Although I’ve made many different crazy things from scratch, one thing that I’ve never had the nerve to try was tofu. Making tofu seemed like a mysterious, complicated process. But, some time around the time that I made paneer, I started thinking more about tofu, and thinking that perhaps it wasn’t so difficult after all. Wasn’t tofu basically just paneer, made with soy milk instead of milk? So, I started researching online, trying to figure out the best way to make tofu. It seemed that I could either make it from soy milk or from whole soybeans. Because soy milk seemed like it was cheating and came with a host of additives that would never be in any self respecting tofu, I decided to make my tofu from whole soybeans. I paid a visit to my favorite local Japanese grocery, Nijiya, and bought myself some organic soybeans and the Japanese coagulant, Nigari. But how do you make tofu, anyway?
“Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds. Although pre-made soy milk may be used, most tofu producers begin by making their own soy milk, which is produced by soaking, grinding, boiling, and straining dried (or, less commonly, fresh) soybeans.Coagulation of the protein and oil (emulsion) suspended in the boiled soy milk is the most important step in the production of tofu. This process is accomplished with the aid of coagulants. Two types of coagulants (salts and acids) are used commercially,” Calcium sulfate (for Chinese tofu) and Nigari salts – Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride (for Japanese style tofu). (Source: Wikipedia)
Calcium sulfate is high in calcium, so I often buy Chinese firm tofu for my dishes. However, it was easier for me to find Nigari, so I decided to make Japanese firm tofu this time. It was a lengthy process, involving an overnight soaking of beans, lengthy boiling, straining, and a final setting period of 30 minutes. But I think I can safely say it was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever made because it allowed me to really understand tofu and all its components, as well as giving me a renewed appreciation for the magical qualities of the simple soybean. But once I’d made my own Japanese tofu, I had to decide how to use it.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy really fresh tofu is deep fried with a light crust, so that you can enjoy the contrast of textures and flavors. The outside gets crispy and golden brown and seals in the creamy, yummy tofu goodness inside. For this very special homemade tofu, I cut the tofu in half horizontally and pressed it for 30 minutes. Next I cut the tofu into petite rectangular slabs. I took one half cup of corn starch or so, added 2 tsp of granulated garlic and 2 tsp of granulated onion, mixed them up, and coated the tofu slabs in this mixture. Next I brought some peanut oil to a high temperature in a deep pot, and deep fried my tofu until golden brown. I removed each piece of tofu as it was done, put them on a drying rack and seasoned them generously with salt. Don’t they look yummy?
But one cannot live on fried tofu delight alone, although it might be tempting to try. Along with making some short grained Japanese rice, I made a side dish that we perfected in Japan. Although many vegetables are expensive in Japan, Japanese nasu, or eggplant, is available at a reasonable price almost year round. Being the, um, frugal gourmets that we were, preferring to spend our money on traveling Japan rather than the food on our plates, we were highly motivated to find yummy recipes using this reasonably priced ingredient. We found a recipe in Emi Kazuko’s excellent book on Japanese Cooking : The Traditions, Techniques, Ingredients and Recipes called Fried Aubergine with Miso Sauce and we gradually transformed the recipe into the version you see below.
If you love tofu, why not try making your own? You might not save money (although if you buy your soybeans in bulk you just might), but I guarantee that it will be the freshest, tastiest tofu you’ve ever had on this side of the Pacific. And if this seems like a bit much, find the freshest tofu you can, fry it up, and enjoy it with our favorite Japanese eggplant dish. This dish reminds me of a host of wonderful evenings in our apartment in Japan, and every time I make it I feel a little bit like I’m back there again. Won’t you share it with me?
If you’d like to make Tofu with Calcium Sulfate, check out Cool Hunting’s video:
Step by Step Instructions for Making Homemade Tofu:
Homemade Tofu Recipe
2 cups organic dried soybeans
Enough water to cover
20 ml nigari liquid
Soak soybeans in water for 10-20 hours. Replace water every 10 hours or so. I actually left the soybeans in for more like 24 hours and they began to sprout, but I changed the water several times and they stayed fresh. Rinse the beans and blend them in batches with the filtered/spring water. Rinse a large pot with water and then add the puree to the pot, bringing it to a low boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring constantly.
Put colander over a large bowl or pot and line with cheesecloth. Slowly pour simmered puree into the cheesecloth lined colander and then carefully lift up the edge of the cloth, gathering any solids remaining in the cheesecloth and wringing out any liquid from the ball of tofu “curd” (okara) in the cheesecloth. Don’t let any of the “curd” fall into the soy milk. Throw away the curd.
Clean and rinse your large pot again. Without drying the pot, pour your soy milk into the pot and bring it to a temperature of around 140-154 F. (Heating or not, according to temperature.) When it has come to this temperature, stir in half of the nigari. Let the soy milk begin to separate, and then add the rest of the nigari.
Line a tofu box with cheesecloth and pour in your curdled soy milk/nigari mixture. Wrap up the top carefully and put the lid on the box with something heavy on top so that the tofu is pressed. Leave your tofu to press for 30-35 minutes (the longer you leave it the more firm the tofu will be) and then submerge the tofu box in water and carefully remove your tofu. Either use immediately or store the tofu in water.
Japanese Sesame Eggplant Recipe in Miso Sauce
2 or 3 Asian style eggplant (not the fat, wide American variety)
1 green pepper (bell or poblano/pasilla)
1 dried red chili
3 tbsp sake
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp GF wheat free tamari (San J=recommended)
1 tsp (or more) cornstarch
2 tbsp GF red (or white) miso(FIND GF variety such as brown rice)
2 tbsp water
3-4 tbsp sesame oil
Slice eggplant in half horizontally, then chop to create half circles. Cut your pepper into strips, removing seeds. De-seed your dried chili and chop it into small rings. Combine your sake, mirin, sugar, and GF tamari in a small bowl. Whisk in cornstarch until thoroughly combined. In a cup, combine the miso with water and combine thoroughly. Heat 3 tbsp of your oil in a nonstick frypan or wok. Add eggplant and stir fry until it has softened slightly. Then add the last tablespoon of oil and your green peppers, and stir fry for a few more minutes or until pepper is soft. If you are using a poblano or pasilla pepper, add the pepper earlier. Next, lower heat, create a well in the center of the pan and add the sake-tamari mixture. Sir for a few minutes, until sauce thickens slightly and seems to have seasoned the vegetables. Finally, add the miso paste and stir, heating for a few more minutes. Serve with rice and enjoy.