Sometime last year, I heard about a book called Asian Tofu, by Amy Nguyen. I wouldn't usually be excited about a book on tofu, but this book had something different - tofu fa. Since living in Hong Kong over a decade ago, I have been looking for a way to make this treat at home. Sure, it is available at stores, but I could always find something to complain about. It had a weird odor. The syrup was mouth-numbingly ginger-y. It was only available at a tiny tofu shop on Mott Street, in NYC Chinatown. (*drool*)
So. This book was praised by someone I trust, AND it had a recipe for my elusive Tofu Fa! I was sold. Onto the Christmas Wishlist it went, and (lo and behold), there it was on Christmas morning. (Thanks, Aunt Winnie!!)
It still took me a few weeks to get my act together and gather the perfect trifecta of time, inclination, and ingredients. I followed Amy's recipe for soy milk, with one small change, but when it came time to make the actual tofu, I realized I had picked up the wrong solidifying agent. Oh well - it worked out in the end.
Amy suggests using gypsum, a food-grade plaster of paris. I have never been able to find that in stores, so I grabbed agar-agar instead (a gelatin made from seaweed). I looked online, and found that the general consensus was to use a ratio of 1/2 tsp. of agar agar to 3 cups of soy milk. The resulting tofu was a bit firmer than the traditional tofu fa, and didn't weep at all. (Usually, water will seep out of tofu as it slowly becomes firmer. This tofu was...well, it was more like very tender jello. I didn't mind at all, but a purist might turn their nose up.)
The other change I made was to remove the bean skins, after soaking the soy beans overnight. It only took a few minutes. I used my hands to crush the beans up a bit, and then scooped the skins out. If you do this under water, the skins will naturally settle to the top of the pile. If you agitate the water, it is pretty easy to pull out the skins. You don't need to get them all, but you want to get the majority out as they are pretty bitter.
The night before you want to make your soy milk or tofu, put a scant cup dry soy beans into a large pot, and cover with water by about 3-4". The beans are ready when they split in half easily. Crush the beans lightly with your hands, and remove the bean skins from the mix. If you swirl the beans around with your hands, the skins will rise to the top of the beans and you can scoop them out and throw them away.
When you are ready to make your soy milk and/or tofu fa, you need to get set up. Get out your blender, a large pot (non-stick is awesome here), a colander, a bowl just smaller than your colander, a cotton towel, a potato masher, and a wooden spoon. Once you get started, you don't want to be wandering all over the kitchen looking for stuff!
Put the colander over the top of the bowl, line it with a cotton towel, put the potato masher nearby, and set the whole thing aside.
Drain your beans and put them in the blender with 2 cups of water. Meanwhile, put 3 cups of water in the large pot and put it on the stove to boil. Blend your beans until they are completely smooth and creamy, then add them to your pot of water. Bring the whole thing JUST to a boil. Be VERY careful. What you are looking for is for the whole pot to foam up. It will look like a root beer float, and you have about 5 seconds to kill the heat and do your best to beat back the foam if your pot isn't tall enough to contain it. Good luck. Don't blink!
Once the foam has subsided, carefully pour the whole pot into the towel-lined colander set up. While that drains, immediately rinse your pot out in the sink. Once these beans get dried onto a pot, it's really, really, REALLY hard to get them off. Really hard. (That's a pun. Get it? It's hard? Whatever.)
This was my Draining Set-Up. I lined the colander with a cotton towel (in the first picture), and poured my boiled "bean smoothie" into it. After it had drained for about 5 minutes, I gathered up the edges of the towel and twisted them together with one hand, compacting the okara into one glob. Then I kept twisting, and pressing on the bundle with my potato masher, until all the liquid had been extracted.
(okara, after pressing out the soy milk)
(It is very important to rinse everything immediately. Otherwise, the leftover bean residue is pretty stubborn!)
My strained soy milk. Obviously, I used a pot to catch the milk, instead of a bowl. My second time, I used a huge 10 qt. non-stick dutch oven for all the stove-top bits, and it was a DREAM to clean up. I highly recommend it. Not as pretty as a lime-green Le Creuset pot, though. So, there ya go. Get your strained "milk" onto the stove, in something you don't mind cleaning afterward, and bring it to a low boil. Simmer it for 5 minutes to finish cooking the raw beans, and...congratulations! You have soy milk! It is delicious hot, it is delicious plain, it is delicious sweetened, and it is delicious cold.
However, if you are like me and prefer to eat your soy milk in a semi-gelatinous state...keep going! Ladle half of your soy milk into a container. I like to use the container I am going to pour my finished tofu fa into, so I have one less dish to wash. So. Find a container that will hold at least 3 cups, and has a lid. Ladle about half of your soy milk into that container, and whisk in 1/2 tsp. of Agar-Agar. Bring your remaining soy milk back to a low boil, and pour your Agar-Agar/soy mil mixture back into the pot. Really stir this well - the Agar-Agar will want to settle to the bottom, and that won't give you nice tofu fa. Whisk it up, stir it violently...whatever floats your boat. Just get it back up to a boil, boil it for about a minute or so, and then kill the heat.
You might want to put your container in the sink for this next step. You're going to pour the tofu fa mixture into the container, from at least 12" above the container. Putting it in the sink makes sure you don't need a step stool for this. Pouring it from high up makes sure that the whole mixture has one last time to really churn up and get that coagulant mixed through out the whole batch. Now cover the container with a towel, then the lid, and put it somewhere for at least 15 minutes. Don't touch it! After 15 minutes, you can carefully transfer it to the refrigerator. After an hour or so, your soy milk has magically transformed into tender, melt in your mouth...tofu fa!
Serve topped with syrup. Plain old maple syrup will certainly work, and I think my tofu-loving 5 year old prefers Mrs. Butterworth's. The more traditional route would be to simmer 1 brick of Chinese brown sugar (pin tong) on the stove with about 1 cup of water to make a sweet syrup. A slice of ginger can be added as well.
Divide the tofu fa between four bowls, and top with a few spoonfuls of the syrup. Enjoy warm or cold!
Soy Milk / Tofu Fa (Tofu Pudding)
1 scant cup dry soy beans
1/2 tsp. Agar-Agar
1 brick pin tong (Chinese brown sugar)
1 cup water
The night before:
Soak your soy beans in enough water to cover them by about 3-4 inches. The beans will swell.
Drain the beans and place in the blender. Line a colander with a tea towel, place it over a bowl, and set aside. Put a non-stick pot on the stove with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Put 2 cups of water into the blender and blend the beans until they are smooth and creamy.
Pour your pulverized beans into the pot of boiling water, and bring back to a boil. Be very careful - it will foam up quickly and will overflow the pot if you are not careful. As soon as it foams up, turn off the heat and carefully blow and stir the bubbles back into submission. Pour the mixture into your lined colander and let it drain into the bowl.
Immediately rinse out your pot, and put it back on the stove to use again. Gather the edges of your tea towel and press the bean pulp (okara/ dau ja) into a ball. Use a potato masher to press the remaining liquid out. (The okara can be discarded, or saved for eating in other recipes. I feed it to my chickens.)
Pour the drained milk back into your pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent it from scorching. If you see a skin form on the top, you can pull it off and eat it. It is called tofu stick, and can be dried and saved. I prefer to call it a mid-chore snack, though.
Stop here for soy milk. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
To make tofu fa:
Ladle half of the soy milk into a container that has a lid. Bring the remaining soy milk back to a boil. Whisk the Agar-Agar into the soy milk you ladled out, then carefully pour that mixture back into the pot. Bring the whole thing back to a boil for about 1 minute, then carefully pour it back into your container. Loosely cover with a towel, then put the lid on the container. Do not disturb the container for at least 15 minutes. After that, it can be moved to the refrigerator. Once the tofu fa has solidified, it can be served warm or cold, with syrup.*
In a small sauce pan, combine 1 cup of water and 1 brick of Chinese brown sugar (pin tong). Simmer until the sugar has dissolved.