Elizabeth Andoh's "Kansha"

Elizabeth Andoh's "Kansha"

Discover the delights of Japan's vegetarian cooking traditions in Elizabeth Andoh's cookbook 'Kansha'. Learn about the simple cooking methods that enhance the natural flavors and goodness of vegetables and tofu as the author introduces the backgrounds of foods and their connection to Japanese culture. Try out a delicious adaptation of Elizabeth's recipe for age-dashi dofu, a crispy and creamy tofu dish, using shiitake mushrooms, daikon, and ginger.

My friend and hero Elizabeth Andoh has just published her latest cookbook, Kansha. Make sure to pick up a copy! Kansha focuses on Japan's vegetarian cooking traditions, one of the things I love most about the cuisine. Traveling to Japan I discovered an intense respect for vegetables and their peak season of flavor, and simple cooking methods to enhance their already naturally delicious flavors and goodness. In her terrific book, Elizabeth explains these methods and make then readily accessible, and, as only Elizabeth can, introduces the backgrounds of foods and cooking methods and their connection to Japanese culture. Go Elizabeth! As I paged through the book, Elizabeth's recipe for age-dashi dofu, or crispy creamy tofu, as she tantalizingly describes it, caught my eye (p 178). I had to cook it, and it was delicious! Here's my adaption of her recipe, for 4 servings:

Ingredients:

5 or 6 dried shiitake
2 or 3 inch length of kombu
6-inch chunk of daikon
Knob of ginger
Soy sauce
Sugar
1 block of silken tofu
Kazukuriko (potato starch)
Vegetable oil for deep frying
8 fresh shiitake mushrooms

Method:

  1. First, I followed Elizabeth's method for making shiitake stock (p. 76): add 5 or 6 large dried shiitake, a piece of kombu about 2 or 3 inches long to 1 quart of water. Let the shiitake steep for at least 4 hours (overnight okay, too). Strain and the stock is ready. (Save the shiitake to cook, they're delicious.)
  2. Grate a 6-inch chunk of daikon, squeeze out excess liquid (don't discard, drink with a drop of soy sauce -- very good for your digestive system!), and set aside. Grate a knob of fresh ginger and set aside (1 tablespoon ginger for 4 is plenty).
  3. Prepare the broth by combining 1 cup shiitake stock, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 4 teaspoons sugar in a saucepan. Bring to just a boil over medium heat, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Turn off heat, and set aside.
  4. Pour vegetable oil into a saucepan, enough for deep frying (at least 1 1/2 inches deep). Place over medium heat. You want to heat to about 350 degrees. One easy way to tell is to stick plain wooden or bamboo chopsticks into the oil. When the bottoms release a stream of tiny air bubbles, the oil's hot enough.
  5. Prepare a block of silken tofu but cutting it into eight pieces. Pour kazukuriko (potato starch) on a plate and very gently coat all sides of the delicate tofu pieces with the starch. Gently place the tofu in the hot oil (a slotted spoon helps with this move). Deep fry for about 3-4 minutes until the crust turns light golden. Don't crowd the tofu in the saucepan, you can fry in batches if you'd like. Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
  6. While the tofu is deep frying, bring up the heat on the broth again so it's nice and hot. I threw in a few shiitake mushrooms into the broth at this point to just cook them through and serve with the tofu.
  7. To assemble the dish, pour about 1/4 cup of broth into a deep bowl. Add a couple of pieces of tofu, and a mound of grated daikon on the side. Top the tofu with a pinch of grated ginger.

To eat, mix the grated daikon and ginger into the broth, which gives it body to adhere to the tofu (daikon's enzymes also help you digest fatty foods) and eat with the tofu. Fantastic!