Diner E’s Okara
Rounding out this Tofu Fest series, we have Okara (pronounced ‘oh-kah’dah’), the soybean solids byproduct of the Tofu making process.
In the course of tofu production, okara is what remains after ground soybeans are filtered, with what passes through being soy milk, which is made into tofu. Being that Okara is made up of the solids from the soybeans – meaning the skin, flesh and “eye”, it is inherently rich in protein, calcium and dietary fiber, while also containing trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
In total, there’s about a 50% “loss factor” in gross weight of the reconstituted non-GMO soybeans in the soy milk and okara filtration process for making Tofu.
Aloha Tofu sells Okara in 1 lb. bags exclusively at Marukai, Times Supermarket and Don Quijote at $1.49 each, or direct from the factory for $1.19 each . But because of the low demand and relatively short 3-day shelf life, okara is packaged for sale in very limited quantities.
Due to the relatively low demand by consumers here in Hawaii, most of the Okara at Aloha Tofu ends up being given away for use as livestock feed (mostly pigs) to local farmers in 55 gallon drums, hence a “loss factor”.
As noted in the Soft vs. Firm Tofu post, Paul Uyehara, President of Aloha Tofu, looked into acquiring equipment from a Tofu maker in Japan who figured out how to use 100% of the soybean – Okara and all – to make Tofu. This is that product…
What this proprietary equipment does is pulverize the okara into a micro-powdered form, which is then added back into the soy milk during the coagulation stage of the Tofu-making process. Incredibly, Paul said the taste and texture of this 100% soybean Tofu was spot-on with tofu that doesn’t have Okara, which is truly a MONUMENTAL achievement in the eyes of any tofu maker.
That same company also makes 100% soybean Tofu desserts…
Long story short, the deal didn’t go through, and Aloha Tofu still makes their Tofu the traditional way like everyone else does.
A typical Okara dish Japanese and Okinawans prepare is Okara sauteed with a variety of root vegetables and/or fish cake, flavored with a shoyu & dashi based seasoning. Okara is also ideal for general cooking and baking use as a bulking ingredient and filler, similar to how you would use bread or flour. It’s especially fitting for making veggie patties, meatless meat balls and the likes of crab cakes, due to its ground meat-like texture (after all, it is ground-up soybeans), along with a similar nutritional profile. Not just meatless stuff, you could also add it to hamburger to stretch it out, or meatloaf or meatballs.
As for how Okara tastes, it’s really for the most part almost flavorless, with just a slight hint of milk and beans going on, but barely. Imagine taking a block of tofu and wringing every bit of moisture out of it, then crumbling it up, and that’s kinda what okara tastes like, albeit very “woodsy” if you will due to its high soluble fiber content. Which is the beauty of Okara, as it’s very adaptable in cooking, being highly absorbent in nature, it readily takes on the flavor of whatever you’re cooking with it or adding to it.
While fresh Okara has a short 3-day shelf life in the refrigerator, it does freeze well, for up to 3 months, so having some on hand whenever the need arises shouldn’t a problem.
Following are a few Okara recipes you may be interested in trying. Enjoy!
Aunty Fuki’s Okara
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe courtesy of the Aloha Tofu Cookbook
“While I was living in Japan, I selfishly assumed that “someone would always cook Okara for me.” However, when I moved to Hawaii, there was no one around who would cook Okara for me, and that made me long for Aunty Fuki’s Okara, so I asked her for her recipe. I hope you will learn from this recipe that Okara could have a smooth and moist finish depending on the ingredients you use. Aunty Fuki tells me that her motto in cooking is to “enjoy”. ~ Misa Uyehara (wife of Aloha Tofu President Paul Uyehara)
• 1 pound Aloha Tofu Okara
• 5 pieces araimo, a.k.a. satoimo (peel the skin, cut into 1/2″ dice ,and soak in water to remove bitterness)
• 1/2 gobo, sasagaki
Ingredients to be finely chopped:
• 2 pieces large Aloha Tofu Aburage
• 1 block Aloha Tofu Konnyaku
• 1 medium onion
• 1 small carrot
• 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted
• 1/2 block kamaboko
• 1 bunch green onions
• 3 cups water, including water left over from soaking shiitake mushrooms
• 1/2 cup Japanese sake
• 1/2 cup mirin
• 5 tbsp. soy sauce
• 5 tbsp. sugar
• salt, dashi no moto and vegetable as needed
1.) Remove excess oil from aburage. Blanch Konnyaku in boiling water for approximately 20 seconds
2.) In a pot, heat vegetable oil and saute onion over medium heat until golden brown. Add aburage, carrot, shiitake mushrooms, konnyaku, gobo and araimo, and saute until soft.
3.) Then, add in all the seasonings and mix together. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil, then simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
4.) In a separate pot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat and saute okara, careful not to burn.
5.) Then, into the sauteed okara, gradually add cooked vegetables as well as seasoning sauce, reduce heat to low, and mix it to combine evenly. (The guideline for determining the right amount of seasoning sauce to add is when the white color of okara turns into the color of the seasoning sauce and the whole okara becomes moist.)
6.) Move the okara mixture towards the center of the pot, turn off the heat, and let it sit for approximately 30 minutes. Then add green onions and kamaboko, and mix together.
Aunty Fuki’s tip: Sprinkle Tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep fried tempura dough) immediately before eating will add great taste.
Diner E’s Okara
• 1 sandwich bag size of Okara
• 2 shiitake mushrooms or more, if dried, soak until soft, squeeze out excess water, then julienne (save water)
• 1/4-cup dried shrimp (Opae), chopped
• 1/4-cup Hijiki (thin seaweed), soaked in water to rehydrate
• 1/2 carrot, julienned
• 1/2 block Kamaboko (red and white fish cake), julienned
• 1/2 or less round onion, chopped
• 2 tbsp. shoyu
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2 – 2-1/2 cups shiitake water (from the mushroom soak)
• 1/2 cup chopped green onions
• 1-1/2 tbsp. oil
Combine residual shiitake soaking water, shoyu, sugar and salt in a bowl. In a hot pan, fry chopped dried shrimp in oil for a minute, then add shiitake water/shoyu/sugar/salt liquid to the pan and stir until shrimp are tender. Add julienned shiitake mushroom, carrot, onion and hijiki and saute until tender. Add Okara and julienned fishcake and mix over low heat for 10 minutes. Top with green onion and serve.
Note: adjust water content to the desired moistness that you want it.
Recipe courtesy of Aloha Tofu
• 2 cups Aloha Tofu Okara (exact – too much will make it dry)
• 1 can cream of mushroom soup
• 1 can tuna
• 2 eggs
• 1 tbsp. sugar
• 1/4 cup green onion (chopped)
• 2 tbsp. cornstarch
Combine all ingredients, mix well and form into patties and fry. Use enough oil in pan so it doesn’t become dry. Fry until brown. Can be served with eggs like hash browns.
Francis’ Okara Patties
Recipe courtesy of Aloha Tofu
• 2 lbs. Chinese fishcake (it’s in paste form, sold in a plastic tub usually located by the fresh fish
• 1 lb. Aloha Tofu Okara
• 2 eggs
• 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
• 1 tsp. pepper
• Chopped waterchestnuts
• Chopped green onions
• Chopped Shiitake Mushrooms (optional)
Mix all ingredients together to form patties and pan fry.
Mrs. Miyagi’s Okara Balls
Recipe courtesy of Aloha Tofu
• 1 lb. okara
• 1/2 round onion, diced
• 1 bunch chives, chopped
• 2-3 carrots, shredded
• 1 can waterchestnuts, diced
• Salt & pepper
Mix all ingredients in a bowl together.
Add just enough of these last 3 ingredients so that the mixture can be easily formed into balls:
1 can of tuna, drained
• 1 egg
Then roll Okara balls in mixture of:
• 1/2 cup flour
• 1/2 cup cornstarch
Deep fry until golden brown, drain excess oil, serve and enjoy.
Keiko’s Okara Balls
Yield: 40 pieces
Recipe courtesy of the Aloha Tofu Cookbook
• 4 cups Aloha Tofu Okara
• 1 container firm Aloha Tofu
• 1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup fishcake, finely chopped
• 1 can (7 oz.) tuna
• 1/2 can (7.5 oz.) whole kernel corn
• 5 tbsp. carrot, finely chopped
• 3 tbsp. garlic and chives, minced
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 1/3 cup mayonnaise
• 2 tsp. garlic salt
• 2 tsp. bonito dashi no moto
• Oil for frying & flour as needed
1.) In a bowl, combine okara, chestnuts, fishcake, corn, carrot, garlic, chives, garlic salt and bonito dashi no moto.
2.) Add well-drained tofu and tuna, mayonnaise and eggs, and mix well.
3.) Flour a cutting board as needed, and using your hand, roll out okara mixture on the floured cutting board to form small balls and coat them lightly with flour.
4.) Heat oil to a slightly high temperature and deep-fry okara balls, turning them with saibashi (long kitchen chopsticks used in cooking and serving food), until golden brown.
Let’s conclude by sampling the Okara “test run samples” Diner E prepared here. First let’s try his “doctored” version of the Okara Patty…
Mixed with canned tuna, onions and seasoned with garlic salt, then bound by a couple eggs, it was quite “mealy”, while it had just the right level of moistness without having you choke-up. As if you were to eat okara straight out of the package, it’ll dry up your mouth and throat quicker than a dental suction tube. Well, not that bad, but you get the idea. This stuff is ground-up sponge. Anyhow, as is, this needed a sauce, which wasn’t available at the time of sampling.
However, I did throw a couple extra patties in my tossed salad, broke them up into Okara “Croutons”, and you know what? It ROCKED! The Okara’s absorbent nature was PERFECT for taking on the Oriental Salad Dressing tossed with my salad, so when I bit into the greens that were coated with the broken-up okara patties, it exploded with the flavor of the zesty dressing, while also adding this wonderful semi-mealy, semi-meaty taste and texture contrast that went really well together with the earthy greens. Supah ono laddat (like that)! So there you go, make Okara Patties, then crumble them up in your salad as Okara Croutons. 4 SPAM Musubi winnah’ right there!
Next let’s try Diner E’s Okara Balls. No wait, let me rephrase that. lol Next let’s try the Okara Balls Diner E made…
Oh man, he NAILED them balls! These are excellent! Diner E took some bits of ingredients and method from several of the recipes above and combined them here. Namely he added a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup from the patties recipe, while instead of canned tuna, used canned salmon, along with julienned carrots, onion and green onion, seasoned this time with regular salt and bound by two eggs. The Okara mixture was then rolled into balls, then coated on the OUTSIDE with an equal mixture of flour and cornstarch and deep-fried until GBD. And it turned out AWESOME!
Note, Diner E tried making another batch previously, where he added the flour and cornstarch INTO the Okara and egg mixture, not coating it on the outside like Mrs. Miyagi’s recipe, where he said they turned out really dry. So upon following Mrs. Miyagi’s recipe for this batch, it turned out much better.
He served the Okara Balls with tartar sauce, but nevah need. Was “perps” (perfect) as is. The moisture level on the inside was spot on, while the crust had this delicately crispy finish to it thanks to that flour and cornstarch coating. The salmon also made a difference, making it taste more “interesting” if you will. Certainly meaty. The carrots and green onion also really brought “game” to this Okara Balls party. Solid 4 SPAM Musubi for Diner E’s Okara Balls. Hoo-ha!
Finally, let’s try Diner E’s take on the more traditional Okara dish…
The Hijiki is totally what makes it here, with its robust, earthy flavor tone. Then you get the meaty factor from the chopped Kamaboko (fish cake), while the shoyu-sugar sauce was well-absorbed into the Okara, which kept it at just the right moisture level. I could seriously eat a whole bowl of this stuff and call it a meal. Which I will indeed do when I myself finally get around to making some with the surplus of Okara I have that Noreen gave me now awaiting use in my freezer.
The last place I remember seeing Okara served this way was at Nuuanu Okazuya, where as far I’m aware of, dishes made that feature Okara as its main ingredient are scarce to come by at restaurants around here, even Japanese ones.
Well I for one am an “Okara Convert”, and will be using it for more of my vegetarian and pescetarian recipes in the future. Here’s to Tofu, Okara and better health!
P.S. Speaking of whom, remember Rap Replinger’s character “Mr. Okata”?…
Next to “Merdie Merdock’s Used Car Salesman”, “Mr. Okata’s Secret Taste Test” is my all time Rap’s Hawaii fave!..
Yours truly again at the Kaneohe Bay airshow on day two a few weeks ago, at the time weighing in at 177.2 lbs., making that a total loss of 30 lbs. since May (I’m currently 178.5. ack!)…