Thanks mainly to a nationwide on-again-off-again relationship with Buddhism and vegetarianism, Japanese chefs have become adept at transforming soy beans into incredibly realistic mock-meat products. These are not just commercially made, industrial scaled foodstuffs though- even the smallest of farmsteads with minimal equipment and space can create tofu with the most delicate flavour and the silkiest of textures to rival the technologically advanced, multinational corporations, resulting in a wealth of artisanal and regional tofus across the country. Mount Kōya, in the Wakayama prefecture, has been the home of Shingon Buddhism in Japan for over a thousand years and according to legend, the birthplace of freeze-dried Kōyadofu. During the Edo period, a monk is said to have unintentionally left an offering of tofu outside overnight; being eight hundred metres up a mountain, the beancurd quickly froze in the night air and was forgotten about until the next morning. Upon discovering his mistake the monk allowed the frozen block of tofu to defrost before eating it as normal, which is when he noticed the structural changes and intensified flavour resulting from the overnight chilling.
By freezing and defrosting, you reduce the amount of water that it can hold within its gel-like structure, turning the tofu into a spongy, crumbly mass similar in texture to cooked minced pork. Fried lightly in a little oil to increase the fat content and with the addition of some finely chopped mushrooms to boost the savoury umami flavour, you end up with the perfect base for a vegan-friendly version of the classic gyoza that even the most tofu-phobic of people will enjoy.
- Approximately 50 gyoza wrappers
- 500g firm tofu
- 200g Chinese cabbage
- 100g mushrooms (we use a tasty mix of shiitake, maitake and hiratake, but feel free to use whatever mushrooms you have available)
- 100g garlic chives
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (plus extra for cooking the gyoza)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 cloves garlic
- 20g ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 15ml mirin
- 15ml soy sauce
- 30g potato starch
- Freeze the block of tofu in its packet for at least twenty-four hours (we find that it’s easier to just keep a spare block in the freezer so we can make these gyoza at short notice) and then allow it to defrost fully in the refrigerator. Pour the tofu and its liquid into a colander or sieve and carefully rinse it under running water, squeezing the spongy beancurd to help it absorb the clean water and flush out any of the strong tasting cloudy liquid. Once the water runs completely clear, crumble the tofu block between your fingers into small pieces and set aside to dry while you prepare the rest of the filling ingredients.
- Finely mince the Chinese cabbage, then place in a large bowl and sprinkle one teaspoon of the salt over. Make sure the salt is well distributed, then set aside for fifteen minutes- this will draw excess water from the vegetable, preventing the gyoza filling from becoming too soggy. Brush away any dirt from the mushrooms and cut into a small dice, then finely chop the garlic chives, ginger and garlic, keeping each ingredient separate.
- Warm the vegetable and sesame oils in a frying pan, then add the crumbled tofu and fry gently for two to three minutes before adding the diced mushrooms. Continue frying until the mushrooms have softened and the mixture has started to turn glossy, then remove from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
- Put the salted cabbage in a clean cloth or tea towel, then squeeze hard over the sink to get rid of all the water from it. Add the cabbage to the cooled tofu and mushrooms along with all the remaining ingredients except the gyoza skins, then mix thoroughly before setting up your kitchen counter for production-line gyoza filling. You’ll need a small bowl of water to seal the edges of the dumplings, a cloth or hand towel to wipe your fingers on, clingfilm to cover the opened pack of wrappers to stop them drying out too much, and a lined baking sheet to place your finished gyoza on.
- To fill your gyoza, lay a wrapper on the palm of your hand, then take a teaspoonful of the filling and place it in the centre of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the bowl of water and wet the edge of one half of the gyoza skin, then fold this dampened side of the wrapper over the filling to the dry half. Pleat the moistened edge of the wrapper only, pressing it firmly to the dry half and pinching to seal. Put the dumpling down on your work surface to flatten the bottom, then form it into a crescent shape- the pleating of the wrapper causes it to curve naturally, but it’s good to give the gyoza a little shaping after you’ve sealed them, to make sure they’re attractive and look appetizing. Place the dumpling on a baking sheet and cover with cling film to stop the skin drying out and cracking, then repeat the process until all of your filling or wrappers are used up.
- This recipe makes far too many gyoza to use in one go, but the finished dumplings freeze very well and cook from frozen, meaning you can make a full batch in advance and use them as you need. Place the gyoza on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper- making sure they aren’t touching anywhere- then freeze for an hour uncovered. You can now remove them from the sheet and put in a bag or container in the freezer, where they should store for several months.
- To cook the gyoza, heat around two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan, then add in a single layer as many dumplings as you wish to cook, three to five gyoza is a perfect serving size for a side dish. Without stirring, allow the gyoza to gently fry for two to three minutes until they are just starting to turn a light brown colour on the underside. Add around 200ml water to the pan and immediately cover it with a lid. Leave the pan undisturbed for two minutes until the water has nearly all evaporated, then remove the lid and continue cooking until the remaining water has burned off. At this point your gyoza should begin to fry again in the residual oil, check the bottom of the dumplings regularly until they reach the perfect golden brown crispness.
- Serve your gyoza with an incredibly simple but tasty dipping sauce of equal parts rice vinegar and soy sauce, perhaps with a splash of rayu chilli oil for some heat.
Makes approximately 50 gyoza.