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Home Plate: Think you don’t love tofu? Try making your own

  • Silken tofu chocolate mousse<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Silken tofu chocolate mousse

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Silken Tofu<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Silken Tofu

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Silken tofu with maple syrup and walnuts<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Silken tofu with maple syrup and walnuts

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Silken tofu chocolate mousse<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Silken Tofu<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Silken tofu with maple syrup and walnuts<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

One of my favorite restaurants in New York City is Kyotofu in Hell’s Kitchen. I’d walked by the place for years and hadn’t been tempted to go in – a restaurant based around tofu just didn’t hold much appeal for me. But one day when my vegetarian son was fed up with pizza and Chinese food, we decided to give it a try. Which is how I discovered that freshly made tofu is as different from the store-bought variety as a fresh loaf of crusty sourdough is from a loaf of Wonder Bread.

My favorite dish at Kyotofu is a pristine white mound of silken tofu (made daily in the restaurant) served with three different sauces, olive oil and tomato, soy and sesame, and kuromitsu (made from unrefined brown sugar). The dish is simple and perfect – the cool, ethereal tofu balanced by the dark, earthy, flavor-packed sauces.

When I recently discovered Andrea Nguyen’s beautiful cookbook Asian Tofu at the Concord Public Library, I decided to see if I could duplicate Kyotofu’s wonderful appetizer. It turns out that making silken tofu is easy. And, yes, my homemade version was as good as Kyotofu’s.

It does take a little preparation, however. Silken tofu only contains three ingredients: good water, good dried soybeans and food-grade gypsum (calcium sulfate). If your water has chlorine in it, you will need to filter it or buy good spring water. The soybeans can be found at health food stores, Asian markets and some grocery stores, or can be ordered online. Food-grade gypsum is used by home brewers, and is available at beer-making supply shops and online.

The first step in making silken tofu is to make rich soy milk. The soy beans are soaked overnight until they’re plump, then they’re ground with water in a food processor or blender to a thick slurry. This is then heated with more water, strained, and heated again (soy needs to be cooked thoroughly to make it digestible). The milk is then cooled and mixed with gypsum, which acts as a coagulant. This mixture is then gently steamed until it sets. The cooked tofu is refrigerated for several hours, after which it is ready to eat.

One trick I learned from Nguyen is that ingredients like citrus rind and maple syrup can be mixed into the soy milk before it is steamed. The results are like no tofu you will ever buy from a grocery store, good enough to turn tofu-haters into tofu lovers.

For those of you who don’t want to take on the task of making silken tofu at home, I’ve included a recipe that can be made using store-bought – Chocolate-Maple Silken Tofu Mousse. It’s not quite as delectable as traditional dairy and egg-rich mousse, but it’s a very good vegan dessert and it goes together quickly.

Rich Soy Milk

6 ounces dried soybeans, rinsed, then soaked overnight at room temperature until swollen and soft (soaking time depends on temperature – if your house is cold it will take longer)

4 to 5 cups of water

You will need a strainer lined with muslin or a clean linen or flour sack dish towel.

Combine the soy beans with 2 cups of water (you can use the soaking water, or use fresh water) in a food processor or blender. Pulse the mixture until the beans are chopped into very small pieces. There should be no large pieces or whole beans left in the mixture; it will be quite pale and fluffy.

Pour the mixture into a large pot. Swirl 11∕2 cups of water in the bowl of the food processor or the blender to coax out any remaining bean puree, then add this to the pot. Turn the heat to low and, stirring frequently to keep the bottom of the pot from burning, bring the mixture to a simmer.

A white froth will float on top of the mixture, which makes it a little hard to see if the mixture is simmering or not, so peek beneath the froth from time to time to check. When the mixture comes to a simmer, let it bubble for several minutes, then turn off the heat.

Allow the mixture in the pot to steep off the heat for 5 or 10 minutes while you prepare the strainer. Rinse the muslin or other liner with cool water, then line the strainer with the wet cloth. Place the strainer over a large bowl or pot to catch the soy milk.

Scoop the hot soybean mixture into the lined strainer, pressing down hard on the pureed beans (the “lees”) to extract all the milk from them. When all the liquid has drained, twist the top of the cloth closed and squeeze as much more liquid as you can from the lees. Finally mix about 1∕2 cup of water into the lees and give them another squeeze. (The leftover lees can be added to soups or stews, or stir-fried with vegetables. In Japan they are often sold as animal feed – my chickens love them.

Return the milk to the pot (be sure to rinse it out first) and bring it to a simmer over low heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Let the milk bubble slowly for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the milk into a clean container (a metal bowl is good, because it helps to cool the milk quickly). Allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold.

Makes about 3 cups.

Based on a recipe in
“Asian Tofu,” By Andrea Nguyen

Silken Tofu

3 cups chilled rich soy milk (if the milk you made measures less than this, add enough water to it to make 3 cups)

flavorings (if desired), such as grated orange or lemon rind (use organic fruit and wash it well), maple syrup, etc.

11∕2 teaspoons food-grade gypsum

You will need heat-proof ramekins or custard cups, a large pot with a lid and a steamer rack to fit the pot.

Put enough water into the pot so that it comes up to just below the steamer rack; put the lid on the pot. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a gentle simmer

Meanwhile, combine the gypsum with about 2 teaspoons of water – just enough to make a paste. Stir the gypsum slurry into the cold soy milk and stir very well to combine completely.

Divide the soy milk between the ramekins (how many you need will depend on their size – probably around 5 or 6). At this point, you may add flavorings to the soy milk, such as a teaspoon or two of maple syrup or a pinch of freshly grated citrus rind.

Place the ramekins on the rack over the gently simmering water and return the lid to the pot. You may need to cook the tofu in batches, but that is fine.

The tofu is done when it is set and no longer liquid in the center.

How long this takes will depend on the size of your ramekins, but it will probably take 15 to 20 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center of the tofu will leave a small hole behind when they are ready.

Lift the ramekins from the rack and set them on a tray to cool to room temperature. Cover the cooled tofu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

To unmold, run a knife around the sides of the ramekin to loosen the tofu, place a plate on top of the ramekin and invert it.

You may also serve the tofu in the ramekin.

Serving suggestions: This tofu is delicious with warm maple syrup and toasted walnuts or served Kyotofu-style with three dipping sauces. My three dipping sauces are 1) equal parts chopped cilantro and basil mixed with grated fresh garlic and good olive oil; 2) equal parts fish sauce, water and lime juice with a pinch of sugar, sliced limes and hot pepper flakes; 3) 1∕4 cup soy sauce, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 2 tablespoons water, 2 chopped scallions.

Based on a recipe in
“Asian Tofu,” By Andrea Nguyen

Silken Tofu Mousse

14 ounces silken tofu (not super-cold, can be store bought)

1∕2 cup real maple syrup at room temperature

1 tablespoon good quality cocoa powder combined with 11∕2 tablespoons water to make a smooth paste

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly, plus a small amount of additional chocolate, grated for garnish, if desired (see note).

Combine the tofu, maple syrup, cocoa powder paste and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Pour the melted chocolate through the feed tube while pulsing (this prevents the chocolate from solidifying in the event the tofu was very cold).

When the mixture is homogenous, pipe or scoop it into individual serving dishes (or into one large dish, if desired).

Cover with plastic wrap. If the mousse has been piped using a decorative tip, toothpicks may be used to keep the plastic wrap away from its surface.

Refrigerate the mousse for at least two hours, until well-chilled.

This will allow the cocoa powder to “bloom” and the flavors to meld, resulting in a more delicious dessert.

Decorate with grated chocolate, if desired, before serving.

If you are not serving a dairy-free meal, this is very good with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: If you’d like the mousse to be vegan, be sure the chocolate contains no milk products.

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