Because summers in Japan are hot and humid, Japanese cooks know a thing or two about the refreshing dishes such sultry days call for.
Gomadofu falls into that category: a concoction of sesame paste cooked with a thickening agent until set, it resembles tofu in color and texture, hence the name (goma = sesame), and is served chilled.
I first came across it when Maxence and I traveled to Japan last spring, and stayed overnight at a temple in Koya-san. There we were served a shojin ryori dinner, the vegan cuisine that is practiced by Zen Buddhist monks in Japan*, and one of the many little dishes brought to us was a shallow cup of gomadofu, silky on the tongue and richly flavorful.
I hadn’t really thought to make it myself until I found this post on Maki’s ever-helpful Japanese food blog. Her recipe seemed so easy, I couldn’t not try it.
I already had sesame paste on hand — mine is a Middle-Eastern-style tahini I buy at the organic store — so all I needed to get was some kudzu powder, a starch drawn from a Japanese vine, which is not hard to find if you have access to a natural foods store or a Japanese market.
I made my first batch following Maki’s recipe, to deliciously rewarding results. All you do, really, is combine the sesame paste with kudzu powder and water, heat it up to thicken, then chill to set.
On a later occasion, I used a couple of tips I got from another inspiring Japanese food blog I frequent, called Tess’s Japanese Kitchen. I steeped some kombu (a type of seaweed) in the water first, and added a little sake for flavor, but both of these steps are optional.
All in all, very little exertion is required to create your very own sesame “tofu,” which you’ll then divide into cubes and serve cold, as an appetizer or as part of a light meal, typically pairing it with soy sauce, wasabi, and freshly grated ginger, or the homemade sauce Tess suggests.
I myself like it with yuzukosho (a yuzu and pepper condiment) and a little seaweed — strips of torn nori or, as pictured above, a sprinkle of freshwater seaweed from Jugetsudo in Paris — in addition to soy sauce.
Having made the original sesame version a few times now, I am planning to branch out and make amondodofu with almond butter and kashudofu with cashew butter**.
** Not official names; I’ve just made them up.
- 500 ml (1/2 quart) filtered or spring water
- A 5-cm (2-inch) piece of kombu (optional)
- 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) kudzu starch (look for it in natural food stores or Japanese markets, possibly under the name kuzuko)
- 70 grams (2 1/2 ounces, about 1/3 cup) white sesame paste (you can use a Middle-Eastern tahini or a Japanese neri-goma, whichever is easier to find)
- 1 tablespoon sake (optional)
- Put the water and kombu (if using) in a bowl and let them sit for at least 1 hour. Remove the kombu and discard, or reserve for another use (I add it to the water when I cook legumes, it is said to make them easier to digest).
- Place the kudzu starch in a medium mixing bowl. Add a little of the kombu-infused water and stir/mash until completely smooth. Add the sesame paste, then pour in the remaining water little by little, stirring well so the mixture will thin without forming lumps. You can use a whisk to stir the mixture, but make sure you don't incorporate air into it: it shouldn't become frothy.
- Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan, and add the sake if using.
- Place the pan over medium heat and stir constantly with a spatula as the mixture thickens. As soon as it becomes lumpy, set the heat to low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes longer, stirring continuously, until the mixture takes on a pudding-like consistency.
- Wet the insides of a square or rectangular container (this is so the gomadofu will unmold easily), about 750 ml (3 cups) in capacity, and pour the thickened mixture into it. Smooth the surface with the spatula and place the container in the fridge to set for 2 to 3 hours.
- Unmold onto a large plate and cut into square servings with a knife, dipping the blade in hot water between cuts.