Yesterday a friend came over and we made tofu together. When I wrung out the soy milk and showed Charlotte the okara (lees), she asked me how to use it. There are savory and sweet uses, I responded, but most often times, a tofu maker has so much that he/she sends the stuff off to a nearby farm for feed livestock. For us home cooks who are into making tofu, we can freeze our small quantities of lees for a while or dig them into the soil as an enrichment. In Asian Tofu, I frame okara as a “tofu byproduct bonus.”
I treat okara like wet wheat germ in baking, bread crumbs for croquettes or soy panko, and well, in this recipe, it is turned into a potato-like salad. Soy disguised as potato? I didn’t come up with the idea on my own. I had it as an appetizer/snack at Ramen Halu in San Jose. It was so good that I dragged my husband back for the okara salad, despite the fact that I’m not keen on the ramen itself.
Rory reacted like I did, that the stuff was like potato salad but without the potatoes. There was mayonnaise, mostly likely Japanese Kewpie which has a touch of MSG, fried shallots and a few cut vegetables and raw onion. The shallots, the same as Vietnamese crispy caramelized hanh phi, functioned like vegetarian bacon bits. That’s to say, they made the okara salad super tasty.
With the leftover okara from yesterday’s tofu, I came up with this recipe today. I figure that the ramen shop was riffing on a traditional Japanese unohana preparation (see the Savory Soy Milk Lees with Vegetables recipe in Asian Tofu, page 142). Unohana is delicious, homey, old-fashioned Japanese fare. It’s a good nibble with sake and beer or if you’re like me, I just eat it as a light meal. It’s filling because of all the soybean protein involved.
In the spirit of unohana, I used vegetables I had around: frozen shelled edamame, a few green beans and some cooked carrots. After making the salad myself, I found this post that uses tangy marinated cucumber and carrot; the poster used both mayonnaise and yoghurt to enrich the salad. Good idea.
All in all, you don’t need much to create this potatolike, potato-less salad. Okara takes on flavors well. That’s the beauty of soy’s versatility.
Okara “Potato” Salad with Fried Shallots
Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a snack or side dish
- 4 ounces / 115 g thawed or fresh soy milk lees
- 1 shallot, halved and sliced into half rings, patted dry with paper towel (1 oz / 30 g total)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 cup vegetables such as: edamame, carrot, and green beans (cut them as needed into quick-cooking, small pieces)
- About 3/4 cup dashi stock, homemade or made with instant dashi powder, or vegetable stock
- Generous 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- Light (regular) soy sauce or Maggi Seasoning Sauce
- Crumble up the soy milk lees if they are extremely compact. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for 5 to 8 minutes, until turning golden, as sign of near crispness. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shallot to paper towel to drain. Keep the oil in the pan.
- Increase the heat to high, add the lees. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until they have gone from being damp clumps to a fluffy fine mixture, like fresh breadcrumbs. Incorporate any crusty bits that form at the bottom and sides of the skillet.
- Add all the vegetables and dashi stock. Cook, stirring to ensure even cooking, to concentrate the flavor. The lees will suck up the moisture and feel like mashed potatoes. Keep stirring the vegetables are tender-crisp. Add dashi or water by the tablespoon to further cook, if needed.
- Transfer to a bowl set aside to cool completely. Refrigerate if you want to hasten the process. If not serving right away, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Return to room temperature before moving ahead.
- Before serving, mix in the mayonnaise. Season with drops of soy sauce and pinches of salt and sugar. Add dashi by the tablespoon to moisten, as needed. When satisfied, mix in about half of the shallot. Pile the mixture on serving plates and sprinkle on the remaining shallot. Eat with fork or chopsticks.