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.