Tofu is a blank protein canvas, made to be painted with flavors of other foods. But when made by hand, it has a quiet kind of presence all its own. Or maybe it is that the act of creating heightens appreciation of the subtler flavors…the nutty character of the soybeans came subtly through, in both taste and texture. In any case, tofu made at home is certainly the freshest and the purest and the best-textured tofu you’ll ever consume. It’s far simpler than I would have imagined, being so used to thinking of tofu as an ingredient, and less of a project in and of itself. No more. Add tofu to the list of things that I have now become attuned to, and hence cannot buy but must make myself. (See also: pickles, sauerkraut, bacon, jam, granola bars, etc…)
We were guided and inspired in this recipe by our friends Eriko and Masumi, of Hakouya. Their expert guidance made it all seem very easy. So we’re sharing the knowledge here, as they do in their classes, creating a food culture, one recipe at a time, that draws on the traditions of cultures across the globe.
This recipe is simple, using just water, soybeans, and a (measured) dash of Nigari to coagulate the soy curd. Nigari may be an unfamiliar ingredient to some; it is, essentially, concentrated saltwater from which the salt has been removed. It is rich in minerals, magnesium chloride being the most important in this context. It may also contain sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate, calcium sulfate, potassium chloride, and magnesium bromide. It’s not something that should be consumed in large quantities at once, but the small amount used in tofu making does provide the body with trace minerals as well as the intended effect of coagulating the soy curds used to make tofu.
Makes about 1.25 pounds of tofu
Rinse the dry soybeans well, and cover them with 6 cups water. Allow to soak for 18-24 hours.
Set 7.5 cups of water to boil while you prepare the soybeans for the next step.
Using an high-speed blender, grind the soaked soybeans in small batches.
Process to a smooth, creamy consistency, adding soaking water incrementally, as needed, to get the smoothest texture. A very thin grind, with lots of water, will produce a very silky tofu. A slightly coarser grind should still masticate the beans to a creamy texture, but might have a mealier feel between the fingers. Blend the soybeans in batches until the desired consistency is reached.
Slowly add the beans to the boiling water. Stir constantly to prevent burning.
Bring the heat up until it starts to foam up to the top of the pan. Turn the heat off and allow the foam to subside.
Return to a low heat heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes.
Line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the hot soybean puree through the cheesecloth. A flour sack, stitched into a small pillowcase shape works well, too.
Twist the cheesecloth tightly to squeeze out all of the soymilk, pressing on the hot cloth with a wooden spoon or other implement to avoid burning your fingers.
The solids left in the cheesecloth are now referred to as “Okara.”
While we didn’t document the entire process here, the ladies of Hakouya have kindly directed us to their favorite recipe for using okara to make delicious croquettes.
Prepare the Nigari solution. This will coagulate the soymilk. Add 2.5 teaspoons of Nigari to 3 1/2 tablespoons hot water, and mix well.
Return the soymilk to the heat and heat it to 180° F, stirring often to keep the bottom from burning.
Remove the soymilk from the heat and add half of the warm Nigari solution, while stirring slowly with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining half of the solution, stirring gently back and forth, with a minimum of movement, just enough to mix in the Nigari.
After 1-2 minutes, the soymilk will begin to separate into curds and whey. Cover the pot with a lid to keep warm, and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.
If the curds are not completely separated from the whey, add a squeeze of lemon juice. The liquid should become clear, not milky.
The curds are sometimes eaten warm at this stage, but we know tofu best in molded form.
Line a cheese or tofu mold with cheesecloth, and set it over a pan or tray to collect the draining whey. Use a slotted spoon to ladle the soy curds gently into the cheesecloth.
Fold the cheesecloth over the top of the hot curds, and place a follower or lid on the top.
A large jar full of water makes a good weight, but anything weighing around a couple of pounds works well.
Let the tofu drain for about 30 minutes. Tofu that is drained of whey for less time will be more tender and soft. Drained for longer, it is drier and slightly more flavorful.
After draining, place the tofu in a container of cold water to firm up. Yes, we know, you just drained it, and now you are putting it in water. But it was whey that drained out. The water changes the consistency of the tofu to make it more firm.
Store in the fridge in this water. For optimum freshness and flavor, change the water daily.
We ate this tofu, still warm from the press, with small dabs of homemade miso. It was a revelation.
Use it, too, in stir-fries, miso soup, sushi, smoothies, and other dishes.
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.