June 17, 2010

Japanify: I Love Okara

by yoko

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I discovered okara during my first year in Tokyo, thanks to my neighborhood tofu shop who sold me 400 grams (0.88 lbs) of okara every week for ¥150 (about $1.70). Okara is translated as “tofu lees” or “soy pulp” and is a byproduct of the tofu-making process.

Maybe it’s just me, but “soy pulp” sounds kind of gross, so it’s one of my missions to spread more awareness to the population at large about this miracle food by referring to it as its Japanese namesake okara. Its literal meaning in Japanese means “shell” referring to the shell casing of the soy bean which is hulled in the tofu-making process.

Websites devoted to the wonders of okara are abundant on the “net” – for example, here, here and here.

The last link takes us to a site giving us a play-by-play of some guy on the okara diet. Perhaps not as gimmicky as the South Beach diet, but the okara diet did cause a bit of a stir nationwide in Japan.

Okara belongs in the upper echelon of healthy and socially responsible foods – healthy because of its high protein, high fiber and low fat content, and socially responsible because it is usually thrown away in the tofu-making process.

But folks, this is the clincher: It’s free at my local Japanese grocer, Tokyo Fish Market, in Berkeley, California.

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Here’s a better look:

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I suspect that because most Americans do not know what to do with it, there is way more okara in the country than consumable. Therefore, the okara in the states is literally dirt cheap or free. Large amounts of okara in the U.S. are used for animal feed and processed foods such as veggie burgers.

Call your local Japanese food grocer or tofu-producer and ask if they can sell or give you some okara. Chances are, they will be happy to get rid of it.

One of the most famous okara dishes in Japan is unohana 卯の花 and is often served as a otoshi お通し (a free starter that comes automatically with your first drink order in Japanese izakayas). It is eaten at room temperature or chilled so it can be considered a protein-rich salad.

This dish has served me well when:
a) I have no protein dish for tonight’s dinner but the butcher shop has already closed.
b) I am invited to a potluck with a bunch of vegetarians and vegans.
c) I am on a tight budget.

Here’s how to make it:

A)
1 cup of dashi (or clear veggie broth/water for vegans)
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sake
2 tbsp shoyu

B)*
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, julienned
1 gobo (burdock root) shaved in strips
3 shiitake, sliced
1 lb okara

* I have also used various veggies that are more unusual or leftover in my fridge such as kanpyo, spinach and konnyaku, in addition to carrots and gobo.

1. Combine and whisk together the ingredients in section A. Set aside so that the sugar has time to dissolve.

2. Cut your carrots and shiitake. Shave your gobo pieces as if you are sharpening a pencil with a cutter. Soak the gobo shavings in ice water so they do not brown.

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Gobo (burdock root):

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Gobo shavings in ice water:

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3. Heat the oil in section B over med-high heat in a pan or wok.

4. Saute the carrots and gobo. Once they soften a little bit, add the shiitake and saute for another minute or two.

5. Lower the heat to medium and add the okara to the pan.

6. Drizzle the liquid contents of section A over the okara and vegetable mixture.

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7. Thoroughly mix the okara and vegetables together and keep over medium heat for about 5 minutes while mixing.

8. You can add more shoyu or sugar to taste.

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9. Store in air tight containers in the refrigerator. This dish can be eaten cold or at room temperature.

One serving should be about 2-3 tablespoons.

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12 Comments

  • yamahomo
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:42 am

    FYI, key to a smooth okara is to “wash” of put them in water, and strain it through cheese cloth. Then large “shells” are caught in the cloth and final product will be much smoother.

  • Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

    That’s the best looking okara I’ve ever seen!

  • kayoko
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Amazing!!! Totally recession-friendly AND so good for you! I love this post.

  • yoko
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Yamahomo: Wow that’s cool. Yes, I have found that the store bought kinds in Japan (that are packaged) are smoother than this type in America. Must be this straining process. Very interesting. I don’t mind the grain though.

    Sakura: Thanks!

    Kayoko: Yes, totally recession friendly. And you know I love getting a good deal.

  • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Hey, I also got free okara at Tokyo Fish after your knife sharpening event. I cooked okara with shiitake, carrot, age, konnyaku cabbage and green onion. It was yummy and super heathly.

  • yoko
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Nobuko-
    Hey, that’s great. Putting cabbage in it sounds like a great idea. Kayoko and I were just talking about how cabbage is really under-rated in the U.S.

  • Dorota
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Where can I find okara in NY?

  • kayoko
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Cabbage is underrated… until you have really bad gastro-intestinal issues for the rest of the night.

  • kayoko
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Dorota, good question, as there weren’t any tofu shops in NYC. I would say, you could go to EN Brasserie in the West Village, or Hibino in Brooklyn Heights, restaurants which both make their own tofu.

    You could also ask the random guy who sells tofu from him cart in Chinatown. He was always at the southeast corner of Canal and… Mulberry???

    Yamahomo, any insight?

  • yamahomo
    Posted June 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    You can buy okara at any Japanese grocery store in the city. They are not as good as homemade kind, of course, but it does the job.

  • yoko
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for chiming in guys. I have never lived in NYC so I wouldn’t know where to recommend for buying okara there. Good to know for future reference.

  • Posted July 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I got Okara from Hodo Soy Beanery Tour this afternoon. Organic, non-GMO. I have about 10 lbs! Anyone wants some? Send me an email. (I have too much for my little fridge/freezer.) You can make not only unohana, but cookies, cakes, gnocchi, burgers, meat-less sauce, etc etc. Helps with your plumbing issue like magic too!

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