This wonderful dish, full of the flavours of Japan without being Japanese, the flavours of SE Asia without being South East Asian, became an instant family success. We made it often, but somehow, as we no longer all live so close together, it has fallen from our menus. When I do make it again, I recall why we loved it so much, and give myself 2 helpings.
The first time this dish was served to the gathering family (in 2001), all went silent as they ate, tasted, yet could not get the words from their tastebuds to their brain to their mouths. Silent eating, always the mark of a great dish.
It makes a great first course – or a light meal.
The ingredients can all be purchased from an Asian/Oriental food market. These days often supermarkets and organic shops will stock the ingredients as well.
Use a good quality soy sauce. I like to use shoyu.
If you are buying miso paste for the first time, you will find that there are a range of types, from white through yellow to darker miso. There is also rice miso and barley miso. The darker the colour the more intense the flavour. For this recipe use a lighter miso, yellow or white.
If you don’t have or can’t find sambal oelek, use a chilli paste (bought or home made). Modify the amount to suit your heat preferences.
Jaggery or Palm Sugar is so very good in this dish. If you cannot source either, use a brown or raw sugar.
Sesame Oil comes in light or toasted. Both have their uses – toasted has a more intense flavour and goes well in this dish.
Pickled Ginger – I have used umeboshi plum paste with a splash of lemon juice in place of pickled ginger when I haven’t been able to get any. It is a different taste but it works a treat.
Tofu and Spinach Layers with Chilli Miso and Sesame Sauce
4 Tblspn rice wine vinegar
1 Tblspn soy sauce
2 Tblspn yellow miso (could be called light or white miso or shinsu miso)
1 Tblspn sambal oelek (if you have a REALLY hot brand, use less)
0.25 Tblspn jaggery or palm sugar
2 Tblspn pickled ginger
1 Tblspn toasted sesame oil
120ml canola (rapseed) oil, or other oil
1 bunch spring onions (called scallions in the US)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
115g baby spinach leaves
450g firm tofu
4 pieces pickled ginger
1 Tblspn sesame seeds
First, slice the spinach leaves into 1/2cm slices (gather a handful together and slice). Chop the spring onions. Slice the tofu into thin slices – you will need 12 slices for 4 people. Put the spinach and tofu aside as you make the dressing.
In a blender, combine the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, miso paste, sambal oelek, palm sugar and pickled ginger and blend. Drizzle in the sesame and canola oils to form an emulsion with the blender running, Season with salt and pepper, reserve 4 Tblspn and transfer rest to a large bowl.
Add the spring onions and spinach to the bowl with the dressing and gently combine.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat. Watch carefully, shaking the pan, and remove from the heat as they begin to colour. Pour onto a plate to stop them cooking further.
To shape the Napoleons, place a slice of tofu on a plate and add a layer of spinach. Top with a second slice of tofu, and a second layer of spinach. Finish with a layer of tofu. Make 4 Napoleons this way, directly on the plates. Drizzle each serving with 1 Tblspn reserved dressing and garnish with the whole pickled ginger and toasted sesame seeds.
Serve in the middle of large white square plates.