Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tofu, anyone?

I always thought I was a pretty good cook, if not a fancy one. The people who ate my food seemed to agree. But last summer, a foreign exchange student from Belarus made an off-hand comment that has stuck with me, causing me to re-evaluate.

One of the best things about having foreign students live in your house is it makes you think hard about your way of life. In order to answer their questions, you have to truly understand why things are the way they are. And just hearing the questions they ask makes you question yourself and the way you do things. Or the way your fellow citizens do things. When Vadim was here last year, he mentioned that he thought American had too many prepared food items. I was taken aback by that, because I thought, at least at our house, that we ate very few prepared items. At that time, we were hip deep in our CSA vegetables, I haven’t bought a frozen lasagna or tv dinner in years, and I never buy box meals; heck, we don’t even eat out very much. I dismissed his comment by assuming he meant it as applying to Americans in general, not to us in particular.

But over the months since he was here, I keep returning to that statement in my mind. After participating in the Penny Wise Eat Local Challenge last week, I think I understand what he meant. And, as usual, I am grateful for the questions both asked and answered.

It was hard for me last week to not reach into my cabinet and pull out a barbeque sauce (Gates, from Kansas City is the best!) or a curry sauce to enliven our meals. It seems I am not so much a good cook as I am a good “combiner”. The bare bones of my meals– meats and vegetables- are usually minimally processed and local. But the other parts of the meal- the sauces and marinades, rubs and seasonings, are mostly “store-bought”. I doctor them up so they are more or less unique, but is it really cooking? I can make my own salsa and tomato sauces, but I just don’t like them as well as some of the commercial ones. I rely on commercially produced ingredients to add “pizzaz” to our meals. Perhaps this is what Vadim noticed.

On the other hand, I am always interested in the process of creating things from beginning to end. In my fiber life, I have taken fleece right from the sheep all the way to a finished garment; washing, spinning and then weaving or knitting and finally wearing.

My food life is no different- I make my own yogurt and yogurt cheese, have made my own butter and ice cream, granola and bread. We don’t raise our own food animals, but if we did, I would love to smoke my own bacon, or make my own sausages. Recently I read an article on how to farm catfish, and found myself eyeing the goldfish pond in the backyard in a whole new light.

I can, freeze, dry; make pickles and jams. I’ve been known to harvest wild black walnuts and hunt the elusive morel mushroom. My gosh, I made dandelion soup, for goodness sake! When my sons were little, I took great pride that I made most of their clothes, and the food they ate was either breast milk LITERALLY made by me or, as they grew older, bits of our dinner unseasoned and ground in our handy dandy baby food grinder. I may not BE self sufficient, but I like to think that I have the knowledge and skills should I ever really NEED self sufficiency. (Besides, I just like to know stuff.)

Well, one of the things I now know how to do is make my own tofu. Using The Book Of Tofu, by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. I’m not going to describe the process in great detail, but here are the highlights.

First- soak 1.5 cups of soybeans overnight
Then divide the soaked beans in half, add 2 cups of water, and grind fine.

Put the ground beans in a big pot, repeat with the other half of the beans.
Bring it to a boil and cook for a while

Strain the ground soybeans through a cloth, catching the soymilk in a container.

Press the liquid out of the ground beans. Keep the pressed beans to use other ways.

Heat the soymilk to boiling again
Add solidifier

curds and whey

Ladle curds into a pressing box lined with a cloth

Press liquid out.

Take out of the box and unwrap
I am not sure what we did wrong, but instead of a cube of tofu, we got what Chuck termed a "laminate" of tofu- barely enough for us to eat. It did taste good, I thought. (Chuck's taste comment is below.) One thing, I didn't soak the beans overnight, instead I brought them to a boil and soaked for a couple of hours in the hot water. I may not have ground the beans long enough, although the okara, or residue from the beans seemed pretty fine. We'll try changing those two steps next time and see what we get.

I found a couple of sites with good directions if you don't want to rush out and purchase The Book Of Tofu. Lili Pintea-Reed wrote this article on Bella Online, and I found this on (I was excited to see Lili's name here- I met her several years ago on a Fiber Arts mail list.) Both sites provide easy to follow directions. And I bought my tofu making box and solidifier from SoyaJoy-Chuck did say he thought the tofu tasted like cedar...


cookiecrumb said...

I am knocked out. I have to do this.
I want you to know about Anna's tofu-making, too. Go see.

Glenna said...

Very cool. I am impressed. I relate to the topic too. I use a lot of prepared foods for my convenience but if push comes to shove or just for fun, I could do it. I think it's nice to remind ourselves once in a while what we're capable of, just like you did here.

Willa said...

Cookie- I visited Anna's site- we did almost exactly the same thing, except for the making of the soy milk, but she sure got a lot more tofu than I did. Thanks for sharing the link with me.

Glenna- it is nice to know you are capable, isn't it!

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

I think we are similar---I am a good combiner, we gather "sustainable living" knowledge and then....I laughed about your fish pond. Throw those cats in there---they'll probably turn your goldfish into your next meal LOL.
Anyways---people from other countries do make you think don't they? Sometimes it's surprising to ourselves to explain why we do what we do isn't it!