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Silky tofu and sesame envelop toasted walnuts and pieces of sweet, juicy persimmon in this dish that is a beautiful presentation of autumn seasonal flavours. Elegant Japanese shiraae pairs wonderfully with white wine or sake.
What is shiraae?
Shiraae (白和え) is a Japanese-style salad dressed with tofu and white sesame and/or white miso. It is an elegant dish that can be found served at home, as well as in high-end kaiseki restaurants (restaurants that serve traditional, multi-course Japanese meals) in Japan. The earliest known record of shiraae is a recipe that dates back to 1643.
Shōjin ryōri (精進料理)
Shiraae is a type of ‘Shōjin ryōri,’ the traditional cuisine of Japanese Buddhist monks. This cuisine was popularized by the wide spread of Zen Buddhism in Japan in the 13th century. Following Buddhist traditions, this cuisine is completely vegan – made without any animal products. Also, it avoids using strong flavours, such as onion or garlic.
Typically, a soybean-based food, like tofu, is used to provide protein in the diet. And it is served along with seasonal vegetables and fruit that are packed with flavour and nutrition. Far from bland, the meals are colourful and feature a variety of flavours that come naturally from the plants used, rather than added as seasoning.
The persimmon is an autumn signature in this cuisine, as it is in season between October and November. It tastes wonderful in this shiraae dish. Moreover, it looks very impressive when served in a hollowed out persimmon bowl.
Persimmon has a taste of its own – sweet, rich, and tangy. Persimmon needs to be ripe to taste good. An unripe persimmon will be firm. A ripe persimmon will be quite soft.
How to make Japanese persimmon shiraae
Begin by boiling salted water in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the firm tofu in one solid piece and boil it for two minutes.
Then remove the tofu from the pot (do not discard the water), wrap it in paper towel, and set it aside.
Add the spinach into the same water. Boil it for a few minutes until tender, then drain it, pressing the water out of it. (You may now discard the pot’s water.) Drizzle the spinach with soy sauce, and squeeze the liquid out once more. Set it aside for now.
Persimmon shiraae is often made using garland chrysanthemum greens, rather than spinach. The bitter chrysanthemum balances well with the sweet persimmon. However, for the sake of ease in finding ingredients, I made mine with spinach. You could use either.
Next we will toast the walnuts. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add in the walnut pieces, and cook while stirring for a couple minutes until browned and fragrant. (You can also toast sesame seeds in a skillet if you did not buy them already toasted.) Remove the walnuts from the heat and set them aside.
A mortar and pestle is helpful for this step, but not necessary. Break the tofu up into large pieces and put them in a mixing bowl, along with the sugar. Then grind them together until the tofu has become a paste and the sugar is well incorporated.
Add the sesame paste and bit of salt, and mix together once again. You add salt to this dish to balance out the sweetness of the persimmon. Add it according to your taste preference and the sweetness level of your persimmon.
Peel a persimmon and cut the amount you need into small slices.
Add the sliced persimmon in with the tofu and gently mix together.
Add in the spinach and walnuts, and mix.
Serve the shiraae immediately, sprinkled with toasted white sesame seeds.
How to make persimmon bowls
If you plan to serve the shiraae in a beautiful persimmon bowl, you will need two extra persimmons to hollow out. Cut the top of the persimmon off to form a lid. And cut the very bottom of the persimmon off to give a flat surface to stand evenly on.
Using a spoon, carefully scoop the flesh out of the persimmon. If you break a hole through the bottom, that’s fine.
Technically, you could use the scooped out flesh from one of these persimmons to serve in the shiraae. But the slices won’t look as nice, so it’s up to your preference. I used the extra fruit for snacking. I shared some with my furry kitchen helper, too. Miu loves fruits and vegetables.
Scoop the shiraae evenly into your two persimmon bowls and sprinkle them with some toasted white sesame seeds. Serve and enjoy your Japanese shiraae immediately.Print
Silky tofu and sesame envelop toasted walnuts and pieces of sweet, juicy persimmon in this delicious and seasonal Japanese shiraae dish.
100 g firm tofu
100 g spinach *
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white sesame paste **
salt, to taste
toasted white sesame seeds
Boil salted water in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add tofu in one piece and boil for two minutes. Remove the tofu from the water, wrap it in paper towel and set it aside.
Add the spinach to the same water. Boil it for a few minutes until tender, then drain, squeezing the water out. Drizzle the spinach with soy sauce, then squeeze once again to remove excess liquid. Set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped walnut pieces and cook while stirring for a couple minutes, until browned and aromatic. Set them aside.
[Use a mortar and pestle for these next steps, if you happen to have one.] Break the tofu into large pieces and put it into a bowl along with the sugar. Grind them together until the tofu has become a paste and the sugar is well mixed in.
Add in the sesame paste and a bit of salt. The salt is added to balance out the sweetness of the persimmon. Add it according to your taste preference and the sweetness level of your persimmon.
Peel the persimmon, and cut the amount that you need into slices. Gently mix the sliced persimmon into the tofu mixture.
Add in the spinach and toasted walnuts, then gently mix them together.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with toasted white sesame seeds.
Cut the top of the persimmon off to make the lid. Cut the very bottom off to provide a flat surface to sit on evenly.
Using a small spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh of the persimmon. It’s fine if you accidentally puncture through the bottom of the bowl while scooping out the inside.
* This dish is often made with garland chrysanthemum greens, rather than spinach. But I chose to make it with spinach for ease of finding ingredients.
** Sesame paste can be found at some Asian food markets. Or, you can substitute it in this recipe with a tablespoon of ground white sesame seeds.
Keywords: Japanese shiraae, Persimmon shiraae