komatsuna ohitashi with katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) and crushed toasted sesame seeds
The second dish I wanted to try from my tofu cooking class was the komatsuna ohitashi, marinated komatsuna greens, and shira ae, creamy tofu dressing. I thought the ohitashi we had in class was too mildly flavored to go over well at home. That recipe called for only 1 teaspoon of usukuchi shoyu in the marinade. I checked the recipe for spinach ohitashi in Washoku, this recipe called for 2 tablespoons of seasoned soy concentrate but no mirin. So I split the difference and added 1 tablespoon each of usukuchi shoyu and mirin to my broth.
I also made shira ae, creamy tofu dressing, to serve with the ohitashi. I tried making this dressing when we lived in Boulder, and Alex didn’t like it much. Today, though, he liked the shira ae. Success! He thinks the difference is that the tofu here in Japan has much better flavor than the tofu available at home.
In class we also tried the dressing with and without a small splash of dashi added. The dashi really brings out the depth of flavor in the sauce. I recommend that you take the time to make some good dashi (not the powdered stuff) and add just a splash to your tofu dressing (and of course, you can use it in the ohitashi marinade as well).
I don’t have a food processor in my kitchen, so I actually made the dressing by pressing the tofu through a fine-meshed strainer and grinding it in a suribachi. This way works well, but don’t forget to press the tofu through the strainer first, before you put it in the suribachi, or it will be too chunky.
I like the ohitashi and shira ae because they are great to take in my bento to work. I can make a big batch (double the recipe) and take it with shira ae one day, and plain with katsuo bushi and sesame seeds the next. Be careful not to make more greens than you can eat in a few days or they will discolor and become brown. Try this recipe with spinach or other leafy greens too.
Komatsuna no Shira Ae
adapted from original recipe by Elizabeth Andoh, copyright 2008
1 bunch (about 3/4 lb) fresh komatsuna or other leafy green
1/2 cup dashi
1 tablespoon usukuchi shoyu
1 tablespoon mirin
1/4 to 1/3 large block tofu, about 4 ounces
2 teaspoons Saikyo shiro miso
1/4 teaspoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon dashi
Fill a large tub with fresh cold water and set the komatsuna to soak in the tub. Pull away and discard any bad leaves.
Have three or four pieces of kitchen twine ready, each about 5 or 6 inches long. These strings will be used to tie up clusters of the grees so that their root or tuft ends will be aligned. Doing so will allow you to cook the tougher parts longer than the tender leaves, and it will provide you with several more options for plating the moistened greens.
Begin by laying a single string on your counter. Take a cluster of rinsed greens and shave off just a bit of the roots if they seem particularly tough. With a sharp knife, make a shallow “X” through the thickest part of the stems, about 1/3 inch deep, as though you were going to slice them lengthwise. Rinse the stems gain under cold water to remove any remaining dirt or sand; lay the greens on the string, placing them perpendicular to it. Tie up the greens with kitchen twine. Repeat to make two or three more bundles with the remaining greens.
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. With your fingers, tongs, or chopsticks, hold the bungles of fresh greens by the leaves, and dip the stem portion in the boiling water, holding it partly submerged until the stems are barely wilted. Then let the leaves drop into the pot. Depending on the size of the pot, you may need to use your chopsticks to push the leaves under the water. When the water returns to a boil, stir the greens and lift them from the boiling water. Transfer the tender blanched greens to a bowl of icy cold water. Repeat to blanch the remaining bundles of komatsuna. (Save the mineral-rich, green-hued boiling water used for blanching the greens to par-boil the tofu later in this recipe.)
In a small, shallow glass baking dish, combine the dashi, soy sauce and mirin to make the marinade. Lift the bundles of blanched greens from the icy water, squeezing out all moisture. Remove the strings and, keeping the vegetables aligned, place them in the marinade. Allow them to steep at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerated for up to 2 days. When ready to serve, lift the greens from the marinade and gently press out excess moisture. Cut the bundles into 1-inch lengths.
Make the tofu sauce:
Bring the blanching water to a vigorous boil and cook the tofu for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the tofu to a cloth-lined colander.
When the tofu is cool enough to handle, gather up the edges of the cloth to enclose the tofu, twisting the top to gently squeeze out the excess moisture. It is fine to mash the tofu a bit while doing this.
In the old-fashioned Japanese kitchen, the boiled tofu would them be forced through a sieve called an uragoshi and finally mashed in a suribachi. In my modern kitchen (and, I suspect in other Japanese households today), the boiled-and-drained tofu goes into the bowl of a food processor to be pulse-blended until smooth.
Add the miso to the suribachi and hand grind to blend. Or, scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, add the miso and pulse-blend again until smooth. Season with the salt, mirin, and dashi; then pulse again until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to insure even mixing.
When ready to serve either arrange bundles of cut komatsuna garnished with a dollop of sauce, or toss the cut komatsuna in the sauce and mound.
Garnish with ground toasted sesame seeds.