Have you tasted freshly made tofu? The creamy, rich pudding kind of fresh tofu? Or better yet, have you ever taken a shot at making it yourself? I predict this will be a new weekend warrior project. Asian cookbook author Andrea Nguyen has a real hand-holder guide to homemade tofu and a lot more in her book, Asian Tofu. Her recipe for Silken Tofu and Creamy Edamame Soup is a great initiation.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Really fresh tofu is another world, right?
Andrea Nguyen: It absolutely is. When I started making it a couple of years ago I was completely blown away. It’s like the difference between mozzarella that is vacuum-packed in plastic and the fresh stuff, or ricotta in a tub versus ricotta that you make yourself.
LRK: How do you make tofu? What is the process?
Andrea Nguyen is the author of Asian Tofu.
AN: First, get good non-GMO organic soybeans. Then add good water. The kind you would want to drink -- not just any old water. Next, you add a coagulant. This can be any kind of salt or acid. You can use Japanese nigari, which is like a cooked-down seawater, or gypsum, which people use to make beer. You could even use lemon juice or vinegar.
LRK: Once you get the soybeans, about how long do you soak them in water?
AN: That depends on the air temperature. I leave them overnight and they can go anywhere from 12 to 16 hours depending on what the temperature is.
Strangely, they don't actually get soft. They are weird because soybeans start out being round shaped, and then they expand to look almost like a kidney bean. They are very small and a beautiful buttercup yellow color.
Next, you grind them up in a blender or food processor until you get an almost milkshake-like texture. Then they get cooked. Use a non-stick pot because that soybean mixture (the slurry) is really tough to clean up. I always say if you’ve got a non-stick pot around, use it.
Strain it through a cloth, because you want to squeeze out the actual soy milk itself. This is the stuff people think of as coming in a box, but the stuff you make at home is going to taste a gazillion times better. Then you strain it, you squeeze out the milk and then you cook the soy milk a second time. Soy milk has to get cooked because that makes the soy milk easier to digest.
LRK: When does the coagulant go in?
AN: After the second cooking. The coagulant gets added in very slowly, because what you’re doing is adding this coagulant and separating the soy milk into curds and whey. The curds are basically the protein and fats that are in the soy milk itself.
LRK: So it’s basically like making cheese?
AN: Exactly. You have this separation that occurs in the pot and you just use a spoon to spoon out those soft curds. They can be these beautiful pillowy soft curds that you can put into a mold or you can just put into a colander. Line whatever mold you have with a little piece of muslin so that it’s easier to remove, and then the whey naturally drains through.
You can even just spoon up the curds and put them into a small bowl for what the Japanese call oboro tofu, which naturally settles. At the end, while it’s still warm, add a little soy sauce. Or add a little bit of Maldon salt and olive oil if you want to push it that direction. The tofu develops what the Japanese call umami. The taste is sensational.
For detailed instructions, check out Nguyen's step-by-step guide.
LRK: How long will it keep at this point?
AN: For about a week. If you can eat it the day of, it’s absolutely fabulous. The next day, it’s still fabulous. But be sure to change the water every other day if you are going to keep it around.
LRK: Then, to actually cook with it, you can, what? Marinate it? Sauté it?
AN: You can do a lot of things with tofu. People think that tofu has to be treated gently, and if you’re going to make fresh tofu, yes, treat it gently. But with tofu that you want to actually cook, you can simply cube it up and simmer it in sauce.
There’s a dish called ma po tofu which is on practically every single Chinese restaurant menu. It’s a spicy Szechuan dish that’s just cubed tofu that is simmered in a very spicy, earthy sauce with Szechuan peppercorns to finish it. Or with pressed tofu, which is a lot firmer and a lot meatier, you can just slice those things up into thin pieces or sticks and stir fry them. You don’t even have to drain any water.
Some types of tofu can be cut it into slabs, marinated and grilled to make a little tofu sandwich. You can even put some bacon on that thing, because tofu is not a vegetarian food.