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The brilliance of making tofu at home was suggested by my friends who were already making their own, but it took me a while to get on it as it seemed like such an arduous task.  Yet once I started, I made 5 batches one after another.  And then a couple more.  Then another… Its taste and texture remind me of ricotta cheese, but, obviously, made with soybeans.

Tofu is curdled soymilk.  Soybean protein and oil are coagulated with gansu (간수) or what the Japanese call nigari, “a mixture of magnesium and calcium salts left over when table salt, sodium chloride, is crystalized from seawater” as Harold McGee described in his book On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of The Kitchen.

For all the work that goes into making tofu, the yield you get is surely disappointing.  On the other hand, if you look at the big picture, there is little waste and quite a lot you get to play with after going through this process.  Below is my big picture that is not at all scientific.

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You can, of course, drink soymilk as is, or use as a base for kong guksu (콩국수; noodle in chilled soymilk), seasoned lightly with salt just to bring out its flavor.  Soy(bean) pulp (비지; biji), also known as the Japanese term okara, is mostly used in biji jjigae (비지 찌개; stew using soy pulp, aged sour kimchi and pork as main ingredients) in Korea.  However, biji or okara can be added to a wide range of dishes, bringing along all its soy protein, fiber and subtle nuttiness.  I’ll discuss more about biji next time.

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(simple kong guksu)

La Fuji Mama has a very helpful post with a step-by-step instruction and pictures, which became the guide for my practice of making tofu at home.  Majority of the instruction below follows La Fuji Mama’s post, with my notes added based on my own experience.  I use lemon juice and sea salt together as coagulants, just because it’s easiest to find.  There is a hint of citrus flavor if you try to find the trace of it in tofu.  Also, you don’t need a thermometer with the instruction below.  It is still work-in-progress as with most of my cooking projects, but here is what I’ve learned so far.

1) Wash 1 1/3 cups of dried soybeans in cold water until you see clear water.

2) Soak the washed soy beans in 4 1/2 cups of cold water overnight.

3) In a large pot, add 5 cups of water and bring up to a boil.

4) In the meantime, rinse the soaked soybeans in cold water and drain.  Grind the soybeans with 3 cups of new, cold water in batches in a blender.

5) Once the water in the pot comes up to a boil, add the soybean liquid.

6) Stir often over medium heat.  Once it starts to get foamy (and it will get very foamy as the liquid heats up), stir constantly.  As soon as it comes up to a boil, remove from heat.

* All the washing and changing water from previous steps help reducing the amount of foam that rises as you cook the soybean liquid.

7) Line a strainer with a very clean cotton cloth, and pour the soybean liquid in order to separate soy pulp and soymilk.  Once it’s cooled enough to handle, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Cool soy pulp (비지; biji) to room temperature.  Freeze it in a ziploc bag and shape it to a flat layer, which will make it easier to break and portion when it’s frozen.

Back to soy milk.  You can stop here and enjoy your soymilk or turn all soy milk into tofu.  Or you can save a half of the liquid as soymilk (about a quart, or 4 cups), and make tofu with the other half, which more or less will give you two appetizer portions.

8) Heat up soy milk in a clean pot over medium heat.  Stir often.  As soon as you see the first sign of the liquid boiling, turn off heat and put the lid on.  Let it rest for 10 minutes.

9) Add 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt if you are using all of the soymilk from Step #7 to make tofu and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon.  If things are going to work out, you will see pretty much immediately the separation of water and bean curd from soymilk.  Put the lid on and let it rest for at least 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

(separated tofu)

10) Drain the water from bean curd by pouring the whole thing gently into a very clean cloth-lined strainer.  Cover the tofu glob with the sides of the cloth pulled together and put a saucer on top.  You can put more weight on top of the saucer depending on how firm you want your tofu.  I just want excess water out of it, but not too firm, so a saucer for 15 minutes is enough to set the tofu, enough to even cut it in small cubes with soft crumbly texture.

It’s usually gone soon after I make it, when it’s still warm.  Should there be any leftover, it can be refrigerated for another day or so.

Soy sauce will be enough to season this warm, soft crumbles of tofu.  It’s a snack for me, often with some jalapeno pickles, sesame dressing or doenjang sauce (쌈장; ssamjang).  It could be a banchan (반찬; side dish accompanying rice) as well.

That’s it folks!  What started out as ‘Tips for Making Tofu at Home’ with a couple of bullet points was heading towards ‘A Complete Guide to Make Soybean Products at Home,’ so I’m stopping here.  Good day!

KOREAN WORDS

soy bean    메주콩    (me ju kong)

soymilk       두유       (du yu)

tofu             두부       (du bu)

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