Past and future tofu

I fell in love with the neighbourhood my first night there. I was in the new apartment, which was empty except for the blanket I was sitting on and a small lamp. It was early evening; I had settled down with a good book.

Bonnie Lee was still in our old place in Fukuoka, and I expected to have a quiet evening at home … but then the music started. It was traditional Japanese music, played on wood instruments, and drums, and it was coming from somewhere nearby.

Kosugi shrine

Kosugi shrine

And so I left the apartment, and followed the sound to our local shrine, which was teeming with people and activity. Food stalls lined the edges of the main open area, and in its centre, women clad in summer kimono danced the bon odori around a wooden scaffolding. As I worked my way through the crowd, I felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a Bond film, minus the two guys chasing me.

Bon odori

Bon odori

It was a good place … and one that we would stay in for 10 years, the longest either of us has lived anywhere. The apartment was next to a park, which itself was next to a river. The city museum was a short walk away, as was the little centre around Shinmaruko station, with its restaurants and shops. It wasn’t long before we discovered the local tofu shop, which made fresh batches of all it’s products every morning, and only stayed open until the day’s stock was sold out. Everything they made was fresh and rich and somehow decadent … and all that soy-based goodness spoiled us for lesser goods.

Like the stuff we get in LA.

So, after more than a year of eating stale, somewhat bean-y tofu and soy milk, we decided to take matters into our own hands, and get ourselves a soy milk maker and some soy beans. I doubt that we’ll ever make anything that comes close to what we got at our little shop in Shinmaruko, but it is bound to be fresher than what we can get locally – and there are other reasons why this makes sense. One critical one is very dear to my heart: it will lead to less waste. We can make what we need when we need it – and the soy products we make will not need to be packaged in plastic or transported.

The day after I got back from my most recent trip, Bonnie Lee showed me how to make soy milk – nothing could be easier. You just need to soak the beans overnight, pop them in the soy milk maker with some water, push a button, wait while the machine heats the water and grinds and seeps the beans, then filter the product through cheese cloth. You can drink the milk as is, or add a coagulant and make tofu with it. And there’s a free bonus in every batch: the pulp that you filter out with the cheese cloth (called okara) is edible and versatile.

The soy milk we’ve been making is much lighter and more refreshing than the store-bought variety (which is thicker and often sweetened). It’s been very nice over our  home-made granola, and makes a great smoothie. As for the tofu and okara – I’ll save talking about what we’ve been doing with those for other posts.

In the meantime, if you’re curious you check out some of my shots of the old neighbourhood on flickr.

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24 thoughts on “Past and future tofu

  1. Your timing of this post could not be better, given our current meatless switchover! Once again you remind me that much of what we purchase in a grocery can be prepared at home. People have become accustomed to be “provided for” by products (shipped from all over), forgetting that we used to not have this convenience.

    • I’d like to add this “new market society” leans heavily on plentiful (is it?) and cheap petroleum products. This WILL end at some time, the experts not knowing whether it will be in our lifetime or our kids’ lifetime. Either outcome has me re-thinking how we (as a species) are doing things.

      • And making it at home has a lot of other advantages: the tofu tastes better, you have more control over the result, you can have fun experimenting with different coagulants, you’re less likely to throw out something when you put some time and effort into it, and it’s a good excuse to hang out in the kitchen for a while and indulge in conversation. Lingering over food and it’s preparation and making it a a social experience is one of those joys that seems to have gotten lost.

      • As for making a more silken variety, are you using the nigari are the standard calcium sulfate? I guess it’s a matter of how much to add to get the desired texture, right? I want to be ready when my maker gets here! Will go get my raw organic (non-GMO?) soy beans today.

    • We’ve been using nigari as a coagulant so far, though I’m eager to try other things (like lemon and that cherry pickle brine). For the silken tofu, we’ll definitely be using nigari – certainly at first – and experimenting with a few different techniques (some heat the milk and reduce it, then add nigari, others add the nigari to cold milk then heat that up) to see what comes closest to the stuff we miss.

      • No doubt you’ll get it! And when you do, I ask that you post about your labors so we can skip that process completely and just MAKE IT. LOL

  2. Wow, I had no idea making soy milk was so easy! I’ll have to give it a go. I’m looking forward to hearing how you make tofu because I don’t buy it very often because it’s so expensive.

    • Making it yourself is pretty economic. On Amazon, you can get 25 lbs of organic soybeans for about $40 – which is enough to make about 50 lbs of tofu (plus the okara). To make a liter of soy milk, you only need about 1/2 cup of dry beans. And, you don’t even need a soy milk maker (though that does make things easier) – a blender, a pot and cheese cloth will do.

  3. This post made me hungry! Especially that picture of the homemade granola in the soymilk. Where would I find one of these soymilk makers? Online? I live out in the GA sticks! :D
    I would love to try making my own. It’s so expensive in the store and the no-sugar-added one is the most expensive of all.

    • You can find them on Amazon (ours is a Soyabella) – or use a blender. If you drink a lot of soy milk (or eat a lot of tofu), I think it’s worth getting the specialized tool, only because it is fast & easy, and cleanup (which you have to do right away, because the okara is hard to clean off when it dries) is easier.

  4. This is the most interesting post I have read in ages :D I love hearing about other cultures, and learning about food making techniques. I had no idea soy milk and tofu making was so straightforward. We probably don’t have enough of either to warrant a machine but it is good to know that I could just click on amazon and in a few days’ time I could be making cheaper, healthier and tastier soymilk and tofu. Actually a local co-operative makes some pretty decent stuff for our local community that certainly tastes better than supermarket stuff, but still… Very tempting, but I haven’t got to grips with my dehydrator yet so I don’t deserve another toy.

    • If we had access to your cooperative, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have bothered to get our latest gadget – which would have been a shame, because it’s been fun learning about all this and experimenting (definitely a toy to consider once you’ve mastered that dehydrator).

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Our time in Japan and Asia led to a lot of food discoveries – and really fed into how we think about food and food waste. Back before there were blogs, I started a blog of sorts on something called Geocities – and now that I look at it again, I realize that most of the few essays there (mostly I used it to share pictures) touched on food. If you’re curious, those are at: http://www.geocities.com/jfchenier.geo/essays/peking_duck.htm

  5. Lovely post. We just started making our own soy milk a few weeks ago… The taste is much better than store bought and easy to make. Tofu is up next but we’re still trying to find a local or online Canadian source for Nigari. :)
    PS great idea for the app

    • Thanks! We’ve mostly been using Nigari, but you can also use lemon juice or vinegar. We just made a batch with some spicy cherry pickle brine a couple of days ago (which was mostly vinegar) and that worked out just fine.

    • Thanks, Sophie. Still lots to explore in the tofu making world, so you can expect to see more. And thanks for the compliments on the pics … it really was an amazing little neighbourhood to live in.

  6. I just took a look at your pics on flickr. Very nice. There were a few with snow covered trees that I thought were beautiful. And the cherry blossoms – oh, and the women in kimonos dressed up for the festival. And the gate of the shrine.

    • Thanks, Nicole. It really was a charming little neighborhood. The snow was a rare sight – there was snow on the ground for a couple of hours a year, at best. Those shots were taken in the local temple garden, which I used to wander over to fairly often.

  7. Pingback: Honourable husks (a.k.a. Okara) | 222 million tons

  8. Pingback: Chinois’ make good tofu | 222 million tons

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