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Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. It’s got a unique flavor and pairing that with the delicate umami and flavor of tofu, a little sesame and soy sauce is like magic. This dish is called shiraae in Japanese and it’s a simple yet tasty way to get more tofu and vegetables into your routine. If you’ve never made this before, consider reading to the end to get all my tips for both this dish and cooking asparagus!
What is shiraae? 白和え
At its most basic, shiraae is made with sesame seeds, soy sauce, and tofu.
This forms a rich and creamy base that is nutty, savory, and serves as the base flavor for the vegetables you have in season.
There are many variations and things you can add to your shiraae base seasoning.
While not required, each can add a new layer of flavor and umami if you’ve grown accustomed to eating this tofu dish on a regular basis.
I used to prefer shiraae cold, but one day, after being impatient and not allowing the vegetables to cool, eating it slightly warm grew on me. Perhaps, you’ll like it that way also!
One of the things that this reminds me of is mazegohan or mixed rice.
One of my favorite mazegohan recipes, is with pan fried asparagus, olive oil with a little bit of salt and pepper.
Super simple yet super delicious!
So the reason this tofu dish reminds me of that is because of the crumbly texture of the tofu.
Depending on how well you drain your tofu block and if you use a soft or firm tofu, it may be as crumbly or a little more saucy when you’re done making it!
Because shiraae is mostly vegetables with a little seasoning, you could consider it almost like a tofu dressing (a thick one at that).
Shiraae might be your new favorite way to dress your vegetables
If you’re looking for a healthy and light Japanese tofu dish, read on to learn more!
How is shiraae made ?
Shiraae is traditionally made in a suribachi, which is a Japanese mortar and pestle.
But you can use a food processor or immersion blender if you’re making a large batch.
All you need to do is make the base ‘seasoning’ by grinding or process everything together and that’s it!
The last step is to add the vegetables that you’re using.
Often times the vegetables (green beans, shirataki noodles, carrots etc) may be parboiled first before mixing with the ‘tofu dressing’.
As far as the sesame seeds – I think freshly toasted sesame seeds are the key to getting the best flavor.
You can also grind them all the way or you can leave at some of them whole if you want a little bit of a different texture.
How to enjoy the asparagus shiraae アスパラ白和え
This Japanese tofu side dish is something that is meant to be in small quantities.
While you can eat it alone I think it’s best enjoyed with a variety of things, but that’s just me.
Also, once you mix everything together you can eat it right away.
But, if you wait just a little bit you’ll find some of the flavors tend to be absorbed by the vegetables little bit better.
Kinda like curry taste better the next day, only the shiraae tastes better in just a couple of hours.
If you do have leftovers or purposefully make leftovers try to eat it within 1 to 2 days at the most.
Also – Note that the tofu is almost like a filler in this dish, but for others (like in my cookbook) the vegetables will play a more prominent role.
A few tips for making this asparagus shiraae a success-
- ensure that you drain your tofu, excess water in the tofu will dilute your seasonings.
- you may not notice unpressed or undrained tofu affect your seasoning right away, but if you have leftovers or allow the shiraae to sit for a little bit you’ll notice that water will start to seep out and dilute your dish
- if you’re particular about the color, aside from shocking the cooked asparagus, you can also use usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce). don’t get confused with low sodium soy sauce (genen shoyu). these are two different types of japanese soy sauce! usukuchi has higher salt content,d a lighter color, and flavor than regular koikuchi shoyu
- koikuchi (regular soy sauce) is gonna be just slightly darker in color than light soy sauce, and you may not even notice so if you don’t really care about the color of your tofu then it’s not a big deal
- If you really want a treat you can use homemade tofu and freshly toasted and ground sesame seeds.
- I like to top this with a little bit of freshly cracked black pepper to give it a nice contrasting spicy flavor
- you can also chill the asparagus until it’s cold or slightly lukewarm which is kind of the way that I like it sometimes, (note that temperature can affect your perception of taste too)
- if you’re patient, if you allow the mixed shiraae to sit a little (maybe 1-2 hours), the flavors will meld a little better, kinda like curry tastes better the next day, only we don’t need to wait that long. just an hour or two will do!
Tips on cooking (blanching) the asparagus
- depending on how firm you want your asparagus to be you can blanch it for a minute to two minutes, but I wouldn’t recommend more than that though since it may get a little bit too soft
- If you aren’t sure how well cooked the asparagus is you can always test it like you do taking out one piece and biting into it just like you do with pasta
- If you want your asparagus to cook even quicker, you have a few options
- you can cut the asparagus spears into smaller pieces maybe 1 to 2 inches for a really fast cook but are usually leave in around every 3 to 4 inches long
- you can use a larger pot of water, like when making pasta, if you don’t have enough hot water when you add your vegetables all at once it’s gonna drop the temperature and it’s gonna take a little bit longer to get the temperature back up
- you can also cover the pot to keep the heat in, but you may need to take the asparagus out even sooner
- to improve the flavor of the asparagus itself
- salt the water and this helps to season the spears
- alternatively, you could lightly pan-fry and get a little browning going on the asparagus, though not traditional japanese style, it’ll give it a new dimension of flavor if you’re looking for a new way to enjoy this tofu dish
- to preserve the color of the asparagus
- make sure that you shock the asparagus pieces with cold ice water
- this will top the cooking it also helps to preserve the nice green color you
Have you ever made a Japanese tofu recipe like this before?
Asparagus lends itself well to rice and pasta based dishes, so it’s only natural that it works well with tofu!
What makes this shiraae special is that we use white miso paste to add a few layers of flavor and umami.
And…. it’s one of the simplest japanese tofu dishes you can make!
what do you think? have you had shiraae before or tried anything like it?
If this sounded interesting to you and you want to learn more, consider buying my Japanese tofu cookbook Tofu Ryouri- Simple Japanese tofu recipes to cook healthier at home.
It’s got over 30 Japanese tofu recipes to help you cook Japanese style tofu all year long!