Tofu by-products: Okara
Making tofu is both labour- and resource-intensive. (I can’t imagine it would ever have been developed anywhere that water was scarce.) But that doesn’t mean it’s wasteful: after the ground beans have been steeped to make the soy milk for tofu, they still have lots of nutritional value, especially fibre!
This leftover soy mash is known as okara. Unfortunately, it’s rare to find it in stores, because it’s extremely perishable; if you do find it for sale, be sure to cook it the same day you buy it. Okara has bulk and a soft, fluffy texture, but no flavour to speak of, so it takes added flavours beautifully.
Because my latest attempt at making my own tofu didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I decided I would at least get the most out of it by cooking the okara. So I decided to make the classic Japanese home-cooking dish called unohana. Commonly made with fish-based dashi, you can easily make it a vegetarian dish by substituting a kombu-only dashi (simply omit the bonito flakes) or the soaking liquid used to rehydrate dried shiitakes. Also, the type and amount of vegetables can be varied; root vegetables (carrot, burdock root), mushrooms (fresh or dried) and onions (white or green) are all good choices.
How to make unohana
1½ Tbsp. oil
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
Assorted vegetables, in fine dice or julienne
200 grams okara
1 Tbsp. sake
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3/4 cup dashi, either vegetarian or not
Thinly sliced green onions, rinsed in cold water and drained or toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Heat both oils in a sauté pan, add the vegetables, and cook until they begin to soften. Stir in the okara, then sprinkle with the sake, sugar and soy sauce. Pour the dashi over, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are cooked through. Taste, and add a little salt if needed. Allow to cool slightly – the dish is traditionally served at room temperature – then serve garnished with green onions or sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a side dish.