21 January 2010

When Life Gives You Soybeans

Tofu is a staple food in my kitchen.  Since becoming vegan, I've developed a taste for those blocks of bean curd that so often serve as my stand-by protein.  Despite my frequent reliance on tofu for providing substance to meals, until very recently, I had never tried making it myself.  I'd never even made my own soymilk.  So some time ago, I resolved that one day I would not only take it upon myself to make soymilk, but also go a few steps further to turn that soymilk into tofu.

The other day, I spied my unused homemade tofu press made using these instructions from i eat food, and took it upon myself to begin the tofu-making process.  Just Hungry has a very useful series of blog posts called "Milking the Soybean," which describes in detail how to make soymilk, tofu, and what to do with the okara leftover from making soymilk.  Because I was making it all from scratch, I began at Part 1.  My first-ever attempt was a success, so I was encouraged to move on to making the tofu.  I set aside some of the soymilk for drinking later and reserved the okara (the remants of the soymilk-making process).
I continued onto Part 2 of Maki's "Milking the Soybean" series, my homemade press, cheesecloth, and nigari at the ready.  I was only able to find concentrated liquid nigari (the coagulant used for making tofu in Japan), rather than the powdered version, at the Asian grocery, so I used the same method of dissolving the coagulant in water using a slightly smaller amount.  It worked out fine, much to my relief.  Here are the curds before pressing:
And this is what it looked like after removing the tofu from the press, removing its bitterness, and dividing the block in half so that it would fit in a storage container:
With that wonderfully fresh tofu on hand, I just had to use some of it for dinner that night.  Despite leaving it in the press for nearly half an hour, the tofu ended up being fairly delicate.  I didn't want to handle it too much, but unfortunately that didn't quite work out so the nice cubes of tofu ended up turning into some unruly lumps by the time the dish was done.  I basically threw the few vegetables I had available (a red bell pepper, a few carrots, and some green beans) into a hot wok with oil, added a bit of shoyu and sake, then added the cubed tofu, stirring the mixture gently and letting it simmer until the veggies were tender.  The tofu pretty much fell to pieces but it still tasted good.  I actually found out that letting the tofu simmer in a bit of liquid actually allowed it to firm up, just as parboiling tofu would.
The next night, I used the remainder of my homemade tofu to make something simpler.  After cubing the tofu, I let the pieces saute on all sides in a touch of oil.  The I added a mixture of maple syrup, shoyu, and rice wine vinegar and let it simmer for a few minutes until most of the liquid had evaporated.  With a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, the dish was done.  The tofu was firm but creamy with a sweet-salty flavor that paired well with plain, steamed rice.
I didn't want to throw out the okara leftover from making from making the soymilk, so I set out to find something to make from all of that fiber-rich goodness.  I'd made okara pancakes once, using a recipe from one of my mother's cookbooks, but I wasn't very fond of the results; they were cloying and had a strange aftertaste.  After a brief online search, I decided to dry the bulk of the okara and use the rest to make Mary's Okara UnChicken Nuggets.  Eaten plain, they tasted a bit dry, so I made a quick dipping sauce of shoyu, sriracha, and rice wine vinegar.
During my search for okara-based recipes, I became intrigued by word of the existence of okara donuts.  I'm not particularly fond of either deep-frying or deep-fried foods--they're tasty but that unhealthy greasiness isn't very attractive--but I was curious about how this okara donut might taste.  I haphazardly threw together an okara-based dough to bake in the oven and ended up with something more sweet biscuit-like than donut-like.  The donuts didn't taste bad, but they weren't exactly amazing either.  A dusting of powdered sugar made them a little sweeter, but the primary issue was the texture.  Perhaps I'll give in to frying up some donuts the next time I get around to making soymilk again.
Despite the lengthy and somewhat messy process involved in making tofu, it was an enjoyable learning experience.  It tested my patience and made me appreciate the steps needed to get from soybean to bean curd.  And it's always rewarding to be able to truly create something from scratch.  I'll definitely do it all again.

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed!! I've made soymilk, but never made it as far as tofu. It looks so good, and I bet it's hella rewarding eating tofu that you made yourself. I've also seen recipes for okara cookies...but I don't know how they'd taste. I'm down with the deep fryer, so I bet those donuts would be awesome fried.

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