TOFU AND MISO GRITS
Somewhere in the deep recesses of my food brain, wires have been crossed. My Pavlovian salivation at the sight and smell of a bowl of miso soup is identical to the reaction I have staring down at a bowl of grits. Somehow Japanese and American Southern flavors have become entwined. The result of this confusion has manifested in the odd (or not so odd) marriage of flavors above. It’s a Japanese, vegan take on classic shrimp and grits: a bowl of miso grits topped with baked tofu plus stir-fried bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers and fresh corn in a simple soy-saké sauce. That doesn’t sound all that odd, does it? Regardless, it’s pure comfort food through and through. If you even remotely enjoy miso or grits, I suggest you give this recipe a try.
The key to this recipe, as you can imagine, is the grits. It’s where the Japanese flavors collide head on with the Deep South. Cooking the grits with kombu dashi, as I’ve done here, not only lessens that collision but completely transforms what I think of when I think grits. Words like fatty, creamy, buttery tend to accompany traditional Southern grits, whereas here I’d say they’re clean, sea-like, with an earthy umami quality. Finished with miso, they truly take on a wonderful Japanese quality.
The accompaniments are simple. The stir-fry, cooked only with a little oil, saké and soy sauce, allows the wok-blistered veggies to stand on their own in contrasting texture and freshness with the grits. Easy baked tofu flavored with soy stands as the protein, and the dish is finished with scallions and sesame oil and/or chili oil. It’s a Deep South dish with Japanese flavors and simplicity.
TOFU AND MISO GRITS
-6 cups filtered water
-4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
-1 4-5 inch piece kombu seaweed
-1 cup coarse grits
-1 tbsp white or chickpea miso
-1 tbsp vegan butter or neutral oil
-1-2 tbsp neutral, high heat oil such as safflower or canola
-2 baby bok choy heads, halved
-6 oz. shishito peppers, seeded and cut in ¼-inch strips
-8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut in ¼-inch strips
-1 ear of corn, kernels removed from cob or about ½ cup frozen corn
-1 tbsp saké
-1-2 tbsp soy sauce
-2 tbsp kombu dash stock (from step 1)
-1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp water
-6-8 oz. baked tofu, cut into triangles and warmed
-scallion greens, sliced in thin rounds
-chili oil (optional)
1. Start by making a kombu dashi stock. In a pot, combine the filtered water and dried shiitake mushrooms. Bring to a boil briefly before turning off the heat, adding the kombu and covering. Allow the stock to rest for 30 minutes before removing and discarding the mushrooms and seaweed.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the tofu if you’re baking it yourself. Recipe for baked tofu can be found here. Or if you’re using store bought baked tofu, move ahead to the next step.
3. The next step is to prepare the grits. Depending on the type and brand of grits there will be differing preparations. Follow the directions according to the package using the kombu dashi as your liquid. When grits are finished cooking, add the miso, butter alternative and salt to taste. Keep warm.
4. To prepare the veggies, start by getting a wok or heavy frying pan nice and hot over a medium-hot flame. Add 1 tbsp of safflower or canola oil. Place the baby bok choy pieces cut side down in the oil with the leaves pointing toward the outside of the wok. Allow to sear for 1-2 minutes or until the bok choy begins to brown. Flip them over, add a tiny splash of water and cover the wok allowing them to steam for another 1-2 minutes. When they’ve softened and wilted a bit, remove them from the wok and set aside. Next, add the peppers to the wok and stir fry for 1-2 minutes or until their skin starts to blister. Push the peppers to the side of the wok and add the corn to the center. Fry for another 1-2 minutes until the corn blisters as well. At this point you may need to add a bit more oil if it’s looking dry. Add the mushrooms and fry for another 1-2 minutes or until they release their liquid. Next, add the saké and stir everything together. After about 30 seconds, add the soy sauce (1-2 tbsp to taste) and kombu dashi and continue stirring. Add the bok choy back to the wok and cook for about 30 seconds, before stirring in the cornstarch and water mixture until it thickens up into a sauce. Immediately, turn off the heat.
5. To serve, ladle the grits into a bowl or deep plate. Top with the veggie stir fry mixture and several pieces of baked tofu. To garnish, drizzle a bit of sesame oil over the dish and then a handful of scallion slices. Additionally, a spoonful of chili oil works really well here if you enjoy the heat.