One of the most recognizable dishes of shojin ryori is gomadofu, sesame tofu. Despite having “tofu” in the name, the dish does not contain soy and is made from only three ingredients: sesame paste, kuzu starch, and water. You can use white, golden or black toasted sesame seeds for this dish.
To make authentic gomadofu, you will need serious arm power and stamina as hand-grinding the sesame seeds in a suribachi (mortar) with a surikogi (pestle made from prickly ash wood) takes anywhere between 30-40 minutes. In Dogen Zenji’s “Instructions to the Cook,” he taught that cooking is as important a part of Zen practice as meditation and should be undertaken with utmost sincerity, mindfulness, and attention to detail, and traditionally the laborious task of grinding sesame seeds was given to novice monks.
Storebought white or black sesame seed paste (or even tahini) can also be used, but I prefer to make gomadofu the way it has been made for centuries.
Kuzu starch is sold by several names including 本葛 (honkuzu) or葛粉 (kuzuko). I grind mine down to a super-fine powder before adding as it is less likely to result in lumps.
70 grams toasted sesame seeds (white, golden, or black) or sesame paste / tahini
50 grams kuzu starch
400 ml filtered water
Ground ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce to serve
1. If using a suribachi:
Add the sesame seeds all at once and continue to grind until you have a smooth paste AND the seeds have released their oils (it usually takes between 30-40 minutes). Slowly add filtered water little by little and mix well (I do this step in several stages).
If using jarred sesame paste or tahini, add along with the filtered water and mix well.
2. Pour the sesame seed water through a strainer into a medium-sized pot or saucepan (if using a traditional Japanese strainer, take care not to press down on the mesh as it breaks easily). Once all the water / sesame seed paste has been added to the pot, slowly pour in the kuzu starch and incorporate with a whisk or spatula (do this step off the heat).
3. Using a medium flame, whisk the sesame seed mixture frequently. It will continue to thicken. Bring to a boil and stir vigorously often for about 20 minutes; the mixture will change in both texture and color and become more translucent (especially if using white sesame) and will look like a thick pudding.
4. Pour the sesame tofu into a square or decorative mold that has been dampened with water or sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (I have made gomadofu with metal, silicone, and plastic molds and all three will work).
Bang on a flat surface to remove trapped air bubbles and smooth the top (don’t worry if there are wrinkles; this will be the bottom once you unmold).
5．Let cool to room temperature (this can be done more quickly by placing the mold(s) in a larger pan and surrounding with ice water) then store in the refrigerator.
6. Unmold onto a cutting board and slice using a knife dipped in hot water between each cut (if using decorative silicone or plastic molds, simply unmold directly onto your serving dish).
7. Garnish with wasabi, grated ginger, and a drizzle of soy sauce and enjoy!