In the US, tofu is generally considered as a health food rather than a gourmet food. In Japan, it is one of our staple food items and if you go to a supermarket in Japan, you will find tons of different types of tofu. Some are basic mass-produced versions to use in daily miso soup and some are artisan tofu and you can enjoy fresh and alone.
Since there is no access to artisan tofu here in Liberia (frankly, I have never really found it in the U.S. either), I have tried to teach myself to make my own when I crave a good tofu. And believe me, I do crave it... Once you experience good quality tofu in Japan, you can't forget that taste of it. It is just divine.
Like everything else, the key to the high quality tofu is a quality of the ingredients. For tofu, the quality of soy beans and the water are the most essential. I brought organic soy beans from Japan with me only for tofu making. As for water, I didn't have much choice but I used the best bottled water I could find in Monrovia. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you can get fresh spring water, that would make a great tofu (or I guess anything).
The process of making tofu is quite simple but it does require some practice. My first one was disaster. But after 2-3 times I am already doing much better.
Ingredients you need
1 lb dry soy beans
1 teaspoon natural nigari (bittern) or
2 teaspoon terra alba (calcium sulfate)
Equipment you need
2 large stock pots
1 medium pot
Two large cheese cloths
1. Soak soybeans overnight in a large bowl with plenty of fresh, cool water.
2. Drain the beans and discard the soaked water. Rinse with fresh water.
3. Prepare boiling water in two pots;
4. In a blender, add 1 cup of soaked soybeans and 1-1/2 cups of boiling water from pot a) and blend for two minutes.
5. Empty the bean and water mixture into a large stock pot (b). Repeat 4 and 5 until all the soybeans are ground.
6. Moisten a linen sack, jelly bag or cheese cloth. If you use cheese cloth, line it over a colander and place the colander over a large pot. Pour the soybean and water mixture into the sack or over the cheese cloth and twist and squeeze as much soy milk out as possible.
7. The soybean residue inside of the sack or cheese cloth is called "okara" in Japanese (top photo). This is very nutritious food and you can save it for some other use. I personally use okara for healthy sweets like okara cookies or okara muffins or cook it with some veggies and make a Japanese traditional food called Unohana. In Korea, they use this for spicy hot pot. My last batch of okara was used for doggie food - it is a super nutricious supplement to add to regular dog food. I'll include that recipe for homemade dogfood with okara soon.
8. Bring the soy milk to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Stir continuously and cook for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. If you wish, you can save this soy milk for drinking or other use. But we will move on to make tofu this time.
9. Now it is time to curdle the soy milk. Mix one cup of water and 1 teaspoon nigari or 2 teaspoons terra alba to make the coagulant (Japanese tofu is made with nigari while Chinese tofu is made with terra alba).
10. Use a wooden spoon to stir the hot soy milk. While the milk is still swirling, slowly add 1/4 cup of coagulant into the soy milk. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of coagulant over the surface. Cover the pot with a lid for 3 minutes.
11. Remove the lid and gently stir the curd. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of coagulant over the milky areas and cover the pot again and wait for another 3 minutes.
At this stage, you can spoon the curd into a small bowl and eat it. It is called Oboro-Dofu in Japan. There are so many ways to enjoy tofu!
12. To make traditional "firm" tofu, you will need a tofu press. The one on the right is a typical press made from maple wood. It has small holes all over the surface to drain the whey. The bottom and top are removable. The tofu press is used only for firm tofu but not for a silken type (I'll have to show you that a different time).
Line the press with wet 12" by 12' cheesecloth and place the tofu press in the sink where it can drain without making a mess.
You can also place it on a large tray if you want to keep the whey - whey can be used as a natural hair rinse or a natural dish soap... waste not want not.
|13. Ladle the curd gently into the press. Very gently.|
14. Fold the cloth over the curd and place the lid on the top. Add some weight on the top of the lid and press it for 15 minutes. Longer pressing will give a firmer texture so adjust the time depending on how you want to eat your tofu.
15. Remove the weight and place the whole thing into a sink filled with cold water to cool. After it is chilled, remove the lid, unfold the cloth and gently lift the finished tofu.
16. Personally, I love to eat the fresh tofu simply with some scallion, grated ginger, bonito flake and soy sauce. It is great with cold beer or chilled sake. Even people who may not usually enjoy tofu will rave over home-made firm tofu.
It may seem like a lot of work but it is worth it!
After you eat the fresh batch, you can place any leftovers in an air tight container with water on the bottom, and refrigerate. Make sure to change the water every day. The tofu will still be firm and tasty for several days.