dissolved into a mug of hot green tea, before letting it cool and chill in the fridge. It’s a great cold broth for chilled noodles.
Vegan Taiwanese sesame liangmian 麻醬涼麵 with ginger sesame oil shredded king oyster
For the sauce:
2 spoons sesame paste (can sub pure Arabic tahini) + 1 spoon peanut butter
1 spoon sugar/sweetener like maple syrup
2 spoons Chinese chinkiang vinegar, or rice wine/balsamic if you don’t have the former
1 tsp dark soy sauce
about 2 spoons water to thin
Toss noodles with the sesame sauce, chilli oil, grated ginger, grated garlic, scallions, more toasted sesame
For the king oyster:
Slice off the cap of your mushrooms. Using a fork, claw down the body of each king oyster from top down in vertical strokes, before pulling it apart in long shreds. In a shallow dish, massage with powdered dashi/soup stock, sesame oil, ginger powder or grated ginger. Steam for 20 minutes.
I do variations of this with goji berries/Chinese dates, female ginseng 当归, using furikake instead of powdered dashi, using a pinch of MSG. Save the stock that will gather with the finished mushrooms to repurpose in dressings and/or soup – it’s full of flavour and delicious. I have a few videos saved on my IG stories here to show the process.