My cookbook, KANSHA: Celebrating Japan's Vegan & Vegetarian Traditions (Ten Speed Press, 2010) provides a solid foundation to the principles and practice of kansha in the kitchen and at table. This workshop page enables me to guide you further.  ENJOY!

KANSHAworkshop SIX

Foxy Fried Tōfu

Abura Agé (Fried Tōfu)

Japanese culinary culture is filled with references to foxes and their fondness for abura agé (fried tōfu). Names of dishes made with fried tōfu will often allude to this fox connection.

Sometimes you see the word itself, kitsuné (fox) as part of the name of the dish. Kitsuné udon or soba are soup-noodles garnished with sheets of fried tōfu that have been simmered in a (slightly) sweet soy broth. The color of fried tōfu is often referred to as kitsuné iro or "fox-colored."

Other times you will encounter the word inari. Inari-zushi are sweetly soy-simmered pouches of fried tōfu stuffed with vinegar-seasoned (sushi) rice. Inari shrines are dedicated to rice cultivation; fox-figures guard the entrance to these shrines.

At other times, the word Shinoda will appear on menus. When it does, Shinoda is capitalized because it is the name of a place, Shinoda Forest, near present-day Osaka. The forest is the home to many legendary foxes, including one female fox that changed to human form and married a hunter (foxy lady!)

Fox-Guard at Shinoda Mori Jinja (Shrine)

Triangles? Rectangles? WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

In the KANSAI area (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe) the strong association of abura agé with fox legends is evident as a preference for TRIANGULAR shaped fried tōfu that is meant to suggest FOX EARS.

In the KANTO PLAIN area (Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura, Chiba, Saitama) the strong association of abura agé with inari shrines and RICE is evident as a preference for RECTANGULAR shaped fried tōfu that is meant to suggest RICE SHEAVES (tawara).

After blanching abura agé (fried tōfu) sheets to remove excess oil and puff them up (to making prying them open easier), trim off one of the narrow ends from each sheet (save these pieces: see below). Arrange vegetable sticks on the sheet and roll up.

Secure the rolls by tying them with softened kampyō. Simmer and then cut the long rolls to make individually tied, bite-sized rolls.

Photo-illustrated details in the recipe. Download here.



Nothing Goes to Waste in the Kansha Kitchen

KANSHA means appreciation, and one way of demonstrating kansha in the kitchen and at table is to avoid waste. Using food fully means re-thinking your kitchen habits, focusing special attention on what could -- and should -- be used... And, considering what might be saved, rather than discarded. After you open the abura agé (fried tōfu), DON'T DISCARD the end bits! Thinly cut into slivers. And use them in soup or add them to soy-simmered hijiki, instead.

I welcome your feedback -- especially captioned photos with a brief description of your kitchen sessions when you try making the recipes above. Those interested in offering feedback, please download a set of guidelines for submitting and displaying your work.To further teaching goals, I may post some of the feedback to this site, adding my commentary.