Okinawa is home to one of the most distinctive prefectural cultures in Japan. At the crossroads between Taiwan, China, and mainland Japan, Okinawa has often fused these outside influences with their local island to customs to form a unique hybrid. The malleability of Okinawan culture is most notable in the food culture where the aforementioned influences as well as the post-war American presence have led to some delightfully unique concoctions – a la taco raisu. We may touch on said Mexican/American/Japanese hybrid in the future, but today I’d like to share a recipe for Tofu Champuru (豆腐チャンプル).
Champuru or champloo is a stir-fry dish with a number of variations – most of which use some combination of pork (often bacon or spam), vegetables, tofu, eggs, and goya. Much of the fun of champuru is selecting your ingredients. For the purposes of my recipe we’re going to keep things simple:
- Spam – one can
- Onion – one cup (about 1/2 an onion)
- Carrots – 2-3
- Bell peppers – 2-3
- Tofu – one package
- Soy sauce – 3 tbs.
- Cooking sake – 1 tsp.
- Cooking oil – 2 tbs.
- Corn starch – 1 tbs.
- Water – 2 cups
First you’ll want to slice the spam into small, thin pieces. Cut the onion into narrow strips as well. Pour the cooking oil into a deep frying pan and add the spam and onion. Cook on low heat until the meat has browned, then flip.
While the meat is frying, clean and cut the bell peppers, slicing them into strips. Peel, clean, and slice the carrots. You can slice them diagonally to add surface area. There is a lot of flexibility with the vegetables you can use: napa cabbage, mushrooms, and bean sprouts are all fine choices. I choose peppers and carrots for their familiarity using a variety of peppers for color.
Once the meat is browned, add your vegetables, cooking sake, and soy sauce. Stir the mixture and let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Next add water and bring to a boil. Note: you may need to add a bit more water. You want enough so that all the vegetables cook through, but not so much that it becomes a soup (3 cups should be more than enough).
While the mixture is coming to a boil, drain and cube the tofu. The best way to handle tofu is to slice the edge of plastic sheet between the tofu and the cup. Drain the water then slice the remaining edges. Remove the block and cut into cubes.
The contents of your pan should be boiling now. Add the cubed tofu and stir, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. In a measuring cup mix the corn starch with equal parts water, stirring until it is completely blended. Pour the corn starch/water mixture over the pan. Stir for 2-3 as the food continues to simmer. This should thicken the broth a bit.
Tofu Champuru can be served with or over rice. Cutting the vegetables, spam and tofu into bite-sized chunks will help make it easier to eat with chopsticks. Feel free to be creative with your ingredients. Enjoy.