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Shira ae is Japanese spinach, carrots and shitake mushrooms with tofu dressing.
Take a quick glance at shira ae and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was boring health food. Yet the coarse white dressing isn’t cottage cheese – it’s tofu perked up with soy sauce and mirin.
And the vegetables aren’t raw – they’re steeped in dashi to infuse them with flavor. It’s still health food, though, just far from boring.
Before cooking, a bit of grandma wisdom:
Grandmothers aren’t fussy cooks– they just have good taste. So when they blanch spinach for dishes like shira ae or ohitashi, they use this simple trick to make sure the dense stems are fully cooked before the delicate leaves overcook. They line up the stems and leaves, grab the spinach by the leaves, and lower the stems into boiling water for 15 seconds before adding the whole handful to the water. This way, the stems get the head start they need.
*Recipe and photo from Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking by Masaharu Morimoto.
- 4 cups loosely packed trimmed spinach (not baby)
- 4 medium dried shiitake mushroom caps, rehydrated and thinly sliced
- ½ cup carrot matchsticks (about 1½ by ⅛ inch)
- 1½ cups dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or kombu dashi (kelp stock)
- 1½ tablespoons plus about 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
- 2 teaspoons plus about 1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce
- Generous pinch kosher salt
- 1 14-ounce package firm tofu, drained
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of icy water. Add the spinach to the boiling water, stir well, and cook for 20 seconds. Use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the spinach to the icy water. Stir well, drain, firmly squeeze the spinach to remove as much water as you can, and set aside
- Combine the shiitake, carrots, dashi, 1½ tablespoons mirin, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and the salt in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, so the dashi flavor begins to infuse the vegetables. Take the pot off the heat and let cool slightly. Add the spinach, stir well to loosen the clumps, and let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours
- Set the tofu on two layers of cheesecloth, gather the edges of the cheesecloth around the tofu, and squeeze firmly over the sink to extract as much water as possible. Add the tofu to a medium mixing bowl and crumble it with your fingers
- Drain the vegetables, squeeze them gently to remove some of the liquid they’ve absorbed, and add them to the bowl along with the remaining soy sauce and mirin (or a little more to taste). Toss well, breaking up any tofu chunks larger than ¼ inch. Eat right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a day. Let it come to room temperature before eating.