I introduced my nephews to Spam musubi. My nephew and I, (he is now 18), first made tofu musubi when he was probably just 11 years old. I continued the tradition of Sunday cooking activity with his brother who is now 6 years old.
When they went to Hawaii with their parents last April, they knew to get their fill of musubi. They even brought a few back home to the Bay Area to show me.
WHAT IS MUSUBI?
Musubi is a rice ball topped with Spam (or other protein) then wrapped in seaweed. It is a portable savory snack that is also a meal in itself. It is Japanese in origin but a staple in Hawaii. Spam musubi is the most popular version although there are different variations — Portuguese sausage musubi, chicken or pork katsu Musubi, BBQ chicken or beef musubi, egg omelet, grilled eel, etc.
Since I have adapted a plant-based diet this year, I miss eating musubi. I am 99 percent vegetarian and 1 percent carnivore. I save the 1 percent, honestly, for treats like Spam musubi. However, I often look for healthier and plant-based alternatives to my favorite foods. This gave me the idea to experiment with making tofu musubi.
I tried 3 times with 3 types of marinade. I used Korean Braised Tofu (Dubu Jorim) for the first tofu musubi that I made. I discovered this dish while working remotely from home in 2021. I have made this dish many times since. It is very easy, healthy and clearly a winner. However, I found that it was not really a great match as a topping for rice then wrapped with seaweed. In other words, it does not make a good musubi.
Then I tried to come up with another marinade. Marinade #2 was the winner, so I thought. With marinade #3 which was just adding a tablespoon of tomato sauce to the marinade #2, clearly, it was the best! However, opening a can of tomato sauce just to use just a tablespoon, it can totally be omitted. (I was also making Mr Sweetie spaghetti that evening while making musubi for me. That was when the idea of adding tomato sauce came from. No tomato sauce was wasted on this post!)
Before I share the recipe, I would like to mention three things:
- Tofu musubi will NOT taste like Spam musubi, It is not meant to taste like Spam musubi. It will taste like a lovely marinated tofu atop a seasoned rice with seaweed.
- Whenever I made Spam musubi with my nephews, we feel that it was not really needed to season the rice with rice vinegar and sugar as the fried Spam provided a lot of flavors already. Sometimes we also fry the Spam with teriyaki sauce. With tofu musubi, having made it three times, I feel that it is necessary to season the rice as tofu does not really pack a lot of flavors.
- And lastly, I took pictures of Braised Korean Tofu which was marinated in gochugaru (red Korean chili pepper flakes) for this post, The tofu musubi in these photos are nice deep red in color. The marinade that I will be sharing will not use any red spices. Even with the addition of tomato sauce, the tofu will be pale brown.
- Musubi mold (optional) *Please see note below
INGREDIENTS FOR TOFU
- 16 oz extra firm tofu (It has to be extra firm tofu. Soft tofu will not work.)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (grated)
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic (coarsely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato sauce (optional)
- 1 tablespoon oil for frying (I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil but any oil for frying will do.)
INGREDIENTS FOR SUSHI RICE
- 1 3/4 cup cooked sushi rice or short grain rice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ tablespoon salt *I do not use salt but salt will enhance the flavors
- 2 sheets nori seaweed cut into 8 strips (approximately 1 1/2 inches each strip)
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SUSHI RICE
- Prepare the rice according to the product instructions.
- Once cooked, remove from heat, and let cool for about 10 more minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar*, sugar, and salt until thoroughly mixed and the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the vinegar/sugar mixture to the rice and fluff with a fork. Let rice cool to room temperature before assembling the musubi.
NSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TOFU
- Drain tofu in a colander by first wrapping tofu in paper towel. Top the tofu with one or two canned goods. Do this in the sink or place the colander on a plate to catch the water. Drain the tofu for about 15 minutes or more. (This process will get rid of excess fluid and will make the tofu less watery.)
- Slice the tofu into even 8 slices about a quarter inch thick.
- Mix the marinade ingredients (sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, etc) in bowl. Transfer the tofu in a plate or shallow bowl. Lay the tofu slices in a single layer. Pour the marinade on top of the tofu and marinate for a minimum of 15 minutes. (This can be done overnight as well.) Make sure that the tofu slices are covered in marinade. Flip the slices if they are not.
- Remove the tofu from the marinade making sure to completely wipe off the solid ingredients such as garlic and ginger. Otherwise, they will burn once cooked with the tofu.
- Heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Lightly fry the tofu on both sides until it begins to brown,
INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO ASSEMBLE THE MUSUBI
- Using a musubi mold, (you can also just use your hands to mold the rice into rectangles), pack the rice firmly and release from the mold (if using).
- Top each rice rectangle with one piece of the sliced marinated tofu. Wrap each with one of the nori strips before eating.
- Repeat this process 7 more times to make 8 tofu musubi.
- It is not necessary to use a musubi mold but it adds to the fun factor! If you can find it, I highly encourage you to invest in a couple. I found mine on sale at a Japanese grocery store in the Bay Area for less than $7 for two molds. Amazon (this is not a sponsored post!) sells the same ones I have.
- You can also use an empty Spam tin can with the top and bottom removed. Use a can opener to remove the bottom part. Just please be careful!
- I watch my sodium so I use regular rice vinegar instead of seasoned rice vinegar. Seasoned rice vinegar has a lot more sodium. I find that it does not make much of a difference whether the rice vinegar is seasoned or not.
- Making musubi is a fun activity with kids. My nephews and I often do cooking lessons on Sundays after church. Even with the little one, I will do the stove top cooking and we would assemble the ingredients together once the rice and tofu cool down.