Japanese Chilled Tofu (Hiya Yakko)

Serves 4 as an appetizer

People who are passionate about tofu seek out the freshest and treat it simply. A drizzle of high-quality soy sauce, such as the kind you use for topnotch sushi or sashimi, may be all that’s needed to make the tofu sing. However, you can embellish the tofu with fresh ginger, green onion, and other garnishes. This is a classic Japanese approach.

While you can make this preparation with purchased tofu, you will truly savor tofu’s brilliance if it’s homemade. Hiya yakko is often presented with silken tofu but it can also be prepared with tofu pudding or block tofu pressed to a medium texture. Unpressed oboro and zaru tofu are marvelous, too.

Chilled tofu is typically a summertime dish, but I enjoy it year-round. I usually present it with two basic garnishes (not including soy sauce), and if I feel extravagant I add a third one. Green shiso (Perilla frutescens) is sold at Japanese markets. More robustly flavored tia to, a shiso relative with green and garnet leaves, is a less pricey stand-in sold at Viet markets.

1 green onion, white and green parts, cut into thin rings
1 pound silken tofu or medium tofu, or 2 cups tofu pudding, chilled
1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh ginger
High-quality Japanese soy sauce or Japanese Seasoned Soy Concentrate

Optional Garnishes (Choose One or None)
2 tablespoons dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
2 tablespoons finely shredded green shiso leaves
1 full-size sheet toasted nori, briefly held over an open flame to recrisp, and cut into thin, 2- to 3-inch-long strips (use scissors)

1. Put the green onion in a small bowl and add water to cover. Set aside for 10 minutes to soak and reduce some of its harshness.

2. Meanwhile, ready the tofu. If using silken tofu, run a knife around the edge of the mold or package and invert onto a plate to unmold. Pour off the excess liquid or use a paper towel to blot it away. If using regular block tofu, drain it on a non-terry dishtowel or double thickness of paper towels placed atop a plate. Cut the silken or block tofu into 1-inch cubes or husky 1-inch-thick dominoes and arrange them in a shallow bowl or individual dishes. If using tofu pudding, scoop up large shards with a metal spoon, putting them into a shallow bowl or individual dishes. Before serving, pour off any whey that gathers.

3. Drain the green onion well, patting it with a paper towel to remove excess water. The most expeditious way to serve the tofu is to simply top it with the green onion, ginger, and any optional garnish and drizzle the soy sauce around the edge. Alternatively, present the tofu naked with all the garnishes in separate little dishes and the soy sauce on the side. Let guests choose their own garnishes. Chopsticks are traditionally used to eat this tofu but you may find that a spoon or fork is better for grabbing the tofu and all the other goodies.

Asian Tofu cook book coverExcerpted from Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2012 by Andrea Nguyen. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.