Adventures in Tofu, Part One: Making Soy Milk (Disastrous, Messy, But Ultimately Successful)

This is Part One of a two part series on making soy milk and tofu at home. You can read Part Two here.

I've been reading Jeremy Clarkson's book "How Hard Can It Be?" He's the funny guy from Top Gear, the massively popular British car show in which a bunch of middle-aged boys test drive a variety of very fast cars while keeping up a pretty solid banter in the background.

In the world according to Clarkson, he solves topics as diverse as global warming, summiting Everest, the British tax system, and keeping exotic birds as pets with the stroke of a pen while simultaneously ridding the world of do-gooders, politicians, and idiots. 

The book's (and show's) catch-cry of 'How hard can it be?' is coincidentally the same approach I take to cooking, which tends to turn out about as well as you'd expect.

Tempering couverture chocolate? How hard can it be? 

Answer: Homemade chocolate easter eggs with a texture like ricotta cheese mixed with concrete, and about as tasty.

Homemade strawberry jam? How hard can it be? It's just strawberries and sugar!

Answer: Favourite saucepan ruined forever, and a year's supply of smoke-flavoured strawberry ice cream topping.

Toffee nests? Honestly, I've seen it on TV. Sugar. Water. A fast moving spoon.

Answer: It doesn't count as a toffee nest if it has a lot of your hair in it. And it turns out a fast moving spoon is capable of covering pretty much everything in the kitchen in enamel-hard toffee if the spoon is not directed carefully and accurately. Wine does not improve accuracy.

Having failed to learn from my first fifty mistakes, I felt that making tofu sounded like something I could really apply myself to.

Tofu was one of my greatest culinary surprises while living in China - the variety, the freshness, the many ways in which it is used in cooking. And my greatest surprise of all - it actually tastes good. Really good.

But to make tofu, you must first learn how to make soy milk. I learnt to make it the traditional way with Ah Ping at Yangcheng Lake using a traditional stone grinder, where I was astounded to discover that soy milk, dear people, is made from just soy beans and water. Yes, beans. And water.

Only two ingredients! How hard can it...etc etc

So this week you can learn how to make soy milk, and next week, how to make tofu. Excited? Of course you are. You love a deceptively simple cooking project.

Soy milk making, at least when you first begin, is quite disastrously messy, as I discovered when I overfilled my soy milk maker (see above) and went to hang out the washing, returning to a steaming hot soy explosion all over the kitchen. The soy milk had spattered all the windows and overflowed into three open kitchen drawers full of cutlery and tea towels. Curses were heard throughout the house.

With practice though, you'll get neater, and there will be fewer changes of clothes and swearing. Promise.

Part One: Making Your Own Soy Milk 
For one litre of soy milk you'll need:
L: dried soybeans                     R: after soaking

Blender Method:

Soy Milk Maker Method:
L: Straining soy milk through a fine mesh sieve           R: soy sediment - okra
L: stir and press okara with a spoon to release more soy milk         R: rendering soy milk

NEXT WEEK: Making your own tofu

Soy Milk Makers/Blenders:


Soy milk makers: 
There are many brands to choose from and all do a similar job - they grind the beans finely and heat the soy milk so it is ready to drink. Reputable brands include Joyoung, Soyajoy, Midea, Philips and Povos.

DinoDirect from $US150
Amazon from $US88
Taobao from CNY150 ($US25) - search for 豆浆机

I use a Joyoung DJ13B-C85SG (available on Taobao for CNY499 ($US85) shipping within China) which has a more powerful motor. 

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen - my tofu bible, with recipes and detailed directions

Online tutorials:
Blender method:
Blender method:
Soy milk maker method:

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