23 Jul 2010

The health paradigm

Fresh Tofu mousse with sesame seed and Matcha powder

Tofu is healthy.
Everybody knows that, they keep on telling this to us from any available source promoting vegetarian eating (and not only) last but not least even Lisa Simpson from her yellowy world praises the loveliness of a mock-turkey made with the bean-curds as deign substitute for the feathery alter-ego in a Thanksgiving dinner.

So for once, let’s be healthy and, as always, adventurous; shall we?
For this month the four Velveteers, in the person of Pam, have chosen to have a lovely trip to the far-east. Furthermore from this month on we (Aparna, Asha, Pam and me) decided to open the Velveteers challenge to all our fellow bloggers so don’t be surprised to see more tofu’s posts in the next days. If you want to join the Velveteers club, just email us or join our Google group.

Many are the reasons why almost everybody should visit the countries of spices, herbs and chilies; one is fresh tofu.
Thinking at the fresh herbaceous loveliness of Vietnamese cuisine, the richness and speed of the Chinese one and what about the Japanese culture? Much more of their delicious cuisine is still jealously guarded in this archipelago of islands. Korean, Thai and many of the East Asians cuisines are characterized by an inherent healthiness to the eyes of us meat slaughtering and T-bone steak slurping Western cultures. Why to include tofu in this already enticing picture? Mostly for an economical matter, I think.

As meat, tofu is very versatile but surely cheaper. It is easy to produce and almost like with pork, you do not through away anything from the process: the left over soy pulp, called okara, is a rich source of natural fibers and proteins and it also looks like that the whey is an excellent bleaching agent.
Who has tried this soya product fresh from the manufacturer and out of the supermarkets swears by the noticeable disparity of quality between the two. Personally, I never really had tofu (willingly) apart from those veggies steaks that are made to taste like anything but tofu. The little cubes in miso soups are there more for a textural contrast than flavor, so no real trial of the delicious tofu flavor.

This month challenge was then perfect for filling up this gap in my palate.
What’s this month challenge then? Making fresh tofu at home and then cooking something with it. And how do you do tofu exactly?
Looking online you will find a whole wealth of information and videos on how to make tofu, for instance:

The process is very similar to cheese making; the soy milk is heated carefully and then the coagulant is added to form curds and thicken the mixture. When the soy curds start separating from the liquid phase (“whey”) they are spooned on a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a special container to drain the excess whey by pressing it down. It is quite a straightforward process, not really difficult (for comparison, check how to make your own Mascarpone cheese) the only time consuming step is the straining of the soy milk.

To round up, what are then the praises of tofu? Well, it is a very healthy substitute for cheese or meat; low in fat, easy to digest and quite versatile. Its texture can vary from that of soft custard to a chewier one reminiscent of meat (if frozen and thawed).
Does it taste good though? Mmmm by itself I would say that it is an acquired taste; it isn’t really flavorful but its beany notes, little bitter and herbaceous, are not everybody’s taste. The big pro of doing your own tofu is the chance to flavor it directly from the start to your liking. The addition of some salt will take care of the bitter notes, sugar and herbs would impart a certain body to the final flavor. The only caveat of this procedure is that the final tofu will most probably taste much milder (and somehow different) than the original soy milk. Why? Some aromatic molecules are more easily soluble in water than in oil so they will tend to be discarded with the soy-whey. The rinsing of the final tofu may furthermore weaken the flavors coming from the whey trapped in the curds. Thankfully for us though, many spices and herbs contain mostly oil soluble compounds.

So far so good, what to use as coagulant though? Quite a wide variety of salts and compounds can be used, the traditional being nigiri salts, a form of impure sea salt containing calcium and magnesium chloride. A more easily available coagulant salt for us westerners could be gypsum (calcium sulfate) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). Apart from salts also acids can be used to form the cheese curds, lime or lemon juices are the best candidates.

Fresh Tofu mousse with sesame seed and Matcha powder

How to make Tofu
  • 1 cup dried soybeans;
  • Roughly 500ml water;
  • 2-3 tsps Maple syrup (optional);
  • 3tsps Epsom salts;
  • 1/2 cup boiling water;
  • Salt (optional).

Soak the dried soybeans overnight till nice and plump. Combine then the beans and the 500ml of water in a blender and blend till the beans will be reduced to a fine grain. Using cheesecloth or a cotton handkerchief, strain the milk from the soy bean solids ( okara ) by squeezing with strength. You should have roughly 400ml of soymilk.
Cook the soy milk over low flame continuously scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with a wooden spatula. Season the milk with a pinch of salt and the Maple syrup, if desired. When the milk will come to a boil check the temperature, it should be around 75° C when you add the coagulant, if it’s too hot let it cool down a little bit. Dissolve the Epsom salts in 1/2 cup of boiling water and add the whole to the hot soy milk stirring gently just to combine. Do not stir the milk too much or you will prevent of the curds from forming; let sit undisturbed for 10-15 minutes, at this point you should start seeing streaks of whey on top of the milk. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and poor the milk on it letting the whey drain into a container, fold the cheesecloth on top of the cheese and press for 10 minutes with a heavy weight; if you want firmer tofu press it for longer time. At this point place the tofu into cold water and let soak for few hours, better overnight. Epsom salts are quite bitter and if not washed out of the tofu they will make it inedible.
The tofu is now ready to use.

Now to the real recipe, I didn’t want to mess around too much with the fresh tofu to give the chance to its natural flavor to speak. Plain tofu done according to the previous recipe lacks a bit of body and when eaten as a dessert needs either a sweet syrup or nuts to be added to it. I went for nuts, to underline its natural taste. Here you are my

Fresh Tofu mousse with sesame seed and Matcha powderFresh Tofu mousse with sesame seed and Matcha powder

Tofu mousse with sesame seeds and matcha green tea
Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

  • 100g tofu, drained;
  • 1/2 teaspoon tahini, or to taste;
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup, or to taste;
  • Sesame seeds, roasted;
  • Matcha powder.

Blitz the tofu in a small blender till nice and smooth, transfer it to a bowl and mix it with the tahini and maple syrup. Taste and add more of any of them if needed.
Whip the mixture till nice and smooth again. Serve in little cups sprinkled with the sesame seeds and the matcha powder.


  1. I learned something today. I didn't know that most spices are oil soluble. Have you considered a weekly or bi-weekly "science of food" type post?

    I am impressed that you made tofu since I know you are a confirmed non-vegetarian. Do you think you would be likely to make it again?

  2. Beautifully written and beautiful pic. Now I know why it took you so long to write. hehehe I don't know where to get gypsum or Epsom salt in France. Doubt I can find it in the supermarket.

  3. @sarah Sometimes I think about a science of food post thread, often don't feel knowledgeable enough (though I annoy my friends for hours with my blathering). Should take it into closer consideration ;)
    Making tofu again? Think so. It is a quite versatile ingredient and would like to test it with flavors and textures.

  4. @The Cooking Ninja We usually find Epsom salts in pharmacies (it is a laxative afterall lol). Probably they would have food-grade gypsum too.

  5. Hello my new friend! First of all, your pictures are stunning! I mean, really... the mousse on the black spoon with the white background and the dusting of seeds and matcha powder. It's gorgeous.

    Anyway, so glad we've "met" because I will definitely be keeping up with your posts. Have a great weekend!

  6. I might just like tofu if its in your mousse. It looks beautiful. Lovely picture.

    I see you used maple syrup in your tofu. Was that to improve the taste? Or some other scientific reason?

  7. Gorgeous photo, Alessio! The contrast in colors is fabulous (And everything's a little better with matcha!) One question though: I always thought tofu was a fermented product, but here it comes across more like a vegetarian fresh cheese - when (if at all) does the fermentation come into play?

  8. I must say, best photos so far! Now this is what I call food photography, now we're talking! Interesting post and a great read! Bravo!


  9. @Aparna Maple syrup complements quite well the beany, toasty aroma of soy beans; that's why I chose it. I believe that it is often used also to flavor plain soy-milk.

    @Shea M. Shea, I didn't get much into the fermentation side in this post but it actually comes into play after the tofu is pressed, sort of like cheese :)

  10. Arizona Karen23 July, 2010 22:33

    @The Cooking Ninja
    Oui, ça se trouve en France. Cherchez à la pharmacie le sel d'epsom ou sel amer ou sulfate de magnésium - c'est cela, oui. ;)

    Look at the pharmacy for sel d'epsom ou sel amer ou sulfate de magnésium.

  11. @Arizona Karen: Merci bcp pour l'info car je ne savait pas où on trouver et le nom en francçais. :)

  12. Wow! I am finding out not only how to make tofu but so many tasty ways to eat it. Love your mouse and your pics. And a big thank you for letting me be a part of the group. I promise to be on time next time (fingers crossed).

  13. I am so delighted by this, Alessio! :-) I had no idea that I could make my own tofu, for some reason. :-) I'm excited to try this!!

  14. What an incredibly detailed and well written piece, I am surprised at how similar making tofu is to making cheese, it's certainly not something I would have thought I could recreate myself at home.

  15. Just gorgeous Mr Man...love it! Beautiful pictures too. Am intrigued by your adventurous flavour combination-wonderful!!