How to Make Tofu

After making ricotta and paneer successfully Elsa and I thought we should try making tofu from scratch. Our curiosity was also stirred after our “Making Fresh Cheese” presentation at the 2014 Good Food Festival. A few people came up to us and asked if we had any ideas for vegan cheese. It turned out the process of making tofu was very similar to making fresh cheeses.

Both tofu making and fresh cheese making include slowly heating up soy or dairy milk, curdling or coagulating the milk, and finally straining the curds. For tofu it is particularly interesting taking a whole bean and changing it into something quite different simply by heating and adding a mineral like gypsum to change its form from liquid to solid.

Below are the steps it takes for making tofu at home. We followed the instructions in Madhur Jaffrey’s book, World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. For exact measurements please try to find the Madhur Jaffrey book.  The instructions were meant for a home kitchen and therefore do not require any particularly special tools. Below are a list of the things we used:

  • Ingredients:
    Soy beans
    Gypsum, food-grade epsom salt, or nigari
  • Equipment:
    Non-reactive pot
    Non-reactive bowl
    Large stirring spoon
    Cotton kitchen towel or cheese cloth
    Expandable vegetable steamer

Step 1: Soak soy beans

I soaked these soy beans before work…

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Soy beans submerged in water

11 hours later they looked like this…

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Soy beans after 11 hours soaking

Step 2: Puree the soy beans

Add equal parts water and soy beans and liquefy in the blender.

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Soaked soy beans and water in the blender
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Liquefied soy beans

Step 3: Make soy milk

To make soy milk, Elsa and I boiled water on the stove in a large pot. Then after the water was boiling we poured our soy bean puree into it and stirred it around. Then we lined a colander with a clean cotton kitchen towel. Elsa held the colander with the towel over a large bowl as I poured the hot liquid into the colander. The bowl caught all the liquid, which was soy milk. What was left in the towel was soy bean pulp a.k.a. okara. Elsa gave a Hippie History lesson and told me that in the 1970s natural food stores would sell Okara Burgers and some people use the pulp to make bread.

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Soy milk in the bowl and soy pulp (okara) in the towel
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Step 4: Coagulate soy milk

This step is where the magic happens. To coagulate the soy milk use gypsum, food-grade epsom salt, or nigari flakes. Gypsum is the primary ingredient in drywall (but buy your gypsum at a grocery store- we got ours at an Asian grocery store near Argyle and Broadway in Chicago, DO NOT scrape off some dry wall at the hardware store). Nigari is the left over minerals from sea water after removing all the water and all the salt.

First we mixed the gypsum with water and set it aside. Then we heated up the soy milk again just until it started to boil. We then turned off the heat and stirred in the gypsum mixture. Then we waited 10 minutes.

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Gypsum mixed with water
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Not coagulated enough

After 10 minutes, since our soy milk did not coagulate enough we heated it up once more just until it started to boil and stirred in another dose of gypsum. Then we waited another 10 minutes.

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After the second dose of gypsum it coagulated!

Step 5: Strain and press curds

As our soy milk and gypsum mixture was busy coagulating we set up our straining apparatus in the sink. It basically was a colander with a vegetable steamer nested inside it, and then a clean cotton kitchen towel draped over all of that.

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Collander and vegetable steamer
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Collander, vegetable steamer, and towel

After our mixture coagulated, we poured the contents into our straining apparatus, wrapped the soy curd with the towel, and pressed it with a pot of water that fits snugly into the colander.

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Collander, vegetable steamer, towel, soy curds, and pot with water

We let the tofu drain for about 15-20 minutes. We gradually pressed the tofu by adding a little more water to the pot after 10 minutes. To get firmer tofu gradually press it with more weight by adding water to the pot and/or let it drain longer.

Step 6: Remove tofu cake from cloth

After the tofu was pressed sufficiently, we had to gently remove the tofu cake from the towel in which it was being pressed. This took some very gentle finesse. After we took the pot off the curds, I lifted up the towel with the tofu cake nestled in it, and transferred it to a pot of water. Using the water to help support the tofu cake with some buoyancy, I gently worked my fingers between the tofu cake and the towel, slowly pulling the towel off. This was all done with the tofu cake fully submerged in the cool water.

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Tofu cake submerged in water before towel has been removed

After the tofu had been separated from the towel it was ready to be eaten.

PS- You can fry it up!

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Fried tofu and dipping sauces
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