Sesame “Tofu” with Fresh Wasabi

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(Sesame “Tofu” with Fresh Wasabi) MAKES 16 CUBES; PHOTO AT LEFT AC­TIVE: 40 MIN. • TO­TAL: 6 HR. 40 MIN.

Tak­ing short­cuts is tech­ni­cally counter to the point of cook­ing sho­jin ry­ori, or Ja­panese tem­ple cui­sine, as the word sho­jin means “earnest ef­fort.” No dish demon­strates the monk’s ded­i­ca­tion to hard work like gomatofu, a tofu looka­like made us­ing ground sesame that’s served as an ap­pe­tizer. The most earnest cooks use un­hulled, un­toasted sesame seeds, which are the hard­est to grind into a paste and ex­tract fla­vor from (the monks soak them, then grind them for up to an hour by hand to do so). But if you pre­fer to go the con­ve­nience route, use toasted hulled seeds and a high-pow­ered blender. Kuzu root, com­mon in Asian kitchens, is of­ten sold dried and ground into a starch that can be used as a thick­ener or to add shine and body to soups and other dishes (it’s of­ten la­beled kuzu root pow­der or kuzuko). The top-of-the-line va­ri­ety is called Yoshi­nokuzu and is made from wild moun­tain roots near Ky­oto.

1½ cups white sesame seeds (7¾ oz.) ¾ cup kuzuko (kuzu root pow­der), such as

Yoshino-kuzu (3½ oz.) ¾ tsp. kosher salt Wasabi, for serv­ing

1 In a large bowl, add the sesame seeds and cover with cool wa­ter; let soak to loosen their hulls, about 3 hours. (If us­ing hulled sesame seeds, skip this step.)

2 Strain off the wa­ter and trans­fer the seeds to a high-pow­ered blender. Add 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (7 oz.) cool wa­ter and blend for 3–4 min­utes un­til a smooth paste forms.

3 Trans­fer the paste to a fine sieve, and us­ing a spat­ula, press the paste through the sieve and into a bowl (you should have about 2 cups paste).

4 In a small sau­cepan over medium heat, add the sesame paste, kuzuko, and salt; mix very well un­til no longer lumpy. Cook over medium heat, stir­ring con­stantly, un­til the mix­ture be­comes firm, 12–15 min­utes. Re­move from the heat. Fold the mix­ture with a spat­ula un­til cooled, 8–10 min­utes.

5 Trans­fer to a small square con­tainer (6x6 inches), press­ing down on the paste to ex­tract any air bub­bles. Cover with plas­tic wrap and chill un­til firm, 2–3 hours.

6 To serve, cut into 4 equal squares, then cut each into 4 equal squares again to make 16 cubes to­tal. Top each spar­ingly with freshly grated wasabi, and serve.

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