Monday, 11 March 2013

How to make tofu from soy beans Part 1

 Tofu often has the reputation to be bland. But in Asia, particularly Japan, they appreciate this subtle foodstuff, making it in several textures, each with a different cooking purpose. Tofu is healthy, light, full of protein but also a wonderful flavour sponge, soaking up the tastes of anything you cook it in. It can be fried, simmered in soups, baked, smoked, marinated and eaten raw.
From a previous blog I wrote on tofu:

I believe tofu is unjustly maligned as boring, rather it is one of the great undiscovered foods in the west. There are different grades and types of tofu and ways of cooking it.
Inari tofu pockets: this are sweet fried tofu 'envelopes' that can be stuffed with rice. I totally love these and have been eating them by the packet. They should first be rinsed with hot water to remove the grease, then squeezed dry.
Silken tofu: soft, usually it is drained, placed on the palm of the hand and cut gently into squares. Great in soups or as a vegan replacement in desserts. (I make a tofu chocolate mousse).
Firm tofu: tougher and easier to work with, great diced carefully into stir fries, or smoked. It's very versatile.
When I was travelling in Tibet I had an amazing dish in Shigatse: firm tofu cut into rectangles and fried in red chilli sauce and garlic. It was so moreish I went back to the same lunch place every day to have it again. Today I made a smoked sesame tofu and roasted butternut squash with smoked paprika salad. Always have a packet of tofu in the house for unexpected vegans too.

After buying a book 'Asian Tofu' by Andrea Nguyen, I decided to have a go at making it from scratch. The first time, it wasn't a quick process, partly because the instructions in Andrea's book aren't that clear.
Before you start, make sure you can get hold of one of these coagulants:
  • Nigiri (a seaweed/magnesium derivative, apparently available in Japanese supermarkets but I couldn't find it)
  • Gypsum (available, food-grade, at brewing places)
  • Epsom Salts (available in chemists, but tends to make the tofu granular)

It took me quite a bit of research to find them, which slowed down the process of making tofu. These are the coagulants needed to form a tofu 'cake'. 
Also buy good soy beans. Andrea suggests buying organic ones. (Available from Wholefoods and most health food shops). 

Soy Milk recipe: (which can be used to make all the tofu recipes)

We start by soaking 250 grams of the soy beans in filtered/mineral water for 24 hours. (Making tofu is a bit like making cheese, the water is very important, you want it as pure as possible, no hard lime). Then drain them.
Then take the beans and grind them (I used a vitamix), adding 2 cups of mineral water. You want to end up with a lovely milk coloured purée.
Add the beans and another 3 cups of mineral water to a large saucepan. 
Use another half cup of mineral water to rinse out your blender, add this to the saucepan.
Boil this mixture, stirring all the while, for about 5 minutes. When the foam rises, turn the heat down. 
Prepare a sieve with a cheesecloth lining it.
Push through as much of the milk from the pulp as you can. As it cools, eventually you can pull up the sides of the cheesecloth into a bundle or sack and squeeze out the milk. Do this in batches. When it seems pretty dry, put the 'lees', the dry remains, into another dish. Keep, because at the end you will want to do a second pressing. 
(Some people keep the lees at the end, they didn't taste very nice so I wouldn't bother).
You should have a nice pot of soy milk at the end of this.
Now you need to heat up this pot of soy milk a second time, simmer, stirring all the time, for about five minutes.
Making Yuba, soy milk skin.

This is considered a delicacy in Japan and you can make a few portions from your simmering pot of fresh soy milk. It's fairly similar to milk skin, it just forms on the top when the milk is cooling. To get 'yuba', stop stirring and let it cool, then carefully lift off the skin with a rubber spatula.
Then I dried the 'yuba' by draping it over the spatula handle. 
Once it has dried for a few minutes, not long, you can fold it in quarters and eat it with some ponzu (soy sauce with yuzu citrus) and wasabi. It is a delicate subtle taste but very nice if you like Japanese food. All the posh restaurants and chefs use this, like Nuno Mendes of Viajante. 
You can keep going if you like until you end up with lots of sheets. I did about 4 sheets, leaving a few minutes in between batches, waiting for skin to form on my soy milk. 
The rest of the milk I saved to make tofu, which will be in Part 2.


  1. I LOVE the idea of making tofu - I definitely plan to do this :)

    Are the beans that you use dried?

  2. Hi Miss Whiplash: yes they are dried. Make sure you get large ones that are a nice creamy colour, of uniform shape and size, without 'eyes' if poss.
    They keep indefinitely according to Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen

  3. Now that's a new one on me - soy bean milk skin?? Intriguing. And it's always a source of amazement to me how easy it is to make nut/bean milks (and how delicious!)

  4. This is fascinating- one of those fridge staples that I hadn't contemplated making from scratch, but love seeing the process. I went through a stage of having tofu smoothies most mornings- silken tofu, banana, blueberries and a slosh of juice. Was actually quite lovely.

  5. Hi Jeanne: it's really nice, yuba...
    I've not made a nut milk yet, must have a go with my vitamix

  6. I always wondered how tofu was made and here i got the answer! Doesn't look too difficult, so it worth a try!

  7. Nigiri? I think you meant Nigari. Nigiri is a kind of sushi. Actually, you can just use distilled vinegar and salt in the last step when transfer soy milk into tofu. They are much more easy to access than the other traditional materials people used in that step.

  8. where is your Tofu making part 2?

    1. Yes you are right, where is it? Well it took a while to get the right coagulating material delivered. I had one go, and it wasn't great tbh. I'm going to have another go...


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