Sesame Tofu Salad Dressing: Shira-ae

Japanese salads are not usually made with raw vegetables; aemono are usually made with lightly cooked vegetables. The dressings usually do not contain oil but are prepared with vinegar, citrus juice, miso, ground nuts (walnuts), sesame, or other flavors. Shira-ae—white salad—is a traditional Japanese salad dressing in which tofu is blended with sesame paste and sometimes miso.

This salad can be made all year ’round by varying seasonal vegetables or even fruit! Konyaku, carrots, fresh or dried mushrooms (cloud ear, shiitake, shimej (use imagination!), lotus root, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, burdock, spinach, chrysanthemum leaves, of other leafy-green vegetables, sweet potatoes, wakame or hijiki… Mango, papaya, apple, cantaloupe, persimmon…

Green Bean, Mango, and Apple Salad with a Creamy Tofu Dressing


revised from The Japanese Kitchen
•250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
page 138
serves 4

The Dressing:

  • ½ block firm tofu (about 7 ounces)
  • 2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 3 Tablespoons sesame paste, preferably Japanese
  • 1 Tablespoon usukuchi shoyu (light colored soy sauce)
    (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking wine)
  • Salt

Blanch the tofu for 20 seconds, drain and place it in a tightly woven cloth. Squeeze to remove excess water. Note: I really squeezed the tofu dry; after putting this recipe together, it seems that you should really leave the tofu a little damp.
In a suribachi (or other mortar) grind the toasted sesame seeds fine. Add the sesame paste, and grind until the mixture is well combined. Add the tofu, and grind until the mixture is creamy and fluffy. Note: This is where my overly squeezed tofu failed to fluff, so I had to add some water.
Mix in the shoyu, mirin, and salt to taste. The dressing can be covered and refrigerated for use later in the day.

The Salad:

  • 9 ounces green beans (trimmed), zucchini, or asparagus
  • 1 mango, cut into cubes
  • 1 crisp, tart apple, cored, cut into ½-inch cubes and tossed with lemon juice

Parboil the green beans for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge it into cold water to stop the cooking. Wipe it dry and cut into 1-inch pieces. (Ms. Shimbo says 1/2″)
Have the fruit ready. You want the salad ingredients dry so the dressing doesn’t become diluted, so I had to drain the juice from the papaya.
Immediately before serving, toss the salad ingredients with the dressing. Serve in individual bowls, or place it next to grilled fish or meat on a plate.

You can use this dressing (or dressing plus salad) in a sandwich or wrap.
Or stuff aburra agé pockets for a neat appetizer.
Or stuff a lightly grilled Japanese green pepper.

I’d recommend this book to vegetarians, fans of Japanese cooking, tofu lovers, and anyone who seeks a variety of new ideas for dinner:
The book of tofu: protein source of the future– now!, Volume 1
William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi
Ten Speed Press, 1998 – 336 pages
Historical, nutritional, and culinary information about East Asia’s most important soybean food accompanies over five hundred recipes for dishes using its seven varieties

5 thoughts on “Sesame Tofu Salad Dressing: Shira-ae

  1. hi
    i love your blog. i am a frequent visitor & i am an indian.
    i have a question, you serve lot of side dishes do you make it everyday or make ahead & keep in the fridge. if that is the case how they could reheat it or eat it cold. how do you wash so many plates after every meal. what about if you are a working mom. i know lot of questions but i don’t have any japanese friend to ask. i’m a working mom & i want to feed my family well like korean do. pl help me
    thanks a lot in advance.


    • Hi suzan!

      I love Indian food, but not having a repertoire of recipes I know how to prepare, it is difficult for me to cook at home.

      Home cooking, whatever the culture, requires the cook to know how to prepare many different dishes in order to take advantage of what you have on hand, what is seasonal, or what you feel like eating on a particular day, and how to change the same ingredients from one day to another so the meals have variety.

      My blog is about Japanese home cooking, so none of my meals are like what you’d have at a fancy restaurant where foods are brought out in courses. A meal can be as simple as miso soup, rice, and pickles!

      I don’t always serve my meals in separate dishes—sometimes Western-style with food on one plate, or family style where we serve food from a common dish. I do try to serve rice in a separate dish. (usually it is only my husband and me for dinner) I am lucky because my husband is kind enough to wash the dishes, too!

      Working moms anywhere in the world are pressed for time. I often read blogs from Japan and lots of families depend on carry-out, delivery, or frozen meals—they don’t cook everything from scratch every day!

      There are some recipes which can be made in larger quantities and frozen to eat on another day. Sometimes you can cut vegetables and keep them sealed in the fridge so the prep-work is already done for several meals when you need to cook.

      In this recipe, you should keep the fruit and vegetables separate until you serve. So it is easy to change what you serve the dressing on: it will seem different each day if you do that. Or you can use the dressing in different ways, as I suggested at the end of the post: on sandwiches, stuffed into abura age pockets, or into small peppers.

      Or suppose you make potatoes one day and eat them hot, then another day, you could add some Kewpie mayo and maybe blanched carrots to make a cold salad… Anyway, you get the idea?

      I love going to Korean restaurants and love the ban-chan they serve to compliment the meal. But if you take a look at what they are, they are mostly cold or room temperature so there is no need to keep them hot. Of course a restaurant can prepare a big bowls of vinegared radish, potato salad, seasoned seaweed, glass noodles, soybean sprouts, various namuls, tofu, and so on. But as a home cook, you don’t do that. As a home cook, you need to think of “planned leftovers.”

      Anyway, I hope this gives you some ideas? I’m not always so organized and efficient, and many meals are rather haphazard—I usually don’t blog about them!

    • Hi Kathleen,

      I think it is not the same, but I have not figured out the difference!

      I used a sesame butter (or perhaps it is tahini) from a local food co-op. They sell it in bulk and I’m not sure if the sesame seeds were hulled or not, roasted or not?

      My opinion is that if you like the flavor, then go with it. I like the taste of the nut butter/ground sesame seed paste I can find locally, so this recipe was good for me.

      Is it “authentic” Japanese? I don’t know.

      Hope this helps?

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