Japanese Monks Loaf
Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity
A proper bentō also often has some type of crisp savory to offset vinegared or braised foods. For our bentō we are making gamodoke (雁擬き) 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” (雁 or goose) and “Modoke” (擬き 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. No matter the origin, these are a wonderful addition to our bentō.
Monk's Loaf (雁擬き or Ganmodoki)
2 pounds extra-firm tofu
5” piece of gobo root
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons grated or mashed ginger root paste
1/3 cup carrot, cut into ¼” dice
2 Japanese Leeks, minced
1/3 cup frozen small peas
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.
Dice the reserved mushroom stems into small pieces. Peel gobo and cut into ¼” dice. Place in a small bowl and toss with vinegar.
In a food processor or blender process pressed tofu, eggs, mirin, soy sauce, salt and sugar until smooth. Remove to a mixing bowl.
In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, gobo, ginger root paste, carrot and leeks. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Add peas, and cook a final 30 seconds. Let mixture cool.
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. The loaf is done when a sharp knife will come out clean.
Remove from the steamer. When cool, remove the loaf from the pan. Cut the loaf in half along the long axis, and then cut each half into 1” thick slices. Pan fry slices in remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Serve at room temperature. It is excellent with Peanut Nerimiso sauce (see next entry).
You can grow your own gobo, carrots (Kuroda Long 8 are a good choice), Japanese leeks (He Shi Ko, Ishikura, or Tokyo Long White), and a very early garden pea (such as the Alaska Garden) if you want to enjoy this under a blooming cherry tree.