Happy World Vegetarian Day!
I never thought tofu had a flavor until a few years ago when I first made my own. Up until then, I thought of it as a blank slate, something to suck up the flavors of whatever it was cooked with. But the first time I made my own tofu I discovered that though it also has a mild taste, it’s somehow creamier, richer, and better-tasting than packaged tofu.
Making tofu is really not as difficult as you might think, especially if you use a soymilk maker to make the soymilk first. The soymilk machine heats the milk to just the right temperature; from there you need only to mix in a coagulant, which causes the soymilk to curdle, and pour the curds into a cheesecloth-lined container that has holes punched in it to allow the whey to drain off. You can even make tofu in a strainer or colander, if you’re not a stickler about having a rectangular block of tofu.
With food prices so high, I’ve been trying to save money anywhere I can, and making my own soymilk and tofu make a big difference in my weekly grocery bill. I buy organic soybeans for $1.19 a pound at my local natural food store. From that pound of beans, I can make six 1.5-liter batches of soymilk or three 8-ounce batches of tofu. That’s the equivalent of 9 of those aseptic boxes of soymilk for $1.19! Besides the obvious savings, making my own soymilk and tofu reduces waste and is better for the environment because there are no packages to throw away. I keep my homemade soymilk in reusable glass pitchers similar to these; my homemade tofu gets used so quickly that there’s no need to store it in anything other than the press I use to make it.
I’d like to show you the steps I go through when making tofu, but this isn’t really a recipe. If you’d like more info about the process–particularly for making tofu without a soymilk machine–there are lots of websites that give you more of the nitty gritty details. Check the end of this post for a couple of links.
I begin by making soymilk with twice the usual amount of soybeans and the minimal amount of water. The night before, I start the soybeans soaking in enough water to cover by a couple of inches. In the morning, I drain and rinse the beans well. If I’m making soymilk, I often remove the beans’ skins by rubbing them between my fingers in a pan of water, but I skip this step if I’m making tofu.
In the new filterless SoyQuick, the beans and water go straight into the bottom of the machine together. I add water to the lower line and then put in the beans and press the “Soymilk” button. The machine grinds the soybeans while cooking them.
Once the machine beeps and the soymilk is ready, I pour the soymilk through the strainer into the transfer jug (both included with the machine). The okara (soy pulp) collects in the strainer, and I set it aside to use later. If I were making soymilk, I could either stop here or strain the soymilk one more time through cheesecloth as I’m transferring it into the glass container I store it in.
But since I’m making tofu, I add a packet of coagulant to the soymilk in the transfer jug and cover the top with a plate to rest for about 20 minutes. I used the SoyQuick brand coagulant (magnesium chloride), but you can also buy nigari and gypsum to use as coagulants.
After about 20 minutes I check to see that the soymilk has coagulated and separated into curds and whey. I pour it back through the strainer, which I set over a bowl to catch the whey. (I use the whey to water my plants; it contains nutrients that are beneficial to them.)
Once the curds are all in the strainer, I pour them into the cheesecloth-lined tofu press, which I’ve set in a colander inside a bowl.
When the curds are all in the cheesecloth, I fold up all sides of the cloth, making a neat package.
I put the cover onto the tofu press and gently press down to remove the remaining whey. To make it extra firm, I put a weight, such as a large can of tomatoes, on top of the press and leave it for about 15 minutes. When it’s finished pressing, I leave the tofu in the press and put it into the refrigerator.
After a couple of hours in the refrigerator, I unwrap the tofu and it is ready to use. If I don’t plan to use it that same day, I put it into a container and cover it with water to keep up to three days. But fresh tofu tastes best that same day, so I rarely store it overnight.
Freshly made tofu has such a great taste that I like to prepare it in simple ways with few ingredients to hide its taste. In my next post I’ll show you what I did with this batch of tofu.
Some Questions I’ve Been Asked about Homemade Soymilk and Tofu:
I only like Silk brand soymilk. Does homemade soymilk taste like Silk?
In a word, no. Homemade soymilk doesn’t really taste like any of the brands you buy in the store, and it can take a little getting used to. Some people describe its taste as “beany.” But there are a few things you can do to lessen the beany taste.
Okay, so what can you do to get rid of the beany taste?
For one, remove the bean skins. That’s not as hard as it sounds, although it does make soymilk making a little more tedious. After the soybeans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain and rinse them, put them in a large bowl, and fill the bowl with water. Rub the beans between your fingers to remove the skins. When the skins float away from the beans, scoop them up and discard them.
You can also add grains to your soymilk to lessen the beany taste. I’ve only used oatmeal, but other people include rice and other grains. Personally, I add 3 tablespoons of rolled oats (regular Quaker oatmeal) to the machine along with the soybeans; it makes the milk thicker and less likely to separate (but don’t add it if you’re making tofu).
Finally, I find that adding sweetener and salt make the milk taste a lot more like packaged soymilk. For vanilla soymilk, I add 2 to 3 tablespoons of agave nectar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt after the final straining. (To make vanilla soymilk, I break up two vanilla beans and add them along with the soybeans; unfortunately, this creates vanilla okara, which means I have to make cookies. Oh, well!)
If you make soymilk at home, aren’t you missing out on the vitamins and minerals that are added to the packaged products?
I figure it this way: Those nutrients are just supplements that someone else has added. I think my family and I are better off drinking freshly made soymilk, without thickeners and preservatives, and taking our own supplements, such as calcium and vitamin B-12. I’m actually happier buying vitamins and minerals in pill form because I can get them from a source that I trust to be vegan.
For more information, particularly about making tofu without a soymilk maker, check out How to Make Tofu on the Just Hungry blog and Making Homemade Tofu on Bryanna Clark Grogan’s website.
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