Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Making Tofu

Photo of a block of homemade tofu on a tray.

#VeganMoFo18 Day 26 - Making Tofu

Photo of a bulk bin of tofu for sale in a California co-op grocery store.
Bulk Tofu in CA Co-op
I never even imagined making my own tofu, but now that we're working toward being a zero waste household, the plastic tofu tubs have been starting to irritate me! We don't eat a ton of tofu, but it's enough that the tofu tubs were noticeable to me. Unfortunately, I've not found a source for package-free tofu near me, although admittedly, I've not searched all that hard for it. I'm sure there is a source out there, as I did run across it in a co-op in Sacramento during our recent trip to Napa, but I'm not sure it'll be closer than downtown Seattle, which is quite a journey for me.

Tofu is basically pressed curds from soy milk, similar to pressing curds from animal-based milks into cheese. When you make tofu, you add a curdling agent to cause the solids in the soy milk to clump together and separate from the liquid (whey). There are several curdling agents available: nigari, which comes from sea salt, lemon or lime juice, vinegar, calcium sulfate (commonly known as gypsum), and magnesium sulfate (commonly known as Epsom salts). Nigari, gypsum, and Epsom salts make sweet and light tofu, although tofu made with gypsum is more velvety. Tofu made with vinegar or citrus will have the taste of those acids in the finished product. The authors of  The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine suggests using Epsom salts because it is inexpensive and easy to find.

To make the tofu, start with soy milk. You can use commercially made soy milk, or, use homemade soy milk. I'm using the soy milk I made in yesterday's blog post.

Photo of a thermometer in a pot of heating soy milk.
Thermometer Measuring Soy Milk Temp
Heat your soy milk over medium heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I used my thermometer from my canning supplies. Make sure to stir occasionally so it doesn't stick or burn on the bottom.

While this is heating, make a solution of water and Epsom salts. Stir to dissolve the Epsom salts.

When the soy milk hits 180 degrees, add 1/3 of the Epsom salt solution and stir well. Wait a minute or so, then add another 1/3 of the solution and stir gently. Put the lid on your pot and let this sit about 8 minutes. Then remove the lid and add the last 1/3 of the solution to the top, cover, and let sit another 4 minutes. As you do this, you'll see the soy milk start to curdle and separate from a yellowish liquid--this is the whey.

Photo showing the progression of curdling soy milk, starting with adding Epsom salts and water solution to hot soy milk to fully curdled and ladling into form.
Progression of Curdling Soy Milk, from Adding First Epsom Salts Solution to Ladling into Form

Photo of curdled soy milk and whey being ladled into a cheesecloth-lined colander.
Ladling into Form
Now you'll simply gently ladle the curds and whey into a cheesecloth-lined form you want to use. You can use a colander, a tofu press, or a metal loaf pan with holes drilled in it. Take care not to break up the curds as you transfer it to your form.

Put a container under your colander or press to catch the whey that presses out of the curds.

Photo of jar of water set into a flat-bottomed bowl on top of cheesecloth wrapped curds in a metal colander to press out the whey. Whey is collecting in a larger stainless steel bowl set underneath the colander.
Pressing out the Whey
Fold the edges of the cheesecloth on top of the curds. Then put a solid, weighted object on top to help press the whey out of the curds and form your block of tofu.

Let this sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours. The longer you press, the more whey that comes out, and the firmer your tofu will be.

Photo of a pressed tofu wrapped in cheesecloth in a colander (left) and stainless steel bowl of collected whey (right).
Pressed Tofu (left), Collected Whey (right)
I got a lot of whey out of my tofu during the press!

Paino and Messinger, authors of The Tofu Book, suggest using the whey as an additive when making yeast breads to extend the effect of the yeast. They say you can add to soups and vegetable dishes, or even just drink it. I dumped it into my compost bin, which was too much liquid for it and caused the bin to start to smell. We added a bunch of shredded paper to it to make up for the big nitrogen hit I gave it, and things settled back down.

Photo of soy curds in a cheesecloth-lined tofu press.
Curds in a Tofu Press
I ended up transferring my curds into a cheesecloth-lined tofu press so I'd have a rectangular block of tofu instead of a disc.

Photo of tofu press set in a glass dish while whey is pressed out of the curds.
Tofu Press in Action

Photo of pressed tofu in a cheesecloth-lined tofu press.
Pressed Tofu Still in Press

 And it turned out great!

Photo of a block of homemade tofu on a tray.
Block of Finished Tofu

Photo of a block of homemade tofu in a dish of water for storage.
Storing Finished Tofu in Dish of Water
Once your tofu is cooled and at the firmness you want, remove it from the cheesecloth and either use or store in fresh water. This fresh tofu should store well in the refrigerator for a week in this water.

One cup of dried soybeans yields 4 cups of soy milk, which makes 1 pound of tofu!

I do have to say that this is the sweetest, freshest tasting tofu I've ever eaten! It is so delicious that I can eat with just plain out of the press, really, and I've never been one to just eat plain tofu out of the package, even after it's pressed. It's reminiscent of ricotta cheese (from what I recall 10 years ago!). Tofu out of the package has always had a slightly bitter taste to me and I assumed, after making it the first time, that I was tasting the solidifier used to curdle the soy milk. However, when I had a friend taste the plain tofu, she commented that it didn't taste like plastic--maybe that's what I've been tasting all along! In any case, this homemade tofu is the bomb!

Use your tofu in any preparation you'd like. I made a tofu scramble!

Photo of a plate of scramble made from homemade tofu. Has tofu, onions, garlic, zucchini, kale, basil, cherry tomatoes, and spices..
Tofu Veggie Scramble

Photo of recipe for Tofu Veggie Scramble.

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