Tofu recipes provide a starting point for so many fresh and healthful foods. Japanese cooking instructor Sonoko Sakai recently came to SHED to show us how to make tofu at home using fresh, rich soy milk. We’ll never look at the grocery store stuff the same way again!
Having grown up eating fresh tofu made daily by local artisans in her hometown of Kamakura, Japan, Sonoko has carried this culinary tradition with her to Southern California. “When I have guests in my home, tofu is the centerpiece of the meal,” she says.
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds. As a general rule of thumb, one scant cup of soybeans makes for one block of tofu.
When making tofu at home from scratch, taking the time to cook and strain the soy milk two times is key to ensuring digestibility.
When soybeans are pureed to make soy milk, the insoluble parts left behind are known as okara. Since it is a plentiful source of fiber, Sonoko likes to incorporate it into pancake or muffin mix. It can also form the basis of a hearty rice bowl.
As a coagulant, Sonoko prefers nigari, the mineral-rich liquor that remains after salt is extracted from seawater. Just a few teaspoons will help create the texture for a successful press.
For firmer tofu, Sonoko recommends leaving a 1 pound weight on top of the tofu press for 20 minutes before removing the cloth.
These recipes for soy milk and tofu, adapted from Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen, are a basis upon which so many other dishes can be built.
Rich Soy Milk
Yield: 3 ¼ cups (1 block of tofu)
1 cup dried soybeans and enough water to soak the beans overnight
4 cups water
1 large pot (5-6 quarts)
1 small pot (4 quarts)
1 nut milk bag (a fine mesh bag used to strain the liquid from nuts and seeds, available at health food stores)
Soak the soybeans in enough water to cover by 3 inches. Let stand overnight to 2 days, depending on the temperature. Cooler weather requires longer soaking time.
Drain the soaked beans in a colander.
To make the soy milk, but the small pot in the sink and place the colander inside the pot. Put the nut bag in the colander, letting its edges drape over the rip. Have a spatula nearby.
Put a large pot on the stove. Heat 1 cup of water over medium heat to kick-start the cooking process. Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat and cover the pot while you grind the beans, so the water doesn’t evaporate.
To grind the beans, use a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of water at room temperature to the blender or food processor with half of the beans and run the blender on the highest speed for 2 minutes to yield a thick, smooth white puree. Repeat again with another cup of water and the remaining soybeans.
Add the soybean puree to the pot of hot water. To rinse out the blender, add 1 cup of water at room temperature and run the blender for 30 seconds. Pour into the large pot and scrape out any residual bits with the spatula.
Cook the soybean mixture, stirring the bottom frequently with a spatula to avoid scorching, until frothy foam forms and begins to rise, 3-6 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the heat to prevent boiling over. Stir and wait for the foam to deflate or skim off foam.
To strain out the milk, pour the hot mixture into the nut bag. Scrape out any soybeans remaining in the pot. Gather up the nut bag and twist to extract the soy milk.
Re-heat the soy milk to ensure digestibility. Bring the pot of soy milk in the medium pot to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring the bottom with a spatula. Be careful not to burn the soy milk. When surface begins to bubble, lower the heat to maintain that pace of gentle cooking for 5 minutes, stirring the pot. Remove from heat.
After the second cooking, the soy milk is ready to be used for tofu making.
Store in the fridge. Use the soy milk within 3-4 days.
Note: To make light soy milk for use in creating block tofu, increase the total water to 8 cups instead of 4 cups. Use 5 cups to kick-start the cooking process instead of 1 cup. The rest of the steps remain the same as making rich soy milk.
Mengoshi Tofu (Cotton Type)
Yields 1 block of tofu
8 cups light soy milk
2 tsp nigari diluted with ½ cup water or 1 ½ tsp gypsum diluted with ½ cup water
Large pot (6 quart)
Medium pot (5 quart)
Cloth liner (or cheesecloth)
Heat the light soy milk in the pot to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spatula for 5 minutes.
Combine the coagulant in the ½ cup water, stirring with a spoon to dissolve.
Place the mold in the sink and line with the liner cloth inside, letting its edges draw over the side.
When the soy milk reaches 170°F, turn off heat and let it sit for 1 minute, stirring occasionally to release heat.
Moving the spatula in a vigorous back and forth movement across the bottom of the pot, pour in one third of the coagulant. Then stop the spatula in the center of the pot and hold it there, upright, to slow down the activity. Once the soy milk stops moving, gently lift the spatula out.
Use the spoon to sprinkle another third of the coagulant onto the surface of the soymilk. Cover the pot and wait for about 3 minutes.
Add the remaining third of the coagulant to the surface of the soy milk. Use the spatula to gently stir back and forth across the surface of the soy milk for about 20 seconds. The soy milk should be curdling and forming into solids, with the pale yellow whey beginning to separate. Cover the pot and wait for 3 minutes (if using nigari) or 6 minutes (if using gypsum).
Transfer the curds to the cloth-lined mold. Put the lid on and add 1 lb of weight. Leave for 15 minutes (medium) and 20 minutes (firm). Remove the cotton cloth and weight and transfer tofu into a container. Serve immediately, or keep in the fridge for up to one week, changing water daily.