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Make Your Own Tofu

You might not end up with a square block of tofu, but that’s okay because you made it yourself. To make tofu at home, all you need are dried soybeans, water, coagulant and some time. It would make a good weekend project. Today I made “five-color” tofu (gomoku-dofu) with five different vegetables – carrots, burdock root, sesame seeds, green seaweed and peas. You could of course make the tofu plain with nothing in it at all and that’s what I would recommend at first.

Homemade Tofu

(recipe adapted from the Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi)

1 1/2 cups dried soybeans, soaked in 6-8 cups water overnight


coagulant choices: 2 teaspoons magnesium chloride or 2 teaspoons powdered nigari or 2 teaspoons Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Soak the soybeans overnight in 6-8 cups of water. The soybeans really soak up water and get at least twice as big. After soaking the beans overnight, drain and rinse the beans.

Put half the soybeans in the blender with 2 cups of water and puree for 1 or 2 minutes. (Don’t let the motor overheat, like mine did). The consistency will be thick and frothy, just like a smoothie. Blend the other half of the soybeans in another 2 cups of water. Use filtered or spring water.

Put the pureed soybeans in 8 cups of boiling water. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Watch carefully because the mixture will be frothy and will overboil very easily. This soybean mixture is called “Go.”

Strain the pulp through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth or thin cloth. Catch the soymilk in a large bowl underneath.

Squeeze the pulp through the cloth and remove as much soymilk as you can. This is concentrated soymilk that will be used for making tofu. Put this aside. To get more soymilk from the pulp, I added extra hot water to the pulp and did a second “squeezing” which gave me soymilk for drinking. (Cook the soymilk for drinking and add sugar or flavorings if you want). Save the soybean pulp or “okara” left in the bag. Here’s a post on using okara.

Back to making tofu.

Put the soymilk back on the stove and bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. (I added vegetables to my tofu at this point, but you can leave them out). At this point, add the coagulant of choice (nigari, Epsom Salt, cider vinegar, see above) dissolved in 1 cup of water. Add the coagulant mixture 1/3 of a cup at a time, stirring all the while.  Cover and let the soymilk sit for 2 minutes. Add more coagulant while stirring and let it sit another 2 minutes. You should begin to see the soymilk curdle. Add the remaning coagulant and stir. When all the soymilk has curdled, your liquid (or whey) should become translucent.

Strain the tofu curds in a flat-bottomed colander (or a tofu settling container if you have one) lined with cheesecloth or a coarsely woven cloth. Bring the cloth over the top of it and put a weight on it to push the excess water out of it. After 10 or 15 minutes, you can remove the weight and put the tofu in cold water to firm up. My tofu is pretty firm, so I didn’t put it in water. Invert the tofu onto a plate and remove the cheesecloth. You’ve made tofu!

My tofu is round like the shape of my steamer.

To serve fresh tofu, cut it into blocks  and serve with soy sauce and some condiments such as grated daikon, ginger, wasabi or minced green onion. Katsuo bushi (fish flakes) is also a traditional topping.

Another way to eat five-color tofu is to deep-fry it, thick age-style. The name of this special dish is called Gomoku-dofu. Happy tofu eating! Emi


Tofu Guacamole with Yuba Chips

I was pleasantly surprised today when the recipe that I thought about in my head actually turned out. Dried yuba makes really good chips. (Just a reminder, yuba is dried soymilk skin). I fried the dried yuba in oil and wow(!) it puffed up and fried in no time at all. A sprinkling of salt and I had a crunchy chip made from soymilk skin. I would almost consider it a health food if it wasn’t fried.

In a previous post, I reconstituted yuba in water first before using it in a stir-fry and as a wrapper for cooked vegetables. I also called it beancurd skin in that post.

The tofu guacamole should really be called tofu dip with avocado, but that didn’t sound nearly as appetizing. It has more tofu than avocado so the flavor of avocado is subtle, but it adds to the rich texture. The addition of soy sauce and miso makes the flavors stand out and the dip becomes more interesting. It’s a great compliment to fried yuba chips. The recipe for the tofu guacamole is adapted from The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. I am loving this book full of tofu recipes both traditional and western.

Fried Yuba Chips

2 sheets of dried yuba, broken up into chip-sized pieces

1/4 vegetable oil for frying

Tofu Guacamole

12 ounces silken tofu, soft variety

1 medium avocado, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup red or yellow pepper, cut into small dice

2 tablespoons white miso paste

2 tablespoons garlic chives or green onions, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan until hot. Add the yuba pieces in the hot oil, turning them over carefully to fry both sides. Remove them from the hot oil when they are puffed and lightly browned. This will only take 15 seconds, so be careful not to burn them. Drain on paper towels. They can be stored in an airtight container after they have cooled.

2. Push the tofu through a sieve to remove lumps and to make the tofu creamy. (A similar technique is used for making shiro-ae). Add the avocado to the tofu and mix them together. At this point, you can mash the avocado to make it more creamy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Garnish with chives and sweet peppers. Serve with fried yuba chips or tortilla chips.

Freeze-Dried Tofu and Daikon

Freeze-dried tofu (koya-dofu) is a versatile ingredient that I’ve recently discovered in Japanese cooking. After it’s been reconstituted, its texture is similar to a sponge and readily absorbs flavors. Although the spongy nature of koya-dofu takes a little getting used to, it has an inherently pleasant quality to it and the taste is mild. Another nice thing about the texture is that it doesn’t break apart like regular tofu after prolonged simmering; it’s actually “chewy” and would make a good meat substitute. Another way to use it is to grate it in its dried form to use as a type of flour. The possibilities are exciting and I’m looking forward to working with it to create healthy food. Koya-dofu is a great source of protein, inexpensive and easy to cook.

What’s interesting about koya-dofu is that it was discovered by Buddhist monks long ago in Japan when they placed the tofu outside only to discover that after the freezing temperatures, the tofu had become firmer and more resilient in texture. The tofu was then dried and it was able to be stored for a long period of time.

Simmered Freeze-Dried Tofu and Daikon

Serves 2

2 blocks of dried-frozen tofu (0.6 ounce each)

3-inch piece of daikon, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

½ block konnyaku, cut into triangles

1 ½ cups kombu stock (save the kombu)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon sake

1. Place the tofu into plenty of cold water and soak for 15 minutes. Use a weight if necessary to keep the tofu in the water. After it has reconstituted, remove the tofu and squeeze out the excess water. Cut each tofu block in half.

2. Heat a pot of water to a boil and add the daikon pieces; boil for 5 minutes and remove the daikon. In the same water, boil the konnyaku pieces for 5 minutes and drain.

2. Put the stock, soy sauce, sugar, mirin and sake into a 2 to 3-quart pot and heat until it is boiling gently. Add the tofu, daikon and konnyaku and bring it to a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes (or longer) or until most of the water has evaporated. You may need to baste the ingredients with the simmering liquid from time to time if they are not in contact with the liquid. Cool and reheat again before serving or serve at room temperature. Garnish with pieces of kombu and carrots.

Inari-Zushi Bento that kids won’t laugh at

L says that some of the kids laugh at her Japanese-style bento so I told her she could have regular sandwiches if she wanted instead. She said no, she would rather have bento even if it was different from the other kids’ lunches because she liked it better than sandwiches. Her older sister told her to use her lunch bag to block their view, so the next day she reported this strategy worked much better.

I felt kind of bad that they laughed at her bento, but I figure it’s only temporary – they’re only 6 years old. As they get older, they won’t do as much teasing. S says that her friends in 3rd grade thinks her bentos look great and they always ask her for a piece of seasoned nori.

This is my husband’s bento and the kids had similar bentos except for theirs didn’t include potatoes (which they don’t like).

Today’s bento features “small packages,” potato salad and fruit:

1. Purple new potatoes with Japanese mayo, pickled cucumbers.

2. Maki rolls with egg omelette, shiso leaf and blanched carrot.

3.  Shiso and blanched carrot wrapped in egg omelette and tied with kanpyo strips.

4. Inari-zushi with sushi rice enclosed in cooked abura-age pockets.

5. Fresh grapes, strawberries, cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers.

6. Kombu seaweed “bows.”

Have a great Friday!

Okara Stir-Fried with Vegetables

Another delicious vegan recipe for you, this time with okara. I got the idea to make okara from my dad who commented on this blog recently. It reminded me of the okara dish that my mom used to make and I wanted to recreate it.

Okara is the soybean pulp that is produced when soybeans are ground and squeezed to make soymilk or tofu. I don’t know if okara is available in food stores as I’ve never checked, but it may be. (Maybe they’re used for animal feed or food fillers? I sure hope those companies aren’t throwing it all away). Anyway, if you are making soymilk or tofu, you will end up with a lot of okara so it’s really worth saving. Besides, the pulp is full of protein, fiber and nutrients.

To make okara, you will need dried soybeans. Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. The next day, place the soybeans with enough water to cover in a blender and puree for 2 minutes. Heat the mixture to a boil on the stove. Just as the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat. (Watch carefully because it will boil over very easily). Pour the mixture over a sieve lined with a fine-meshed cloth with a pan underneath to catch the soymilk. Bring the corners of the cloth together and squeeze as much soymilk out of the pulp as you can. Now you have okara and soymilk. (Maybe at some point, I’ll do a blog post on this topic).

Okara is a versatile ingredient that can be used in stir-fries and in baked goods. I’ve never used it to make bread or muffins, but I imagine that it would be a good protein source and it may work as a substitute for dairy or eggs. It smells kind of like eggs, in my opinion. Some people have devoted their entire blog to okara, such as the Okara Project.

For this traditional okara dish, I included konnyaku, shiitake mushrooms and carrots. Other vegetables and fried tofu, such as abura-age can also be included.

This dish can be served slightly warm, but it’s typically served at room temperature. It goes well with rice or as a rice topping.

Okara Stir-Fried with Vegetables

Serves 4 as a side

1 cup okara

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in thin sticks

10-12 green beens, sliced in thin pieces

½ block konnyaku with seaweed flecks, sliced in thin pieces

For the Shiitake Mushroom Dashi 

2 dried shiitake mushrooms

1 cup water

For the Seasonings

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for frying

1. Make the dashi by soaking the dried shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup of water. The mushrooms can soak for several hours or overnight. If using the quick method, bring the water to a simmer with the mushrooms. Remove the mushrooms when they are soft. Discard the stems and slice the caps into thin pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the carrots and green beans. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Add the shiitake mushrooms and konnyaku and stir-fry for another minute. Add the okara and stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Add the dashi, soy sauce, sugar and mirin to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Watercress and Wakame Salad

The weather is cool and sunny, perfect for the watercress to grow wild at a nearby spring. The girls got into the cold water with their flip flops (forgot their rubber boots) and picked a huge bag. There was a lot growing out there. Some joggers and bikers passed us on the boardwalk and path, but didn’t seem to notice the bounty growing all around.

Watercress, even when young and fresh like these can still be a little pungent and spicy, so my favorite way to eat them is to dress them with something sweet. For instance, they can be parboiled just slightly then dressed with goma-ae, a sweet sesame seed dressing. Or, they can be dressed with a simple sweet and sour dressing. The same dressing goes well with wakame seaweed.

Two tablespoons of dried chopped wakame will reconstitute into a large amount, almost 1/3 cup or 1/2 cup. The type I used was dried and in long strands; I ended up with quite a large amount after hydrating it. Then I cut it into bite-sized pieces.  Fresh wakame packed in salt will have to be washed many times in water to get rid of the salt.

Watercress and Wakame Salad

Serves 2

3 ounces watercress, washed and dried

0.2 ounces dried wakame seaweed (about 2 tablespoons)

1 small carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

1 small cucumber, sliced into thin rounds

Sweet and Sour Dressing

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon light-colored soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)

1. Heat the vinegar in a small saucepan and add the sugar and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve. Add the sesame oil and turn off the heat. Let the dressing cool.

2. Place the dried wakame in a bowl of cold water to cover. Let it sit for 10 minutes and drain. Put it back into a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Take the wakame out and plunge it into some ice water. Remove it from the ice water. Parboiling the wakame will help give it a bright green color.

3. Divide the watercress, wakame and the vegetables on two plates. Pour the dressing over and serve.

“Lunch is a good past time” Bento

The top of the bento box reads: “We are passionate about lunch communication. Lunch is a good past time.”  I love Japanglish. The Japanese are quite serious about bento and lots of okazu, or side dishes to go with rice.

There are several okazu in today’s bento:

1. Potato salad with pesto and peas.

2. Seaweed salad seasoned with vinegar, salt and sesame oil.

3.  Quick pickles of Chinese cabbage, carrots and shiso leaf seasoned with shio-koji. Shio-koji was made with fermented rice called rice koji. More about shio-koji here.

4. Gyoza dumplings with ground pork, grated carrots, Chinese cabbage and garlic. Seasoned with soy sauce, ginger and garlic.

5.  Parboiled carrots and green beans.

6.  Plain steamed rice.

7. Dried baby anchovies cooked with sugar, mirin and soy sauce.

Have a great Friday!

Tofu-Dressed Salad “Shiro-ae”

This is my new comfort food. I am not exaggerating when I say that I’ve made this three times in the last two weeks. The traditional name for this dish is “shiro-ae” which roughly translates to “dressed with white tofu.” Tofu is not easy for most non-Japanese people to eat, especially when it’s been mashed, but this one is full of flavor. The one thing that takes time is grinding the sesame seeds. I find this step essential for making this salad rich and flavorful. Sesame seeds are also high in calcium.

Shiro-ae is good for breakfast in my opinion because it’s creamy. It’s the Japanese version of cottage cheese salad with fruit, except for this one is vegan. I often add dried fruit and fresh fruit; persimmon or even mango is nice and adds color. You can add a variety of vegetables of your choice, slightly cooked is best. My grandma added carrots to hers so I do the same.

Tip: To make the tofu extra creamy, remove as much water as you can from the tofu and push it through a sieve.

Tofu-Dressed Salad

Serves 4

1 block silken tofu, soft variety

2 tablespoons dried golden raisins, moistened with a little water

1 medium carrot, sliced into thin sticks

10-12 green beans, sliced thin

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon kombu/shiitake dashi

1 tablespoon soy sauce, light-colored preferable

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons mirin

¼ teaspoon salt

1. Squeeze the tofu with a cheese cloth or paper towel a little at a time to remove excess water. (It will be impossible to remove all the water, but do what you can). The more water you remove, the more concentrated the tofu flavor will be. Push the tofu through a fine-meshed sieve to make the tofu very smooth). You can skip this step and just mash the tofu if you wish, but straining it will make the tofu more creamy.

2. Toast the sesame seeds for about 1 minute in a heated pan. Remove and grind the sesame seeds until it turns into a buttery paste.

3. Boil the carrots and green beans in water for 1 minute until crisp-tender. Drain the vegetables and quickly plunge them into a ice-water bath. When the vegetables are cool, remove it from the water.

4. Add the tofu, raisins, sesame seed paste, vegetables, dashi and the rest of the seasonings into a large bowl. Mix to combine.

Swirl Bread with Sweet Bean Paste

Monday was the day to make bread for the rest of the week, so I made two loaves, one with sweet bean paste  (anko) and one plain but with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. I was inspired by a bread recipe that I saw lately in Cooks Illustrated for Cinnamon Swirl Bread. In the recipe, it made mention of shokupan, a Japanese bread that I’ve tried to make several times. It’s not hard to make white bread with lots of butter and sugar, but the shape of shokupan is sort of unique in that it is a perfectly rectangular loaf that is made in a covered bread pan (which I don’t have). So, I decided to make a shokupan-type bread, but take the suggestion of the Cooks recipe to make a swirl bread with anko bean filling.

Can you tell that the loaf is slightly green from the matcha tea powder? It didn’t turn bright green like I had hoped, but I’m sure if you added a full tablespoon of matcha powder that would do it.

The bread was springy and fluffy, perfect for toast and sandwiches. It definitely has the taste of the Japanese shokupan too, sweet and buttery. I always knead my bread really well to develop the gluten and let it rise three times. This produces bread that has a good “chew” and is less crumbly.

Swirl Bread with Sweet Bean Filling


White Sandwich Bread

Makes 1 loaf of each

1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast

1 ½ cups warm water (110 degrees)

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 large egg

3 ½ – 4 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten

¾ cup nonfat milk powder

8 tablespoons butter, chilled

1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing over bread before baking

For the Swirl Bread

1 teaspoon matcha tea powder

½ cup sweet bean paste (anko)

For for sesame bread

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1. Heat the water to 110 degrees. Take 2 tablespoons of the water and dissolve the yeast into it. To the rest of the heated water, add the sugar, salt and egg. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.

2. In a large bowl, measure out the flour, starting with 3 ½ cups (you can add more later), the wheat gluten and the milk powder.

3. Add the liquid ingredients and the dissolved yeast to the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. It will be very sticky at first. After mixing thoroughly, place the dough on a lightly floured surface and begin to knead the dough by slapping it against the counter and turning it over onto itself and pushing it down with the palm of your hands. Add more flour if it’s still very sticky, but resist adding too much at one time. When the gluten develops in the dough, it will naturally become more elastic and cohesive. This will take 5-10 minutes. Add the butter a little at a time to the dough, smearing it into the dough. The dough will be sticky at first, but as the butter gets absorbed into the dough, it will become less greasy.

4. Divide the dough in two. Add the matcha tea powder to one part and knead it in until it is thoroughly mixed. Place the dough into two bowls and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Keep it in a warm place for 3 hours or until the dough has tripled in volume.

5. After the first rise, punch the dough down to release air bubbles. Let it rise again for an hour.

6. Punch it down again after the second rise. For the plain loaf, place it in a greased pan and cover loosely and set it a warm place. For the swirl loaf, roll the dough out into a 7 by 18 inch rectangle. Spread the sweet bean paste leaving a ½ border around all sides. With the short end facing you, roll it away from you to the other side. Pinch to seal the seams and the ends. Using a sharp knife, cut the loaf lengthwise down the middle. Expose the cut sides and lay them facing up. Pinch the ends together to secure and take the right strip of dough and lay it over the left. Do this one more time until you reach the end of the braid and pinch the ends together. Lay the braid carefully in a greased bread pan and cover loosely. Let the two loaves rise until they are about one inch higher than the lip of the pan.

7. Lightly brush the beaten egg over the two loaves. For the plain loaf, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and tent the loaves with tin foil to prevent overbrowning. Bake for another 15 minutes. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes before removing them from the pan. Wait at least one hour before slicing them.

Hijiki Seaweed Salad

Last week we went to one of our favorite Japanese restaurants in town and ordered seaweed salad. Since then, I’ve made several seaweed salads including one with wakame and today, it’s one with hijiki. It’s vegan and very nutritious.

Hijiki seaweed is a rich source of iron and calcium and it also contains a lot of dietary fiber, so you really can’t go wrong it. It has a distinct flavor but it’s not strong and the texture is somewhat firm and chewy.  Dried hijiki seaweed is readily available in grocery stores and most certainly in health food stores.

This salad also uses abura-age or deep-fried tofu and because it’s fried, a little goes a long way. It’s often used to make inari-zushi. Another ingredient is konnyaku which is devil’s tongue jelly. It’s a vegetable product and it’s supposedly good for digestion and it’s very low in calories. See the recipe for daikon and konnyaku if you want any more ideas on how cook with it.

After the seaweed has been soaked in water and drained, it will look like this. The recipe I used is adapted from The Book of Basic Japanese Cooking (ISBN9784072795453). The book is in English and Japanese.

Hijiki Seaweed Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 cup dried hijiki seaweed

4 pieces of abura-age (deep-fried tofu pockets)

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks

1 block konnyaku, cut into thin sticks

1 tablespoon sesame oil

3/4 cup kombu/shiitake dashi

2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1. Put the dried hijiki in a large bowl with plenty of water. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Drain in a sieve and squeeze out excess water.

2. Boil the konnyaku pieces in water for 5 minutes; remove it from the water. This steps firms up the konnyaku. Use the same boiling water to cook the abura-age for 5 minutes; remove the abura-age, cool and squeeze out excess water. This step removes the excess grease from the abura-age.

3.  Heat the sesame oil in a large frying pan. Add the hijiki seaweed, abura-age, carrots and konnyaku pieces to the pan and stir-fry for 5-7 minutes on high heat. Add the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, salt and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil for 5 minutes. Turn down the heat and cook for 15 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has evaporated. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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