I'm sure you're familiar with the word "tofu" already, while "niku" means "meat" in Japanese. This dish is a mix of ground meat and crumbled tofu simmered in sweet sauce and served atop rice, but you can think of it as "tofu-meat" if you want to. The tofu develops a thicker, meatier texture when frozen, so make sure to drain your tofu and pop it in the freezer ahead of time for this recipe. It mixes with the meat so well, you won't even notice it's in there, other than a little color difference (which is usually more obvious than this picture).
Unfortunately I can't find the original recipe I based this on, but I know I made a few tweaks along the way. One was the addition of minced water chestnuts, which add a wonderful subtle crunch and a nice contrast to the soft meat.
(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)
1lb./16 oz. ground turkey (640)
14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained & frozen (372)
2 tsp. ginger, grated (2)
8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and minced (68*)
4 tsp. sugar (64)
½ cup mirin (360*, see substitution below)
¼ cup soy sauce (40)
2 green onions, sliced thin for garnish (10)
1) In a large pan, heat the frozen tofu over medium heat. When one side has warmed a little, flip it over and scrape off the top layer in small pieces, removing it into a bowl.
Repeat until the whole block is broken up. It looks a lot like fluffy scrambled eggs!
2) Brown the ground meat with ginger, about 3 minutes. When almost cooked through, drain any liquid, then add the tofu and the water chestnuts and mix together.
3) Stir in the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce and cook for 5-6 minutes. To serve, fill a bowl halfway with rice, top with an equal amount of tofuniku, and garnish with green onions. I like to use about 3/4 cups of each, 1/6 of the mixture. (Makes about 4.5 cups total)
Calories - 259 for 1/6, about 3/4 cup
Served with 3/4 cups rice (150) - 409
Substitutions ~ I use ground turkey or ground chicken interchangeably for this recipe, just add 13 extra calories (per serving) for chicken. If you don't have mirin, you can use 1/4 cup white wine and 2 extra tablespoons of sugar. This is actually a lower calorie option, so subtract 37 calories.
This sweet meat is a hit with kids, and my (nearly) 5 year old son will beg for a bowl if he sees me eating it. I used this as a backdrop for one of his bentos, back when I made those! (My nearly 2 year old daughter currently refuses to try anything new, so she hasn't learned how good it is yet.)
This recipe is very similar to the popular "Soboro", which just uses the ground meat and sweet sauce. It is often garnished with a little scrambled egg for color, and Just One Cookbook has the prettiest arrangement I've seen yet! I love the addition of the tofu and minced water chestnuts though, so I hope you'll give this version a try.