Friday, October 4, 2013

Homemade tofu demystified

Adapting to local food realities is a process. I’ve posted about it many times. Today I have a DIY success story about tofu. An old myth I’ve carried around has been exploded, thanks to some help from fellow Brazil Blogger Laura at Back-to-the-Land in Brazil.

Fresh, homemade tofu – welcome to my kitchen.

Given the silly-high price of tofu in the natural foods stores I have not eaten it (aside from in restaurants) in years. I just can’t bring myself to spend R$10.50 on a 250 gram (8.8 oz.) block. Tofu has been one of those items I used to eat a lot of that I have given up since I moved to Brazil.

Somehow I got it into my head that making tofu was difficult. I spent time a few months back (maybe more than a year ago now) searching online for a home kitchen tofu maker that I could add to my extensive collection of electric kitchen conveniences. All I could locate were soy milk makers. I thought that was a dead end, so I gave up on the idea of making my own tofu.

Man was I confused (ignorant).

Thanks to a calming walk-me-through email from Laura and a companion DIY video she made, I set out to make my own tofu. I also watched a few more videos on You Tube, including this one from America’s Test Kitchen.

Take it from me (and Laura). Making your own tofu is easy and the results are delightfully wonderful.

Here is what I did:

Ingredients: 500 grams of dried soy beans, 2 teaspoons of Sal Amargo (a coagulant) and water. == that’s it!

The dried beans sold in bulk at my favorite natural foods store are half the price of those sold in packages at the supermarket. I got them for R$5 per kilogram (store bought pkgs go for R$5 per 500 grams). Finding the coagulant was more of an adventure. Sal Amargo is magnesium sulfate (sulfato magnésio), commonly called Epsom salt in the USA, and can be found at some pharmacies. Laura had suggested that I might also find it at my local grocery store in the spice section, but I had no luck there. I actually went to about 10 different pharmacies before I found it, including a couple homeopathic shops who offered to order me some for a crazy price. When I finally located a pharmacy that sold it, it was just R$3.80 for a 30 gram pouch (enough for 4 or 5 batches of tofu).

Keep in mind that Laura lives in an area in Brazil with a larger Japanese immigrant population than here in Niterói. It makes sense, then, that Sal Amargo would be more commonly available there. So if you live in such an area, perhaps you will find it more easily than I.

Anyway, here is the simple procedure. I went with the America’s Test Kitchen procedure because it seemed slightly easier than Laura’s but they are VERY similar.

-         Wash your soybeans, removing any bad beans or small stones that may have found their way into your supply. Cover substantially with water and let them soak overnight. You want at least 8 hours of soaking.
-         Drain and rinse your soaked beans.

-         Place about 1 cup of beans and 3 cups of water into a blender and liquefy the beans. Pour into a large pot for boiling. Repeat until all of your beans have been liquefied. Use a sturdy stainless steel or aluminum pot. Avoid a non-stick pot as the boiled mixture will create a film ring (and maybe some scorching on the bottom) that will require a bit of scrubbing to clean and you do not want to scrub away at your non-stick coating.

-         Stirring to avoid scorching, bring the slightly grainy mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. It will foam up so keep an eye on it and stir.

-         Strain the heated mixture through a sterilized straining cloth (I used a new saco de farinha = recycled flour sack or tea cloth) into another pan for further heating. You want about 3+ liters (or 13+ cups) of milk, more or less. You can add more heated water to your leftover soy solids to extract more milk, if desired.

-         Dissolve two teaspoons of Sal Amargo into a cup of water.

-         Heat your strained soy milk to boiling. Remove from heat. Using a figure 8 stirring pattern to ensure good mixing, carefully pour in half of your coagulant liquid. Stir for about 30 seconds then let it sit for about 2 minutes. You will see the curds forming. They form from the bottom up, so liquid will gather at the surface.

-         Gently sprinkle the remaining coagulant over the top and stir the surface carefully so as to not break up the curds already forming lower in the pot.

-         Put a lid on your pot and let it sit for 20 minutes or so.

-         Carefully strain out your curds with a slotted spoon or other utensil and transfer to your prepared mold. Here Laura first uses a small strainer pressed into the curds to isolate the whey which can then be skimmed off with a ladle. I did this too. It concentrates the curds and seemed to help keep them firm and together when transferring to the mold.

-         For a mold I used a cheese mold I bought some time ago at the Mercado Central in Belo Horzontes. It was perfect for the task at hand. You can easily make a mold by lining a perforated plastic container, like those grapes are sold in, with your cleaned straining cloth.

-         Cover your curds with the rest of your cloth and then weigh down the top with a box of milk or juice.
-         Apply pressure, draining your curds, for about 30 minutes.

-         Place your compressed curds into an ice bath. It helped to transfer the wrapped curds into the water first, give them a few minutes to chill, then remove them from the wrap and chill completely.

-         Thats it! Fresh tofu!
-         Store in an airtight container covered in water in your fridge. It will stay fresh for about 5 days, changing water daily.

This stuff is delicious. And the texture turned out nice and firm, the way I like it. Plus, I just spent about R$3.25 making a quantity of tofu that would cost R$21 or more in the store.

Goodbye tofu-making misconceptions.

It seems my fears were unfounded. My impulse to buy a machine to help in the process was half right. The real work in the effort to make tofu is first making the soy milk. You need fresh soy milk because the stuff sold in stores has been treated in such a way that it no longer works to make tofu. So if I were to get me a soy milk maker it would take care of more than half of the work. But then, I would have to clean the machine. Personal preference here, I guess. Overall the process was pretty simple and if I am doing the laundry or other chores that have me in and around the kitchen anyway, the down time needed to boil, set and press the tofu could be doubled up into other activities.

The best part is the great lunch of fresh tofu. Or maybe a green Thai curry with tofu and vegetables… the possibilities have opened up. Tofu is back in my life!

Be sure to check out Laura’s blog for lots of heartwarming posts about living in Brazil (especially if you love to make bread).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post Jim. It looks like a lot of work and room for many errors. Hats off to you for making beautiful looking tofu.