“It’s all in the equipment!” (said TofuHev)

Tofu is really easy to make. And fragrant, warm, freshly-made tofu is sublime. With a little bit of practice making tofu is kind of like bread making. Okay, maybe more like bagels. There are quite a few steps. And having some substantial kitchen equipment makes the process a lot more enjoyable.

Last week I had great fun making tofu for Heather. Great fun because Heather is a girl after my own heart – loves creating food from scratch and loves learning all the details. Throw in a bit of Japanese culture and she’s all over it. Sure enough, Heather went home and gave it a go (sorry, that’s a pun, ‘go’ is the Japanese word for the slurry of beans and water pre-soymilk).

Heather is right, having reasonable tofu-making gear is the difference between a messy nightmare and a creative dance. I’m sure Heather will persevere… here’s her message and first-time snaps (the captions are mine):

Hi Jo
thanks for  the beans and  gear
I made two batches
boiled over the pot of soy milk both times
What a mess!!!!
tastes fantastic
xx tofu hv
whizz the beans
1. grind or whizz the soaked soybeans with water
heat the 'go'
2. cook up the go – ridiculously easy to boil over and horrible to clean up!
okara vs soymilk
3. tip the go into a colander lined with fine nylon mesh or cotton muslin, set aside the okara (fibre) and re-heat the soy milk. then add coagulant
whey to go
4. curds and whey will form – ladle off some of the whey by pressing back the soft curds
curds and whey
5. carefully settle the curds in a mold (a sieve works fine) lined with muslin
clean-up time
6. clean up the equipment…
delicious
7. when the whey has drained off invert the mold and unwrap your block of tofu
8. ready to eat immediately…
TofuHev
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This one’s for Mereana

Inspired by Mereana buying a one-way ticket to Vietnam this week, I decided to leave Japanese cuisine behind for a bit and experiment with what I understand is a popular Vietnamese tofu dish: Dau Phu sot Ca Chua. And no wonder it’s popular! Quick and easy, no mess and stunningly delicious.

Here’s what our  Dau Phu Sot Ca Chua (Tofu with Tomato and Green Onion) looked like:

Dau Phu Sot Ca Chua 26:03:14

The recipe calls for fried tofu. There’s a couple of good tricks here: after cutting the tofu into bite sized chunks cover it with salted hot water (that’s trick one); after 15mins, drain the tofu and dry it on paper towels before shallow-frying at a moderately high heat in rice bran oil until it’s golden. Use chopsticks to turn each piece over after a few minutes (that’s trick two). Then drain the fried tofu and get on with the next bit:

Fry some shallots, garlic and chilli; adding a cup or two of ripe tomatoes and a splash or two of fish sauce and cooking the lot until the tomato starts to break down. Then you add your fried tofu and, finally, serve topped with finely shredded green onions (okay, yes, that’s green capsicum on ours, no spring onions in the garden just now). I see there are plenty of recipes for this dish on the internet. I got my instructions from ‘Asian Tofu’ (see my booklist).

We are eating a lot of tofu at the moment. No surprises there.

Later in the week (same batch of tofu) I had a go at an Indonesian-style recipe. This involved whizzing up a cup or so of thin satay sauce. My mixture included garlic, chilli, root ginger, rice vinegar, fish sauce, peanut butter, a handful of coriander and some hot water – plus a little of my super-secret ingredient: Heather’s Preserved Lemon). I poured a thin layer of the sauce into a baking dish, set even-sized chunks of tofu into it and then covered the tofu with the rest of the sauce. The baking dish went in the fridge for an hour or so while I went out in the garden. When I came inside I turned the oven on and put the cold dish in there to warm up with the oven.

Indonesian satay tofu 28:03:14

Here it is 30 minutes later, served with rice and some steamed zucchini and carrots from the garden. Apologies to all the excellent cooks and photographers amongst you. Presentation was marginal but the tofu was delectable and surprisingly ‘silken’ in texture. No doubt about it, sitting around in a flavoursome, tenderising sauce really works wonders. For tofu.

Both of these recipes were super easy and really hit the mark for taste, texture and terrific-ness. Thanks for the inspiration, Mereana. Here’s to travel, and trying something new!

 

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30 years ago… and Blogger’s Block

A few of my more faithful supporters have noted that Tofu-Jo posts are terribly slow in coming just now. I admit it. I confess. Since coming back from Japan my tiny tofu-mind has been blown to smithereens. In a good way. I’m going to explain all that in a blog. Really. I am.

Meantime, to get myself rolling again, I’ve decided to answer Martin’s question of some weeks ago and try to explain how it all started…

Somehow, about thirty years ago, shortly after reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, I stumbled upon “The Book of Tofu” and got hooked. It’s a funny little volume. Densely packed text, b&w sketches, recipes and a thorough but fascinating account of just about every aspect of tofu you could possibly wonder about. I was a vegetarian, had eaten a fair bit of tofu-inspired gado gado in Indonesia and maybe a few by-default tofu dishes in Chinese restaurants in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Otherwise I was a complete newbie to the magical soybean.

“The Book” inspired me to start messing about making tofu in my Machans Beach kitchen. And inevitably feeding the upshot to my ever-cooperative spouse and willing friends. Friends asked, (as they do), ‘how-is-it-done’? Eventually I ran a few little workshops through the local natural therapies school demonstrating the home-tofu-making process and blowing the the attendees’ socks off with a 5 course tofu meal (well, they were hippies after all…).

Everyone was fascinated, everyone wanted more, no-one wanted to make their own.

So, ever a sucker for a bit of flattery, I up-scaled my equipment a tad, bought a sack of locally grown soybeans and started producing a few kilos of tofu each week for friends. And then for friends of friends. Word got around and demand quickly outstripped our equipment and logistics. It was time to go public.

Back then (we are talking a loooong time ago) we lived in the tropical paradise of Cairns. Rusty’s market was already a local institution – everyone shopped at Rusty’s for fabulous fresh tropical fruits and amazing arrays of vegetables. And tofu. Soon we were making 50-60 kilos of tofu on a Friday and selling it all at the market soon after dawn on Saturday morning.

Our tofu was surprisingly popular – not just with the thriving hippy crowd but pretty much people of every persuasion. Healthy eating. Asian cooking. Vegetarians. Vegan. Quick, convenient meals. Versatile ingredients. Variety.

We might say now that tofu ‘ticks a lot of boxes’ (but we didn’t talk like that then…).

Pretty soon we agreed to do another tofu session mid-week to stock the local health food stores and supply the up-market Japanese restaurant in town. Tofu-making was taking over our already busy lives. We knew we were on to something and wanted to set it free (quaint? yeah well, we were all hippies in those days). So, following a brand of deranged  logic unique to Jo and Charles, we ended up selling the whole activity to some enthusiastic locals with time on their hands.

Older and fractionally wiser now, I know that some varieties of enthusiasm don’t readily translate to hard work. The whole enterprise was over within a few months. The new owners are possibly still wondering what happened. It was a bit sad to see our fledgling die but, by this stage, we’d moved on and tofu was to be left behind us for many years. I didn’t stop thinking about it, and we didn’t stop yearning for delicious, fresh tofu but making small amounts with standard kitchen equipment isn’t that inspiring.

Nor is buying tough little bricks of tofu in vacuum-packed plastic with a use-by date way off in the future. There’s got to be a better way… Wait. There is! Wahoo. A Sign…It's a Sign!

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Wherein Tofu-Jo goes to heaven. And Jill falls in love (with silken tofu).

Another full-on day in Tokyo. Including a visit to the Sasa-no-yuki tofu restaurant. The story goes that this place has been operating as a tofu maker/restaurant since the Edo period, some 300 years ago. It is in a less busy part of town and super-easy to find despite several train changes and pouring (cold) rain. If you’re ever in Tokyo please do look it up – it’s worth it!

When Jill and I arrived, we were early for dinner and the only customers so we got extra-dedicated attention. The staff were more than happy to try and answer our questions despite our woeful Japanese and their shortage of English.

Soon we were kneeling on tatami mats at a low table, sipping beer, looking out the window into an ancient Japanese garden, complete with waterfall and giant carp, feeling pretty awe-struck and privileged – and that was before we got even close to the food!

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Everything about Sasanoyaki was perfect. Unfortunately, that’s me looking awe-struck.

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This is Sasanoyuki’s signature dish. Apparently it’s been made the same way for 300 years. An exquisitely delicate piece of silken tofu is floated in a warm dashi broth with a dash of mild mustard to finish it off. Deceptively simple. Unbelievably delectable. Jill is converted.

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This is the only time I have seen okara (the soy bean fibre leftover in the tofu making process) served as a dish in its own right. According to the English menu the okara has been ‘well sautéed’ and mixed with vegetables and broth. It was moist and tasty. As always with Japanese food, that’s quite a small portion by western standards but plenty substantial enough.

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We had deliberately selected a range of dishes, not wanting to double up by ordering similar items. My guess is that this meat patty-like dish was made from firm (not silken) tofu mashed with vegetables and fried… Served in broth, topped with radish and ginger. As a contrast it really nailed firm-ness. Good but not a favourite.

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Definitely the most surprising of the dishes we ordered. Freeze-dried cold tofu with rolled, sliced yuba and bamboo shoot. For yuba think custard ‘skin’. Yuba forms on the top of creamy soy milk in the tofu-making process and is considered a perk of tofu making, just peel it off the top of the pot with a pair of chopsticks and pop it in your mouth – delicious! What we had here though was another thing altogether. That’s a lot of soy milk skins rolled up – look how it unravels and pulls apart having taken up the surrounding flavours. This was a taste and texture sensation like no other. I could eat it every day for a very long time.

2014-03-05 16.36.21

Fortunately I made it past the yuba to this innocuous looking bowl. So many people think tofu = vegetarianism. That’s a hippy construct! This marvellous dish included (from the top down) shredded Japanese leek, shitake mushroom, chicken and silken tofu – all submerged in that beautiful, warming broth.

Our ‘waitress’ was so lovely; managing to convey menu detail and even getting involved in the photographic record. Thanks to Jill for all of these foodie shots, for keeping me company on the journey and for giving tofu-eating a go!

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It was only as we were leaving that we finally confirmed that the tofu was made on the premises. The Japanese say ‘no’ oh-so gently – we could take pics of the menu and food and staff and kitchens but there was no way I was getting a tour of the basement tofu making operation. Durn it all.

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Domo arigato Sasanoyuki.

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Pork uterus tofu

But wait, there was more. Dinner out with roadies in Tokyo  – ‘kobe’ – Korean barbecue. Dishes of thinly sliced meat and vegetables are delivered and diners cook them on the grill in the centre of each table. Jill assures me this is the best meat (and let’s face it, she knows about these things) – the cows are fed beer and their muscles massaged regularly to ensure perfect marbling. Macabre. A photo wouldn’t do this experience justice so here’s a sample menu. Check out the menu titles and dish names. Eeek.

2014-02-25 08.42.48

Note that the pork uterus was not selected for our table (but we did stretch to liver, beef tongue and some fantastic green salads). The title of this post is a ‘joke’. Nope, there ain’t no tofu for these carnivores.

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Airport food: Tofu-Jo style

En route for Sapporo my airport lunch was a delicious bowl of soba and tofu enjoyed with a beer. All for 850 yen (as in $NZ10-ish). Great value; hot and satisfying/cold and refreshing; tasty and nutritious. Wish I could say the same for NZ airport kai.

2014-02-28 13.39.45

I even tried a bit of noodle slurping just to fit in. It didn’t seem to be enhancing the experience so I gave up. I’m pretty sure the full-on slurp is an acquired skill. Better noodle shops provide a stunning paper bib to protect clothing from the unintended consequences of slurping.

The tofu you can see here was fried and floated on the noodle broth. It held together nicely (easy to eat with chopsticks), but was soft and very tasty. I love this stuff!

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Tokyu Hands

It’s all about shopping. Right?!

Arriving back in Tokyo from Kyoto, Jill and I were on a pre-arranged mission to the 7-storey DIY mecca known as Tokyu Hands. We collected Tob from the hotel and set off on the unbelievable tangle known as the Tokyo train system. And that was just the start of our navigating challenges…

navigating to Tokyu Hands2014-02-27 14.37.52

This is NOT Opotiki.

We made it. This is a truly thoughtful department store – if you choose to take the stairs you’ll be delighted to find that the signage on each step will tell you exactly how many kilojoules you’ve burned getting there. My photography requires a serious zoom-in here. Or just trust me.

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We all had specific departments, floors and sub-floors to visit. Jill found the long-bladed scissors she needed, Tob found a new pruning saw and other essentials, and I was very smug to locate this cute-as tofu making kit and a plastic tofu cutter on the floor known as ‘Kitchen’. Not exactly industrial-sized equipment, but treasures nonetheless. Packs of buckwheat flour and soba noodles, many metres of settling cloth and a few other bits and pieces made their way into my basket.

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Great afternoon had by all. Mission accomplished.

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