Making Tofu

We made tofu this week, yet another thing I never really imagined myself doing until culinary school. Here’s a summary of the process:

  1. Soak soybeans overnight.
  2. Grind the soaked beans with hot liquid.
  3. Boil the beans in the hot liquid.
  4. Pour the hot liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and capture the liquids. The solids you capture are called okara, which has some limited culinary use. Press out as much liquid as possible. It can be useful to put the okara-filled cheesecloth into a nut milk bag, twist the top, and press out the liquid. The cloudy liquid you capture is used to make tofu so you want to get as much as you can.
  5. Heat the liquid and coagulate it using a natural compound such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride. (If you merely simmered the liquid, you could add sweetener and it would be a drinkable soy milk at this point.)
  6. Press the coagulated solids into a cheesecloth-lined tofu box for 45 minutes or so. You could also use a regular mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
  7. Pull out the tofu. You are done!

Below: A plastic tofu press.


Below: Black soy beans in their soaking liquid.


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Soy Glad to Meet You

Yes, there has been a trend of corny blog post titles. Isn’t it fun?

Chef Shanaz was our instructor for soy lab today. She knows her soy!

Below: Group B prepping for lab kitchen.


Below: One of the dishes we made was ginger tofu, which called for 1 tablespoon of ginger juice. I grated a good bit of ginger and squeezed out the juice.


Below: One of the dishes my group made was tempeh “chicken” salad, with celery, pickles, parsley, and green onion. It was pretty dang good!


Below: Tofu egg salad (top), pan-fried tempeh and ginger tofu (left), and tofu mayo (right). Tofu mayo is surprisingly good!


Below: Pan-fried tempeh sticks – I really liked this presentation.



Demo Kitchen

Chef Rachel is such a pleasure to be with. She brings a calmness and a high level of consciousness to not only her cooking but also attention to the mind and body of the cook her/himself. She showed us a few preparations of some delicious local (Johnson’s Backyard Garden) carrots.


Below: Sweet carrot, warm, moist, and salty (in the case of the nishime). None were overcooked – these were very well cooked carrots and they had me looking forward to the day when I can replicate them identically. Chef Rachel talked about using high quality ingredients, which was key in this dish, and not getting in their way. 



Below: Why am I rubbing my foot with no shoe on? Chef Rachel showed us some self-shiatsu techniques which had us feeling quite nice.


Home Study

I bought some Johnson’s Backyard Garden carrots and tried the nishime technique that Chef Rachel showed us earlier. Yum!


Below: The nishime-style carrots look like little owls. This is also known as the jewel cut.




High and Dry (Cooking)

Wednesday we played around with dry cooking methods such as saute, roast, grill, and fry.

Demo Kitchen – Morning

Below: Some of my classmates practice tossing dry beans in saute pans. Today our demo session was a bit more hands-on – with some students practicing sauteing onions and deglazing with white wine. The hands-on demo sessions are a welcome contrast to a typical lecture format. 


Below: Bird’s-eye view of Chef Rosa doing a cooking demonstration.


Below: Some marinated pan-fried tofu with a white and black sesame crust. I really enjoyed the toasted sesame flavor and the texture of the crust. Tofu has a lot of potential, but it takes the right accompaniments and methods to bring the best out of it.


Below: Demo kitchen was a smorgasbord of samples – broiled tomatoes on onions, roasted Brussels sprouts, bok choy stir fry, and sesame-crusted tofu. One student took on a gluten- sesame- and pepper- free stir fry. The school seems to be very accommodating to allergy sufferers. I myself have sensitivities to gluten and dairy.


Lab Kitchen – Afternoon

I was happy to have lab kitchen in the afternoon because the demo lectures right after lunch can be a bit tough. Today was my day in the dishwashing rotation, so I got familiar with the grimey aftermath of our cooking efforts. I’m enjoying the labs because we cook, and I am looking forward to intensifying them with more of a time crunch – so far, hitting our goals has been pretty easy, although each day we’ve been pushed a bit harder. It’s fun to see how much you can get done in 2.5 hours, how well you can cook it, and how well you can get the plating done.

Below: Lab kitchen required us to prepare THREE dishes! I made gremolata – parsley, lemon zest and garlic – shown in the red cup below. Some green tomatoes prepped for pan-fry on the right. 


Below: Okra and squash for grilling.


One area that I want to put more attention is presentation. Chef Alex has had some great tips this week and I also consulted an art design book that I had on hand, Design Basics (Lauer & Pentak). A few notes:

  • Height. Use height to create a more interesting plate instead of just using the typical two dimensions of the plate.
  • Space. Use “negative space” on the plate to make it more interesting. Negative space is space on the plate that is not filled with food. In art, negative space is the space between objects on the painting. If a plate is covered edge to edge with food, it’s not nearly as interesting to the eye as a plate with some negative space.
  • Color. Use complementary and contrasting colors. Uniformity in color is not as interesting. For example, red tomatoes on a red plate would not be very appealing. But red tomatoes on a white plate would be much more interesting.
  • Scale. A huge plate with tiny ingredients that take up very little of the plate will not be pleasing. Try to achieve balance in the size of the plate and the size of the ingredients.
  • Shape. Consider the shape of the plate along with the shape of the food placed upon it. An ordinary round plate may not be the best choice.

Below: The red team’s lab product: a delicious array of veggies and garnishes. My favorite was the roasted eggplant with gremolata – succulent, but with a satisfying amount of browning, and bright from the parsley and lemon. I’ve enjoyed some parsley-heavy bites in the past couple of days, much to my surprise. 


Below: Me, ready to devour our work.


Below: With all of the recent chopping, I had a huge bag full of potato to use. I made this potato-leek soup using two leeks, a couple pounds of potatoes, some garlic, some store-bought stock, and some leek stock I made at home. Oh, and I grabbed some green onion from my friend in the backyard. Some toasted Rudi’s gluten-free bread gave me a nice bready, toasty side for my soup, and some Earth Balance spread lent a welcomed buttery flavor. 


Baked Tofu with Soy Marinade

I had a delightful experience with some baked, marinated tofu recently. It was dense, meaty, and had a great creamy soy-based sauce.

A quick Internet search showed that baked tofu is marinated for 0-60 minutes and typically baked for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, with a flip of the tofu occurring halfway through cooking. I whipped up a soy-based marinade and tried three different marinating times: 0, 10, and 30 minutes.

The tofu marinated for 30 minutes was the best tasting. They all had a nice crust on the outside and a brown color that I found appealing.

Below: A block of extra firm tofu, ready to be loved.


Below: Hello? Protein, fiber, cancer inhibiting phytochemicals? Is that you, calling? Why, yes, I’d love some!


Below: My ace team of flavor professionals, lined up and ready to deliver a precision strike of deliciousness.


Below: Le Ziploc, helping marinate the tofu. The vacuum sealed juices help keep the tofu completely surrounded.


Below: All of the tofu I cooked in this session came out with a crispy texture on the outside, which is a nice contrast to tofu’s out-of-the-container not-so-fun texture (hey, just because I love plant-based food doesn’t mean I don’t like a nice crust).


Below: The new star of my sauce lineup – Ohsawa Shoyu. Intended for the discerning palate…oh, who am I kidding. It’s more expensive than regular soy sauce and it does have a more mature flavor. It’s not as harsh as other soy sauces I’ve had. It just might become a staple.


Below: Browned, crusted tofu, sauteed veggies (broccoli right from the garden), and my new favorite soy sauce. A lovely photo, delicious flavors, and a nutritious plate. I love it when a meal comes together! The browned tofu has a lovely appearance.


Conscious Cravings

I’ve been trying to check out vegetarian restaurants and food trucks in Austin and Conscious Cravings had great reviews on Yelp, so I decided to stop by a couple of times to give them a try.

They have a very nice, clean trailer parked on MLK near Guadalupe. Clearly, a clean trailer is helpful for any food vendor, but when your image is of health and you align your mission with ethical eating, an uber-slick exterior is very consistent.


Below: Rosemary French fries. A workday indulgence.


I tried a couple of dishes. One was a tofu dish with chimichurri sauce and what I believe was sriracha. I especially love their basmati-quinoa blend, which they serve as a base for the gluten free customers (normally, dishes are served as a wrap). There was also a layer of lettuce, and a few slices of tomato, as well. Overall, it was like a healthy, balanced salad with vegetables, grains, and protein. Plus terrific flavor. Note – I don’t think this is actually on the menu. I think I miscommunicated with the cook and ended up with a hybrid of two menu items. Still, it was very good!

Below: Three thin slices of tofu with chimichurri sauce, grains, and lettuce.


I also tried the spicy chickpeas and loved them! Also served on the lettuce-quinoa-basmati base layer, they are spicy and nutritious.