OISHII / Condiments’ aroma, savory vinegar keep heat at bay

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cold tofu with seasoned vinegar

The Yomiuri ShimbunCold tofu with seasoned vinegar

In this column, chefs and cooking experts share recipes that are easy to prepare at home.

The aroma of oba (green shiso) leaves and myoga young ginger buds can quell the summer heat.

Naoyuki Yanagihara, vice president at Yanagihara Cooking School of Traditional Japanese Cuisine, uses plenty of these condiments in his recipe for cold tofu seasoned with tosazu vinegar.

Tosazu is a seasoned vinegar that uses dashi made from dried bonito shavings, accentuating the flavor of savory food.

Keep the sliced oba, myoga and cucumber in water until right before they are placed on top of the tofu.

“This step removes the astringent taste of the ingredients, but depending on the food it also has other effects,” said Yanagihara, who inherited a Japanese cooking style called kinsaryu that is based on the techniques and traditions of the Edo period (1603-1867).

The color and smell of oba leaves gradually fade once they are chopped up; putting the leaves in water keeps them from being exposed to the air, thus preserving their aroma and preventing discoloration. The cucumber also maintains its crunchy texture in water.

“Wrap them in a cloth to remove the excess water before using as a garnish,” he said.

The name tosazu comes from the Tosa domain, now Kochi Prefecture. The region has long been known as a major production area of dried bonito flakes. Dishes and seasonings that use bonito flakes often bear the word “tosa.”

To make tosazu, Yanagihara boils rice vinegar and soy sauce then adds bonito flakes while simmering.

“This step is called ‘oi-gatsuo’ and is for adding the savory flavor of bonito to vinegar. It also makes the sourness of vinegar more mild,” he said.

If bonito flakes are heated for a long time, the aroma disappears. To avoid this, Yanagihara recommends turning off the heat as soon as the flakes are added and leaving it for a minute. After that, strain through a cooking cloth, squeezing and finally chilling the stock.

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He briefly immerses the tofu in boiling water, then cools it in iced water. He said this extra step cannot be skipped in the kinsaryu style, even when food is served cold.

This dish is a mix of all kinds of textures, from the tofu’s smoothness to the crunchiness of the cucumber and myoga. The fresh aromas of the oba and myoga complement the mild tosazu. Yanagihara cooks each ingredient with great care — turning a casual cold tofu dish into something special.

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 block silken kinu tofu

30 grams rehydrated wakame seaweed

1 bud myoga young ginger

½ cucumber

4 oba leaves (green shiso leaves)

2 okra pods


50cc rice vinegar

1½ tbsp soy sauce

3 grams bonito flakes


1. Julienne cucumber and oba, and slice myoga before putting them all in water.

2. Peel the upper tip of the okra with a knife. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and roll on a cutting board to remove fuzz. Boil until okra turns vivid green, put in cold water and chop. Boil wakame quickly and cut into bite-size pieces.

3. Pour vinegar and soy sauce into a pan and bring to boil, then simmer and add bonito flakes. Strain stock through a cloth by squeezing, then chill.

4. Cut tofu into four blocks and place in boiling water. Put in iced water to chill.

5. Drain tofu and serve on a plate. Remove excess water from cucumber, myoga, oba and okra and use to garnish tofu. Place wakame beside tofu and pour tosazu over it all.

Myoga sushi

Myoga pickled in sugared vinegar can be a sushi topping.

Cut off the end of the myoga and peel three to four of its reddish outer layers before boiling them for about 30 seconds. Pickle in a mixture of 50cc of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Shape some rice into bite-size pieces, place a piece of myoga on top and form into the shape of sushi.

“Pickled myoga is already sour, so the rice tastes fine without being vinegared,” Yanagihara said.

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