When I was in Brooklyn earlier this summer I had fresh silken tofu made by a Japanese restaurant. It was creamy and delicious and I thought, “You can make tofu?” It had never occurred to me. I had to try it.
I poked around on the web and found a couple of different recipes for making your own tofu and kind of melded them together to do what I wanted in the quantity I wanted. The first batch I made was a dismal failure; grainy and amorphous. I had followed a recipe that only said to boil the ground soy beans for 8 minutes and to use vinegar as a coagulant; it just didn’t work. I then went on line and purchased the traditional coagulant, nigari, which is a natural form of magnesium chloride. Since I was springing for nigari, I decided to buy a tofu press too.
So $40 later, I was ready.
Making tofu is a two part process. First you make the soy milk from dried soy beans, then you heat it and coagulate it to make the tofu curds. You can buy soy beans at a health food store or Asian market.
RECIPE: MAKING SOY MILK
- Soak one pound of dried soy beans in 9 cups of water overnight.
- Grind the softened soybeans and their soaking liquid in batches in a blender. I have a pretty weak blender, so I pre-ground mine in a food processor, then ground them finer in the blender. This is also how I make hummus since I don’t like the grainy product produced by a food processor.
- Put the ground soybeans in a large pot. I used a three gallon pot. Add around 8 or 9 more cups of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat so that it doesn’t boil over. Stir continually. The soybeans foam a lot and may threaten to overflow the pot; if so, sprinkle them with ½ cup of cold water and keep stirring. It eventually subsides.
- Boil for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Line a colander with fine cheesecloth and place it on top of a container large enough to catch all the liquid that comes out. Pour the cooked soybean mixture into the cheesecloth. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze tightly to collect as much of the liquid as you can. Since the mixture was still hot, I used a spatula to press down on the cheesecloth to force out more liquid.
- The liquid in the collecting container is soy milk. You can drink it or turn it into tofu.
- The solids left in the cheesecloth are called okara and are very nutritious and a good source of fiber. I have a link for a recipe for falafel* made from okara, at the end of this piece, but people also use it make veggie burgers or as a filler in hamburger dishes. There is a traditional Japanese dish in which okara is sauteed with burdock root and soy sauce, but I did not feel quite that adventurous nor did I feel like digging up a bunch of burdock.
RECIPE: MAKING TOFU
- Clean out the pot in which you cooked the soybeans and then pour the soy milk into it. Heat on top of the stove to 165 degrees Fahrenheit if it has cooled below that temperature.
- While you wait for the soymilk to heat up, prepare the nigari. Add four teaspoons of nigari to one cup of warm water. Stir to dissolve.
- When your homemade soymilk comes up to temperature, add one half of the nigari and stir. It should coagulate but if you are in doubt or if there are some milky portions of the soy milk remaining, add the rest. Nigari has a slight bitterness, so it is best to avoid using all of it if you don’t have to.
- If you have a tofu press, line it with fine cloth to prepare the tofu from the soy curd. If you do not have a tofu press, you can go back to using a colander lined with fine cheesecloth, but your tofu will be irregularly shaped. Your tofu press should be placed in a sink or a large pan so that the liquid can drain out of the press.
- Once you have lined your tofu press with the cloth, you can use a cup to remove some of the liquid from the pot, being careful not to throw away any curds. Then very carefully pour the curds slowly into the press, not allowing it to overflow. Liquid will drain out the bottom of the press/colander into the sink.
- When you have transferred all of the curds to the press/colander, cover them with the top of the cloth, then place the top on the press and put around two pounds of weights on top of the mass of curds. I put two cans of beans on it to add a little weight. If you are using a colander, put a plate on top of the curds, then add a little bit of weight on top of that.
- In half an hour you can remove your tofu from the press and rinse it in a bowl of cold water. Don’t let tap water run directly onto the tofu or it can break up the cake.
- Use the tofu immediately or store it in the refrigerator covered with water.
Now I am thinking about growing soybeans next summer. I love the idea of growing my own tofu.
OKARA RECIPE NOTE: I used the okara to make falafels, adapting this recipe to my own taste. I didn’t use cumin, because I don’t like cumin, added some tumeric, cayenne and pepper. The falafels were really good and my picky son didn’t notice that it wasn’t “real” falafel. Note that the okara that results from making tofu above is already cooked so you can just put it straight into the recipe. We ate the falafels with homemade roti, tzatziki and cut up tomatoes fresh off the vine. It was fabulous.