A proper bentō also often has some type of crisp savory to offset vinegared or braised foods. For ours we are making gamodoke, which is a fried tofu loaf with various vegetables. It is a distant ancestor to the modern North America tofu burger.
There is a long-standing tradition in the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine of Japan to develop dishes that mimic the flavor of meat-based recipes. These then could be enjoyed guilt-free by the temple monks. This leads to one of the possible derivations for the name of this dish, as it was thought to taste as good as roast goose, hence the name “gan” (or goose) and “modoke” (or mock). Another less prosaic hypothesis is that the name derives from a conflation of the various names used in the Kyoto area for the meatballs introduced by the Portuguese, with the root “gan” referring instead to a ball.
• 2 pounds extra-firm tofu
• Mushroom stems reserved from Simmered Shītake and Shītake Dashi
• 5-inch piece of gobo root
• 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
• 3 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons mirin
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons grated or mashed ginger root paste
• 1/3 cup carrot, cut in 1/4-inch dice
• 2 Japanese leeks, minced
• 1/3 cup frozen small peas
1. Cut tofu blocks in half to make them half as thick as they were before. Place a towel on a large baking pan and put the tofu on the towel in a single layer then cover with another towel and place a small baking pan on top. Weigh down the pan with 3-5 pounds of weight (an unopened sack of flour will work well), and press for 1 hour to remove excess water.
2. Dice the reserved mushroom stems into small pieces. Peel gobo and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Place in a small bowl and toss with vinegar.
3. In a food processor or blender process pressed tofu, eggs, mirin, soy sauce, salt and sugar until smooth. Remove to a mixing bowl.
4. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to medium-high. Add mushrooms, gobo, ginger root paste, carrot and leeks. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add peas, and cook a final 30 seconds. Let cool.
5. Mix stir-fried vegetables into the tofu mixture, and pour into a well-greased loaf pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Steam for 30 minutes until set. When done a sharp knife will come out clean when inserted into the loaf.
6. Remove from steamer. When cool, remove loaf from pan. Cut the loaf in half along the long axis, and then cut each half into 1 inch thick slices. Pan fry slices in remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until brown on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Jeff Nekola has a PhD in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has a passion for biodiversity in its many forms, whether it be plants, butterflies, and land snails in the wild or crops grown in gardens, orchards and fields, or the use of those foods as expressed by the entire range of humanity's cuisines. You can learn more here.
Linda Fey's first and finest childhood memories are of helping her mother and grandmother in the garden and then bringing in freshly picked produce to the dinner table. As an adult, she has over 20 years of experience in market gardening and teaches middle-school English at the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science. Visit www.LindaFey.com to view her writing about food and life.