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Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

Before doing a bit of research I thought of tofu as a sort of this mysterious white blob, capable of being incredibly awesome if cooked correctly.  Equally capable of being pretty awful if prepared by an unskilled cook.  Six years ago I first tried cooking with tofu.  It was a disaster; the chunks were bland and nearly turned me off to the stuff forever.  Now I can’t get enough of it.  I missed it terribly when I moved down to rural Mexico where the only tofu you can find is too expensive to provide for groups our size.

It took me two and a half years to finally turn to the internet and type in “How to make tofu”.  Duh, Marie.  It’s actually quite simple.  I didn’t want to mess anything up, so I recruited a willing volunteer to bring down a pound of nigari, which is the stuff left behind after salt is extracted from ocean water.  Traditionally nigari is what is used in Japan to make tofu.  In North America, Calcium chloride is more common (according to Wikipedia).  I will try that after my lovely bag of nigari runs out – 200 pounds of tofu from now!

Easy Tofu Recipe

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store
Cover Image by wichai bopatay from Pixabay

So the ingredients are simple:

  • soy beans
  • water
  • nigari (or other coagulants)
  • a press or strainer

The process is also simple.  I did a batch yesterday and a batch today.  Yesterday I did just about 250 grams of soybeans, and my product was a bit weak and bitter.  Today I went for an entire kilogram of soybeans and fixed my mistakes from yesterday.  The result: firm and normal tofu.  If you’ve never had homemade tofu, or if you don’t think that tofu could possibly taste any different if it is fresh, try making a bit of your own.  The texture and the taste are both better, and the savings in money alone makes this a worthwhile venture.

Here is the process:

Soak your soybeans overnight.   I soaked 1 kilogram of soybeans.  This is about enough, in my opinion, for 20 healthy servings of tofu.  Be sure you add enough water to soak as the beans will double in size:

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

In the morning, drain the beans and rinse them well.  In my case, wait impatiently for the sun to hit the solar panels so that the food processor can be used.  Dump the beans, in batches, into a blender or food processor with some water to ease in mixing.  Don’t worry about the amount of water, just add enough so that you can really blend the crap out of ‘em.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

Meanwhile, boil a bit of water in a BIG pot.  For one kilo of beans, I boiled about 8 cups of water.  Add your blended soybeans to the water and bring the whole thing to a boil, stirring constantly.  (And I do mean constantly)

It will start to foam as it heats.  It will foam and foam and foam.  For this, I recommend using your largest pot (unless you’re like me and own insanely huge pots).  I used a very huge pot today, and the damn thing still foamed over.  This is why you need to be stirring constantly – keep an eye on the foam, if it starts getting close to the edge of the pot add some cold water.  I took a break on my first try to feed a dog and came back to a volcano of soy goo all over my pot and stove.  Attend your pot!

When the mixture boils, turn the heat down to low and continue stirring it for about 10 minutes.  Take care that your concoction doesn’t burn at the bottom of your pot or foam over.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

After ten minutes, take your pot off the heat and let it cool a bit.  I waited about a half-hour.  You could wait for more, or less, whatever, just make sure the next step doesn’t burn your hand.

This step is fine for small batches (yesterday I thought, ‘hey, this ain’t bad!’) and a pain in the neck for large batches (today I changed my mind).  Line a strainer with a bit of cheesecloth and pour your bean/water mixture through the strainer.  If you’re working with a small amount you can probably add the whole shebang.  With a large amount, add a small bit at a time, and squeeze the mixture so that you get all of the white liquid out of the beans.  The white stuff is soy milk, and the leftover fluffy bits of beans are called okara.  Save the okara for preserving later on, and put the soy milk into a pot.  Squeeze a lot!  You can really extract a lot of milk – the more milk, the more tofu.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

For one kilo of dried beans, this step took me a long time (I ended up with 4 liters of soy milk).  My hands got really tired so I actually had to take a break… If you want to make a big batch of tofu (which you might as well if you’re going to all the trouble), you may want to recruit family or friends to help with this step.  I didn’t want help for my first round of tofu because I really wanted to understand the process.  Process understood, next time I’ll have a volunteer or friend help me.

All of the steps above you could do a day or two ahead if you’re able to refrigerate the milk.  When you’re ready to make your tofu, heat the milk to a little above 70 degrees C (160 degrees F).  While you’re heating be sure you stir frequently to avoid burning.  At around 70 degrees, remove the pot from the stove and add your coagulant of choice.  Typically you will add the coagulant mixed with water.  Using nigari, after some research, I mixed about 2 1/2 tablespoons of nigari with 2 cups of water.

When adding the coagulant, add slowly while stirring.  Do some research because it is unnecessary to add lots of coagulants.  The firmness of your tofu depends on the type of coagulant as well as how much you press it, so just add enough to get it to separate from the water and you should be set (ha!).

When you can see that the coagulant is working, put a top on your pot and let it sit for 15-20 minutes.  Check it to make sure you’ve got two items in the pot – yellow water and weird white goo.  Weird white goo is tofu.  Now, it’s time to set it in the press to form a block.

Depending on what you’ve got on hand, you can very likely fashion a decent press with stuff in your kitchen.  Worst case scenario, use a strainer, line it with cheesecloth, pour the tofu in and cover it with the cloth and a plate topped with heavy cans.  It works, but your tofu will just have an odd shape.

I happened to have a weird squarish object that came inside a Tupperware.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

The object was intended for steaming things in the microwave (I bought it thinking it was a storage container).  It already had holes in the bottom, so I just drilled some holes in the sides, lined it with cheesecloth, and set it to rest on a bowl that held it perfectly.  To press the tofu, I cut out two pieces of cardboard smaller than the container, stacked them together, and wrapped them in plastic wrap.

So, once you’ve got your press ready and lined with cloth, very gently pour in your tofu/water mixture.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

When it’s all in, cover the tofu with your cloth and place your cardboard (or other, more inventive object) on top and add some weight.  Leave the tofu for 20-30 minutes to get lots of the water out – I checked it a few times to see the progress, and gently pressed it with my hands as well as my very sophisticated stack of cornflour packets.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

After 30 minutes, your tofu is ready.  Fill a tub with coldish water and place your mold into the tub.  Gently remove the tofu and cloth from the mold, and then the tofu from the cloth.  This step had me on my toes as I was sure I’d break the whole thing.  But it worked!  Ta da!  If you used nigari, you want to rinse the tofu well (gently!) before storing it as nigari will leave a bitter taste.  My first batch was bitter, but with a small amount of rinsing the second round was quite perfect.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

Store the tofu in water, just as you would tofu you buy from the store.  We ate half of today’s batch right away, fried lightly, and put it into wraps with avocado, tomato, and onion.  Tomorrow we’ll have the other half in a basic stir fry.  Some sources say that it is best within a few hours, but I think if you’re going to make tofu, make enough to store and enjoy for at least 2 meals.  Tofu will keep for a week in your fridge, or three days in the Bosque (without refrigeration).  Change the water daily to keep it fresh.

Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store
Making Tofu Just as You Would Buy From the Store

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