Gomadofu: Chilled Sesame Squares

I had planned to make goma dofu during the summer.
Goma dofu is a tofu look-alike made without any soy bean derivatives. It’s made with Japanese sesame paste (neri-goma) and, depending on the recipe author, arrowroot starch, kudzu powder, or potato starch. Looking online, I did find a recipe where the chef/cook used soy-milk, cornstarch neri-goma, and agar agar! It may have been a NYT article with Mark Bittman!?! Also, then, and perhaps I dreamed this, but someone suggested trying this recipe with smooth peanut butter instead of sesame paste!! Hmmm… cashew butter, maybe; or almond butter, even with chocolate; Yes. Yes…

And yes, the agar agar version was the NYT article! ”In Japan,” she said, ”the idea of focusing on a small aspect of something and then exploding it into many possibilities is an appealing notion, in both life and aesthetics. Working in a limited set and not letting it inhibit you but allowing it to take you to another level is part of the pleasure. Think about using just ink and paper instead of the whole palette of colors and media in painting; in the same way, the limits of cooking with plants force me to be more creative, to explode, almost into infinity, all of the possibilities.”

Goma dofu is one of the best known shoujin ryouri dishes. Shoujin ryouri (shojin ryori) is the mostly-vegan cuisine that was developed in Buddhist monasteries in Japan. But then, also note that I found a famous LA restaurant serving gomadofu “dumplings” filled with uni. Definitely not vegan!
So, caution: as you read this post [online], take a grain of salt and hold it on your tongue: it may or may not be accurate.
At the end of June, I cut three ½-gallon milk cartons to make 4-inch square molds. Ms. Shimbo’s recipe indicated that one needs a 6 ½-inch stainless steel square mold to make this recipe, which I don’t have.
(4×4)x3=48; 6.5×6.5=42.25. In my mind it’s better to have too much capacity than not enough. J. kept asking me why I was saving these cut-off milk cartons and were they not just trash? NO! I am planning to use them for my Japanese cooking!
Then, during July and August, I’d put a jar of water with a piece of kombu to sit for an hour, as in the first step of the recipe below. But things happened, and the hour became overnight, or a couple of days, or a week. J. was curious about the “science experiments” in the fridge… I don’t know how many pieces of kelp soaked in water that I put down the drain.
I did see online a version or two of this recipe where the goma dofu mixture is set in the form of dumplings, this especially in Kyoto. Perhaps as a single large dumpling which is sliced like bread to serve. Or as small single-serving dumplings—the cooked sesame/arrowroot mixture being put into a pouch of plastic wrap secured with a twist-tie, as a blob twisted to hold each dumpling like a tear-drop. Somewhat like the LA restaurant with the uni filling.
So, now I have done with the science experiments and here is a recipe worthy of a hot summer day!



Chilled Sesame Squares
12 to 16 pieces

adapted from page 179
The Custard:

  • One 4-inch square piece of kombu (kelp), soaked in 3 ¾ cups water for 1 hour
  • 4.24 ounces arrowroot starch
  • 5 ounces Japanese sesame paste (neri-goma)
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Remove the kombu from the stock, and discard the kombu. Transfer 1 cup of the kombu stock to another bowl. Add the arrowroot starch to the remaining 2 ¾ cups stock, and stir until the liquid is smooth.
Put the sesame paste into a suribachi (Japanese mortar), and little by little, blend in the reserved 1 cup stock. Or blend the sesame paste and stock in an ordinary bowl with a whisk, but try not to make too much foam.)
In the suribachi or in a bowl, stir the stock mixed with arrowroot into the sesame liquid. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.
gomadofu_8549 Transfer the strained mixture to a medium pot, and add the sake and salt. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spatula all the time. After 2 to 3 minutes of cooking you will feel the mixture beginning to thicken. Quickly reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes more, stirring all the time with the wooden spatula. By the end of the cooking, the mixture will develop a strong elasticity.
Run water all over the inside of a stainless-steel mold or plastic container, about 6 ½ inches square, then shake the water out. Immediately transfer the arrowroot mixture to the mold; once the mixture is removed from the heat, it instantly sets. With a wet wooden spatula, flatten the surface of the arrowroot mixture. Put 2 to 3 Tablespoons cold water in the mold, covering the surface of the mixture to prevent it from drying out.
Let it stand until it has cooled to room temperature. Refrigerate it, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 3 hours or for as long as over night.
Sauce and Garnish:

  • ½ cup dashi (fish stock)
  • 2 Tablespoons usukuchi shoyu (light colored soy sauce), preferabley, or regular shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 2 Tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking wine)
  • 2 Tablespoons wasaabi paste

In a small saucepan, combine the dashi, shoyu, and mirin, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
Cut the chilled sesame square into 12 or 16 pieces, wetting the knife between cuts. Spoon a little sauce onto individual plates, and serve the sesame squares on top, Garnished with a little wasabi.


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12 thoughts on “Gomadofu: Chilled Sesame Squares

  1. Hi Tess, this is really nice!
    Gomadofu is one of my favorite… my grand mother used to make it when we had guests at home. I will try this resipe and let you know how it went. Thank you.!

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  3. Pingback: Gomadofu (Sesame “Tofu”) | Culinary Foods and Beverages

  4. Pingback: Goma Dofu, or - Uses for Kudzu or Kuzu Starch | Memory & Desire

  5. It has that sort of texture, but doesn’t taste like tofu. I would describe it (unappetizing) as congealed gravy. If you were to heat it, it would probably melt because the arrowroot acts like cornstarch, potato starch, or flour that thickens a gravy, only more so for this dish. And quite tasty even so.

    If you wanted to serve it with cold somen or other noodles (maybe like a hyashi chuka soba), it might work like tofu. Or if you wanted to go more yoshoku (Westernized Japanese foods), I could see it in a lettuce salad with a wasabi flavored vinaigrette.

    On second thought, about trying to make it with agar agar: even though agar agar melts at a higher temperature than gelatin, I would guess it would also melt in a stir-fry.

  6. Thanks Tess! Just trying to find a soy alternative :) and wanted to see if it would work in sauces or dips to replace silken tofu (for the texture). I also want to try it as well as you have pictured it as it looks really good! :)

  7. Ah. I see.
    Might be worth a try for a cold sauce or dip. But there are other Japanese sesame dips and sauces that don’t use tofu to make.

    I’m guessing that you have some diet constrictions? Or am I mistaken?

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