Tomi Matsuba has been advocating a “lifestyle with roots” from Iwami Ginzan, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Oda, Shimane Prefecture.

The 67-year-old designer of the clothing brand Gungendo also renovates traditional-style old houses and writes books emphasizing the wisdom of time-honored ways of life.

Matsuba, a mother of three girls, is the youngest of four daughters.

“While my mother was still carrying me, my father became unable to work due to injuries and illness,” she says.

Wondering how to raise her children, Matsuba’s mother started a tofu shop with six kilograms of soy beans and 1.8 liters of oil. She made tofu and deep-fried some in her renovated home kitchen and went around selling them.

When she was small, Matsuba was piggybacked by her mother while she cooked at the stove.

“She raised us, making tofu from morning till night,” she says.

Matsuba helped her mother make “ganmodoki,” a deep-fried tofu dumpling.

Her first job was to hold the mortar steady. When she became a little older, she was asked to mash the tofu in the mortar.

Later, she was given the task of shaping and deep-frying the dumplings. The ganmodoki is full of Matsuba’s memories with her mother.

“It’s no trouble at all.”

All it takes is to drain water well from tofu, mash it up, add other ingredients and mix, form dumplings and deep-fry.

“The key is to fry slowly over low heat. (The temperature can be low) that the dumplings will sink at first,” she says.

They will turn out golden and crisp when the heat is raised at the end.

While she used asparagus this time, seasonal flavors such as “edamame” (green soybeans) in the summer and “ginnan” (gingko seeds) in the fall are also recommended. The use of kelp used to make dashi stock reflects her motto of not wasting food.

Enjoy the ganmodoki while it is still piping hot. The fluffy tofu mixture and the variety of ingredients will dance in your mouth.

Matsuba’s mother, who passed away almost 20 years ago, used to make almost everything by herself, be it cotton kimono, festive dress, or even a chicken coop.

“People tell me that among the siblings, I resemble her the most.”

In what way?

“I certainly have inherited her spirit to be creative in life,” Matsuba says happily.

INGREDIENTS

Serves four.

2 blocks tofu (firm cotton-type)

1/3 each of carrot and burdock root (“gobo”)

4 to 5 asparagus

3 pieces (10 cm x 5 cm) kelp used to make dashi stock (“hijiki” sea vegetable or “kikurage” cloud ear mushroom may be used instead)

3 shiitake grown on logs (“genboku-shiitake”)

60 grams viscous Japanese yam (“yamaimo”)

1 egg

A pinch of salt

Some ginger, soy sauce, oil

METHOD

Drain water from tofu by wrapping in cotton cloth or kitchen paper; placing on flat container, pressing under dishes or other weight and leaving in fridge overnight (six to eight hours).

Cut carrot into fine strips. Dice shiitake. Cut asparagus in 1-cm thick rounds.

Cut burdock root in “sasagaki” style. (Make two incisions to quarter burdock root vertically. Leave uncut part at one end. Hold uncut end and while rotating, shave thinly with knife as if sharpening pencil.)

Cut used kelp into fine strips. Boil carrot and burdock root for about 1 to 2 minutes and drain.

Mash drained tofu in mortar until smooth.

Beat egg. Add grated yam, salt and egg to tofu and mix. Add all other ingredients and mix with hand.

Hold some mixture and form palm-sized patties. (It is easier if small amount of oil is applied on palms.)

Heat oil to 140 to 150 degrees, and deep-fry patties for about 6 minutes until golden. They will turn out crisp when oil temperature is raised to 170 degrees at the end.

Enjoy with grated ginger and soy sauce to taste.

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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column