From the kitchen lab: Making tofu at home

Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) - not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.
Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) – not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.

I have similar experiences with tofu than with Japanese sake. Before I moved to Japan both were awful. Sake was that weired warm stuff that you got for free at the end of a meal and tofu the unpleasently grainy textured tasteless something that you only eat when you need an alternative for meat. Sometimes overpowered with spices or smoked to transform it into an unpleasantly grainy texture something with some taste – but still awful.

Soy beans in a blender
Add some water to the soaked soy beans to make your soy milk

After discovering what sake can be, I am all in for it. A wonderful ambrosia. Clear, fresh, complex and very divers. From clean and dry to fruity, sweet or luscious . The sky seems to be the limit and not every sake taste the same. Similarly you wouldn’t compare Liebrauenmilch with a wonderful German Riesling.

And my experience with tofu is similar. Since I had the really good stuff,  I don’t want to live without tofu anymore. Without Japanese tofu to be precise. All over Japan you can find tofu-ya (artisanal tofu makers) like you find artisanal bakeries in Germany.

It is easy to make soy milk using a blender
It is easy to make soy milk using a blender

Small family owned businesses that turn on their light in the middle of the night to make fresh tofu. Often in shops as big as a garage with a tiny stall in front of it. Easy to spot in the morning when they hang their cloths up for drying in the wind in front of their shops.

Japanese tofu is widely different from the one I get over here. A very delicate taste, but with a definite hint of soybeans – not invasive just the natural taste, which is so fundamental for the Japanese cuisine. Nothing that needs to hide under a layer of spices. Pure and clean.

Separating the soy milk from the lees
This is hot! When starting to separate the soy milk from the lees be sure to use a tool, because it is boiling hot. In the end I always use my hands to get the last bit out of it.

And the consistency? Whether firm, fried or silken Japanese tofu always has a pleasant mouth feel to it. The silken kind is velvety as crème bruleé, topped with grated ginger, katsuo bushi and a refreshing ponzu-sauce a refreshing snack or lunch in the heat of the summer.

I have tried every tofu that I came across. Artisanal ones sold at a farmers market as well as those commercially made in organic supermarkets. Without any success. Nothing could keep up with the tofu I tasted in Japan.

Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)
Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)

I will be keeping eating every new brand of tofu that I come across, but my hopes are not high to find what I am looking for. Obviously the German taste is different than mine. So I started to make my own tofu.

I did not expect it to be complicated. And it actually isn’t, but there are a few things that can go wrong … and did go wrong. So at the same time I found out that making tofu yourself is not a piece of cake either.

Tofu curds just before pressing
Tofu curds just before pressing

These days I am spending a lot of time in my kitchen lab, testing various ways to make Japanese tofu, aiming to understand all the parameters to make what I want reliably. I will keep you posted on my findings, but before that here are the good news:

Final Tofu
Final Tofu



I already succeeded a couple of times. I made tofu that tasted like the one from Toshio and Kyoko Kanemoto, my favorite tofu-ya-couple in Tokio, just around the corner from Kaminoge station.

Parent and Child

Actually it’s kind of wrong to post the recipe for this dish now – in the high of spring. It would be similar to decorating your house in orange an black on Christmas, but on the other hand it was the first thing that came up to my mind for this week’s post, given that this week we had both mother’s day and father’s day in Germany and children’s day (Kodomo no Hi) in Japan.

I am talking about Harako-Meshi (rice mixed with salmon and salmon caviar). It is a signature dish in Miyagi prefecture, which is in the Tohoku region of Japan’s main island Honshu. It is a typical autumn dish – that’s why it is odd to post it this time of year, but the meaning of this dish is ‘parent and child’, so – for me – it fits perfectly into this week.

Now here is the recipe and you can decide for yourself if you want to be impatient and cook it right away or if you prefer to enjoy it during its season.

Ingredients for approx. 4 persons as a main dish:

2 cups Japanese rice
ca. 2 cups of dashi (alternatively you can use water)
400 g fresh salmon (filleted without skin)
50 ml Saké
15 ml light-colored soy sauce
40 ml regular soy sauce
200g sushi-grade salmon caviar


I prepare my Harako-Meshi Takikomi Gohan-style. So I simmer the salmon quickly in a seasoned broth, keeping salmon and broth separate afterwards. I then use that salmon-flavored broth to cook my rice. After my rice is done, I add the salmon back again on top of my rice in the rice cooker or pot and keep it warm for a couple of minutes before topping it with a generous scoop of salmon caviar. Here are the details:

  1. Wash the rice well until the water runs clear and save the togi-jiru (read here for my favorite ideas for using it) for a later use. If you have the time let the rice dry after washing for 15-30 min. to prevent it from breaking. For the same reason barely cover the rice afterwards with fresh water and let it soak for another 30 min. Strain the soaking water and set the rice aside until the cooking liquid that you are about to prepare has cooled to room temperature.
  2. Cut the salmon sogi-giri-style* (cutting into slanted pieces) and marinate it in the sake and light-colored soy sauce for min. 10 minutes (or up to an hour in the fridge).
  3. Harako Meshi 1Mix dashi and regular soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the salmon with its marinade for ca. 30 seconds until the surface has changed color. Strain and reserve both, salmon and cooking liquid separately.
  4. When the coking liquid has cooled to room temperature (important!) you can start cooking the rice. Put the rice in the rice cooker or the pot and add 2 1/3 cups of coking liquid to it. If you don’t have enough cooking liquid, fill up with dashi or water and start the cooking process.
  5. Harako Meshi 3When the rice is done (keep warm phase on the rice cooker or the self steam phase when cooking rice on the stove) open the lid, put the salmon on top of the rice and quickly put the lid back on. Leave the salmon on the rice between 15 and 20 minutes.
  6. When serving the rice set a few pretty salmon pieces away for decoration. Using a shamoji (rice paddle) mix the rice with folding and cutting motions toss the while flaking the remaining salmon at the same time. If you are nice, make sure to mix in the crust at the bottom (okogé). In our home it would be considered the best part of the dish, if there wasn’t the salmon caviar, which my oldest daughter refers to as ‘funny stuff’, because she likes the mouth feel when she bites on it.
  7. Garnish with a generous scoop of bright red salmon caviar to reunite the ‘parent and the child’.

Harako Meshi 4

Enjoy, happy mother’s day and happy belated father’s day!


*Sogi-giri-style cutting:

Holding the knife diagonally, almost parallel to the cutting board making almost horizontal cuts. This method results in more surface area of the ingredient so that it cooks faster, soaks up flavor more quickly and/or has a greater surface for a sauce to cling on.

Why Wash Rice?

Nothing goes to waste in the Japanese Kitchen. Nothing. I have internalized this appreciation that I have learned from Andoh sensei years ago in our very first encounter. After a while it becomes not only a daily practice and routine, it also becomes kind of a hobby to find out how much (more) you can (re)use from an ingredient.

I usually consume white rice. It cooks and behaves widely different than brown rice – and – admittedly because I like it better. Though I do make sure to get my nutrients back in eating nuka zuké (Japanese vegetables pickled in rice bran) and adding different grains to my rice. Which leads me directly to using food – in this case rice – fully. Nuka (rice bran) is a byproduct when milling rice. It is being used as a pickle medium for vegetables and also in the cooking liquid (nuka-jiru) for e.g. fresh bamboo shoots to neutralize the natural occurring toxic and bitter components.

Some of the nuka remains on the rice and this is why you should wash your rice thoroughly before cooking or it will not cook as well. Coming back to my favorite Japanese kitchen mantra ‘Nothing is going to waste in the Japanese kitchen’: Save that water (togi-jiru) and dedicate it to a useful purpose. Need ideas? Here are my top five ways to reuse the water from washing rice

Togi-jiru for CookingCooking: The rice oils and the starch in togi-jiru neutralize bitter enzymes that allow the sugars in the vegetable to be more noticeable. Use togi-jiru instead of water to cook e.g. daikon, sweet corn or burdock for a palate-pleasing sweetness.

Togi-juru as creamBeauty: Carefully pour off the water after the sediment has formed on the bottom. Feel it. It is soft and silky.  A wonderful cream. I use it for my hands, as it doesn’t leave a greasy film behind and it doesn’t have artificial ingredients that I wouldn’t want to get on my food. Even better: it removes unwanted odors like fish or garlic.

Togi-jiru for plantsPlants: Frugal cooks also save the second and third wash to water their plants. The containing nutrients really perk them up.




Togi-jiru for pottery


Kitchen Hygiene: Togi-jiru is  effective in removing odors from your pots and pans (e.g. after cooking fish). It can also be used in cleaning the tiny contours and crevices of earthenware pots, rice bowls and teacups.


Togi-juru for cleaningCleaning: So far I have always used my togi-jiru up for cooking, as a cream or for my pots and pans. But apparently it is said to be also great for giving a nice shine to your floors, shower, bathtub, or toilet. So if you happen to have any left over togi-jiru put it in a spray bottle when wiping down your house.

You can keep togi-jiru for up to five days in the fridge an. This way you can collect the water from washing your rice for several days. The sediment at the bottom of your jar will thicken with each addition, when you pour off the water above it to make room for the new washing water.

Miso Madness: Marinated Fish

Today was one of those days. An overflowing to do list and whatever I started seemed not to end precisely where I wanted. Adding to the distraction that comes with a not-so-much-sleeping-anymore-baby my oldest one joined in, as she couldn’t go to school either. Those days would normally be destined for some take out food or home delivery. Normally. If take out wouldn’t take so much time to pick up, given that I have to take the entire kids-gang with me. If delivery services would make tasty food. If I would find a delivery service that has food for every taste and age. If I would find a delivery service that serves the food either super fast or in a reliable time frame to arm me for the witching hour when my girls transform to kidzillas. But so far I haven’t found one. And on those days I cannot afford to stir a pot on the stove while consoling one, two or three girls at the same time close to tears myself. On those days I need a kitchen lifesaver. Quick and easy soul food. Comforting, healthy and satisfying.

One of my all time favorites in this situation is succulent Saikyo Yaki (Miso-marinated grilled fish), served with a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice and a savory miso soup. As usual, I have some fish in its marinade in my fridge waiting patiently for those days to come. Now all I need is a tiny bit of preparation to bring out the smiles again with a yummy dinner on the table in about 10 minutes elapsed time. How does that sound?

So whenever you have a moment during the day wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker and keep it warm until you need it. At the same time soak some kombu (kelp) in water and make dashi (basic stock) within a couple of minutes (see recipe here), putting you in the pole position to whip up a miso soup while the fish, that you just need to take out of the marinade, is broiling. That’s it.

Certainly no remedy against the witching hour, but a way to make your life easier in the heat of the moment. Admittedly, I almost always have some salmon marinated in miso sitting in my fridge. Just to be prepared. Also because it simply tastes wonderful and keeps for about five days in the marinade.  And even if I don’t have one of those days, I don’t mind a yummy and healthy dinner that only takes minutes to get on the table.

Saikyo Yaki


  • 4 pieces á 100g  Fish (e.g. Salmon, (Spanish) Makarel, Cod)
  • some saké (optional
  • Sarashi or cheesecloth, big enough to wrap the fish
  • Non-reactive vessel that holds the fish in a snug fit layer


  • 450-500g saikyo miso (sweet, light miso)
  • 80 ml Mirin
  • Zest of one yuzu, lemon or orange


Rinse the fish under cold water and pat it dry. If you want to hedge your bets rinse the fish with sake and pat it dry. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and put half of it in a non-reactive vessel. Place the sarashi or cheesecloth (in a double layer) on top of the miso in the vessel, press down slightly and add the fish (snug fit). Enclose the fish with the remaining piece of sarashi/cheesecloth, put the second half of the marinade on top of it and close the lid or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let the fish marinate at room temperature for a minimum of six hours or in the fridge for up to five days. The longer the fish marinates the firmer it will get and the more intense the salty-sweet miso flavor will become.

To cook the fish scrape off the marinade on top of the sarashi/cheesecloth (save the marinade for another use in a glass jar) and remove the fish from the container. Place the fish skin side down on a piece of aluminum foil and grill it for about three or four minutes (the skin will bubble and char a bit). Turn and grill for another 2-3 minutes. If you use a broiler start with the skin side up (to protect the fish against the heat). If you have neither use a pan and sear the fish slowly (skin side down first) on medium heat, being careful not to let it scorch. Remove the fish from the heat when being slightly crusty and golden on the outside and still juicy and succulent on the inside and serve it right away or at room temperature.

Stay tuned for more kitchen lifesafers and more Miso Madness recipes. Sign up for the newsletter and you will get them directly to your inbox.

Sakura Gossip

Spring, meaning the cherry blossom season, has finally reached Japan in full bloom and the country is blanket in white and pink flowers. Weather or not is chilly, people drag outside to have a picnic under the cherry trees. It is also the season for salted cherry blossoms that make fantastic Sakura Gohan (rice mixed with cherry blossoms) – perfect to take on a picnic. But there is more to salted cherry blossoms than Sakura Gohan. They can also – and in face are during wedding ceremonies – served as Sakura Yu (a broth-like ‘tea’). Why is that? It is believed that green tea encourages gossip. And with each liaison there are many opinions about it out there. But on the day of the wedding ceremony it is expected that everybody keeps silent about personal opinions on the couple and to emphasize this, Sakura Yu is served instead of green tea.

So if you are invited to a wedding try to get your hands on a bag of salted cherry blossoms. They make a cute little gift.

Shun: The Peak of Flavor

Washoku, Japan’s traditional food culture has gained increasingly worldwide interest since it has been awarded a UNESCO Intangible Cultural World Heritage two and a half years ago. The heart of Washoku is a healthy, balanced cuisine that embraces and internalizes the spirit of seasonality and seasonal events. It is a century old culinary tradition that is still in evidence throughout Japan.

The Japanese even have a specific word for their attention to seasonality: Shun. There is no equivalent for Shun in the English language. Shun translates to an almost religious obsession to consume food at the peak of its season. Imagine you bite in a big, fat, red, succulent, sweet and juicy strawberry that fills your mouth with this irresistible distinct flavor of early summer. That is Shun.

But nature’s production does not begin and end with this peak in flavor. So the Japanese dedication to seasonality has further divisions of the season: Hashiri and Nagori. Hashiri refers to products that have just come into season or are even a little early. They are usually smaller in size, not as flavorful and rather expensive. Whereas Nagori describes the products at the end of the season, who are no longer really wonderful.

Nihonbashi Yukari’s’ fall menu in November. Hashiri: Shirako, best in the cold months of December and January
Nihonbashi Yukari’s fall menu in November. Hashiri: Shirako, best in the cold months of December and January

Coming back to the strawberries. Hashiri means the run for the first strawberries. You remember the fruity, juicy, succulent and sweet flavor, which you have been waiting to get for the past year. You cannot wait to bite into one, knowing that they are often not fully ripe and tarter than you would actually like, but to get a glance at the taste of what is soon to come in full flavor is worth the high price you pay.

Opening in ‚Nihonbashi Yukari’s’ fall menu in November. Nagori: Dried Persimmons, which have their Shun in October
‚Nihonbashi Yukari’s’ fall menu in November. Nagori: Sweet Persimmons, which have their Shun in September and October

Nagori is the opposite. Middle of June, when the strawberry season is almost over and the ones that you buy are usually over ripe, easily bruised and no longer wonderful. But you just have to buy that one last basket, one last glimpse of that juicy taste that is so typical for the first warm summer days, because you know that this is your last chance before you have to say good-bye and wait another year for them to come around as wonderful as they just were.

Given this attention to seasonality it does not come on a surprise that in a formal Kaiseki-meal the chef composes a symphonic firework for all senses, fusing the five colors, the five flavors and the five methods of preparation for products from all of the three sub-seasons.