Hiyayakko (Japanese Cold Tofu)

We’re not entirely out of the winter woods yet, but the bracingly cold winds are dying down and the increasingly more present sun is beaming down on us with a greater intensity.

So good on one the recent almost-hot afternoons, the delicate texture and popping flavors of this cold Japanese tofu salad. Hiyayakko, as it’s known in Japan, also fits nicely as an introductory recipe to share on the heels of our tofu enlightenment.

Tender blocks of silken (kinugoshi) tofu bathed in spicy soy-rice vinegar dressing. The chilled dish is served with a selection of toppings, typically grated ginger, minced scallions or chives, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes (katsuobushi), but can be imagined any number of ways to accommodate your or your family’s preferences.

This take stuck mostly to tradition, minus the katsuobushi we didn’t have. There was a healthy amount of heat from spicy fresh ginger and Sambal Oelek, the southeast Asian vinegar-laced ground red chilli paste. You know me, I couldn’t help but punch up the nutrition, textures + colors with pretty ribbons of raw carrot and cucumber, a few picked cilantro leaves, plus both white + black sesame seeds. Serving it with blanched spinach, grilled romaine hearts (as we did), or any rice or whole grain makes for a hearty, healthy and satisfying meal.

In a dish like this, with so few components and eaten uncooked, quality of ingredients really matters. Silken tofu provides the smoothest texture that is perfect for this dish; though, soft tofu is a suitable stand-in. If you can’t find a softer style, or prefer a heartier, pick-up-able tofu, by all means use medium, firm, or extra firm.

What’s in it for me?

For less than 100 calories and no cholesterol per 3-ounce serving, tofu is rich in antioxidant selenium and the trace mineral manganese, and is a good source of iron, magnesium, and immune-boosting zinc, plus mono- and poly-unsaturated fats for heart and brain health. Tofu is an excellent source of calcium, and becomes even more so when manufactured with a natural calcium compound. It is also a source of the B-vitamin folate and choline — two nutrients that offer some protection from development of birth defects of in a developing fetus.

This plant-based protein ranges from roughly 6 to 10 grams per serving, depending on the method of processing and style, and is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains the full complement of essential amino acids. Tofu is naturally gluten-free, but if you are following a low FODMAP (“fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”) eating plan, note that silken tofu is considered high FODMAP, while firm tofu is considered low FODMAP.

The flavorful toppings are nutrition powerhouses themselves: Carrots offer vitamin Kfiberpotassium, and the B vitamin biotin, and are abundantly rich in antioxidant vitamin A. While cucumber contains 97% water by volume — considered the most hydrating of any solid food.

One ounce of fresh cilantro provides roughly 30% of the adult vitamin A DV, and more than 100% of your daily vitamin K, all for about 6 calories. Fresh ginger adds potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, plus a spicy, sweet kick.

An excellent source of the vitamins A and C, the chilli pepper paste (Sambal Oelek) can help stimulate metabolism and release mood-boosting endorphins. The capsaicin, responsible for the peppery heat, inhibits inflammation, clears congestion, and may also contribute to pain reduction and limiting spread of prostate cancer. Sesame seeds are an excellent source of iron and copper, with more calcium ounce for ounce than milk. Unhulled varieties are more nutrient-rich, and the black sesame imparts a toasty, smoky flavor.

This refreshingly light recipe for hiyayakko comes together in only a handful of minutes (costing about the same), can be made as simple or as elaborate as you wish with the garnishes. Before winter departs for good this year, and takes with it the seasonal citrus, I’m keen to try it topped grapefruit or blood orange + fresh mint and basil. Add it to the list!

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… Which toppings would you try on your hiyayakko

Hiyayakko (Japanese Cold Tofu)
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: vegetarian, vegan, meatless main, Japanese
Makes: 4 servings
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce (use wheat-free tamari or shoyu for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 to 3 tsp grated or finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 to 2 tsp Sambal Oelek, or other favorite hot chilli paste, plus more to top
  • 1/8 tsp finely ground white pepper, optional
  • 1 block (14 oz) silken (soft) tofu, chilled
  • Optional toppings: 2 small carrots, julienned; 3 scallions, thinly sliced (or 1 Tbsp dried chives); 4 radishes, julienned; 1/2 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned; 2 to 4 Tbsp bonito flakes; 1 Tbsp black or white sesame seeds; a few picked cilantro leaves, to garnish
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Stir in the ginger and Sambal (or other chilli paste); taste, adjusting seasoning as needed. (If it gets too hot for you, stir in a tiny drizzle of honey.) Season with the white pepper, if using, and set the bowl aside.
  2. Drain the chilled tofu while still in its container, then carefully turn it out whole onto a serving platter. (Alternatively, slice the tofu into 4 pieces, and plate individually. This is what I do if should the tofu break, as it often does.)
  3. Pile on as many or as few, even none if you like, of the toppings you wish. Just before serving, drizzle the plated tofu with the dressing (or over the 4 individual pieces with 1 Tbsp each). Serve cold, and at once.
HGN Notes
In a dish like this, with so few components and eaten uncooked, quality of ingredients really matters. Silken tofu provides the smoothest texture that is perfect for this dish; though, soft tofu is a suitable stand-in. If you can't find a softer style, or prefer a heartier, pick-up-able tofu, by all means use medium, firm, or extra firm.

+ Keep to tradition with toppings of grated ginger, minced scallions or chives, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes (katsuobushi).
+ Swap Sambal Oelek with Sriracha, Korean gojuchang, another favorite pepper paste/condiment, or thin slices of fresh chillies.
+ Be as creative as you like with toppings, including veg (e.g., mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, tomato or sweet potato), fruit (e.g., citrus, mango or papaya), herbs (e.g., fresh or dried basil, mint, cilantro or oregano), fish sauce or Hoisin sauce, etc.
+ Make it a meal by serving it alongside blanched spinach or other greens, atop grilled romaine heart halves, or with a small scoop of any rice or whole grain.
Nutrition Info
Serving Size: 1/4 of the tofu + 1/4 of the dressing (about 1 Tbsp); does not include toppings Calories: 68 Fat: 4 Saturated fat: 1 Unsaturated fat: 3 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 3 Sugar: 1 Sodium: 309 Fiber: 0 Protein: 7 Cholesterol: 0

Recipe adapted from Just One Cookbook.

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