Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

* * *

Deep-fried tofu simmered in broth with greens caps the series that explores ways to enjoy “oage-san,” an endearing name for the thin fried tofu used by the people of Kyoto.

The combination of the rich taste of fried tofu and the simple flavor of vegetables has made the dish popular in the kitchens of the ancient capital.

Locals have attached “o,” an honorific prefix used to exalt nouns, to the three words in the name of the recipe: “fried tofu,” “greens” and “soup-like dish.”

Now that it is getting colder, in-season komatsuna greens were used in the recipe. But enjoy the dish with your local greens.

All it takes is to add the ingredients in turn to a pot with water. Niboshi (dried small sardines) and konbu kelp will create umami-rich stock suitable for dishes.

Although the recipe requires the sources of stock to be immersed in water for about 15 minutes, they will offer a decent flavor even if you have no time and start heating right away. The fried tofu also raises the level of umami.

Even if komatsuna turns out vivid green when cooked quickly, its color will dull when the vegetable is left in the hot liquid on the stove. A key is to serve right away.

The arranged version is fried tofu cooked with cabbage. With less liquid, the fried tofu that has absorbed the sweetness of the cabbage offers a different sort of tastiness.


According to the family budget survey conducted by the internal affairs ministry, the annual expenditure (average of 2018 to 2020) per household on fried tofu and ganmodoki is topped by Fukui city at 5,630 yen ($49.60), followed by Kyoto city at 4,424 yen and Kanazawa at 4,258 yen.

Ganmodoki is deep-fried tofu made with thinly sliced vegetables.

Thin fried tofu come in different sizes and weights including “Nankan-age” from Kumamoto Prefecture and “Matsuyama-age” from Ehime Prefecture. In both types, thinner tofu is deep-fried in a way to remove the water content and enhance preservability.

The thicker fluffy types include the popular “aburage” from Tochio, Niigata Prefecture. Shapes also vary as some are square or triangular.

The frying oils, be they rapeseed oil, sesame oil or rice oil, vary according to the producers of tofu and result in different colors and flavors.


(Supervised by Setsuko Sugimoto in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients (Serves two)
50 grams thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age), 3 clumps (150 grams) of komatsuna, 300 ml water, 5-cm square dried konbu kelp, 8 grams dried small sardines (niboshi), 2 Tbsp sweet mirin sake, 1 Tbsp light-colored soy sauce, 1/6 tsp salt

About 160 kcal and 2.2 grams salt per portion

1. Sandwich fried tofu between kitchen paper, press lightly to remove oil on surface. Cut into strips that are about 2 cm wide and 4 cm long.

2. Cut komatsuna into 3- to 4-cm pieces. Halve or quarter hard root end lengthwise (PHOTO A).

Tips on making fried tofu and greens simmered in broth (Video by Masahiro Goda)

3. Remove heads and guts from niboshi. If large, break into smaller pieces. Add niboshi to pot with water and kelp and leave for about 15 minutes (PHOTO B).

PHOTO B: About five smaller dried sardines make up 8 grams of niboshi. The konbu kelp need not be pulled out midway and can be removed when serving. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

4. Bring to a boil on medium heat. Add sweet mirin sake, light-colored soy sauce and salt. Add fried tofu and when pot comes to a boil again, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until flavor settles. Add root end and stem of komatsuna first. When they look somewhat transparent on surface, add leaves (PHOTO C). Since leaves cook soon, quickly check taste of liquid and add salt (not listed above) so it tastes about the same as strong clear soup.

PHOTO C: Separate leaves with chopsticks if they are stuck together and cook until tender while mixing lightly so they are immersed in the liquid. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

* * *

Setsuko Sugimoto is a Kyoto-based cooking expert who explores the culinary culture of the ancient capital.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and former chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.


Fried tofu cooked with cabbage

Fried tofu cooked with cabbage (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

In this simmered dish with less liquid, komatsuna is replaced by cabbage.

The ingredients are 50 grams thin fried tofu, 200 grams cabbage, 1 cup water, 5-cm square dried konbu kelp, 8 grams dried small sardines, 1 Tbsp sweet mirin sake, 1 tsp light-colored soy sauce, 1/6 tsp salt.

Cut fried tofu into strips. Cut cabbage into pieces 2 cm wide and 5 cm long. The steps are the same as the main recipe up until making stock and adding the seasonings.

Add cabbage and fried tofu at the same time and simmer on lower medium heat for 10 minutes until cabbage softens. Sprinkle chili pepper powder to taste.


When komatsuna is heated in liquid seasoned with soy sauce or miso, the green color tends to dull. Whether the liquid is acidic in terms of pH value and the length of the heating time affect the change.

The change is controlled when the temperature is 60 degrees or lower. If the food is cooked in a short time and served right away, its temperature drops and the color is retained. 


* * *

From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column