I make my own soy milk and tofu, the former because commercial brands are too sweet and the latter just because it’s fun. When I tell people I make my own soy milk and tofu, I often get strange looks as if it had never even occurred to the person that tofu can come from any source other than a plastic tub in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Some people aren’t even sure what tofu is made of. Tofu is made from soy beans! The only ingredients in tofu are soy beans, water, and a small amount of coagulant, which I’ll get into later.
Before I start my tutorials on making soy milk and tofu, I’d like to say that much of what I know about making these items comes from Maki’s tutorial on Just Hungry, which is pretty much the definitive article on the subject, and this post on Bryanna Clark Grogan’s (one of my favorite cookbook authors) site. I can’t hope to improve on either of these tutorials, and I recommend you read both of them thoroughly because I’m pretty lazy about it and you’re going to get much better information from them. But this is something I do every week and I thought I’d share it with you in the hopes of making you realize neither process is nearly as complicated as I bet you think it is.
A quick word about electric soy milk makers: if you have a decent blender, you don’t need one. I have to admit that after the first couple of times I made soy milk, I managed to squirt okara all over my face, body, and kitchen, and – looking like an actress in a really bad porno – plaintively informed my husband I needed a soy milk maker. But then I figured out how to keep the okara in the bag and off my face, and I now think soy milk makers are ridiculous. And this from someone with a serious kitchen appliance addiction.
A little terminology for you: okara is the word for the mashed up soy beans that remain after you have squeezed out all the “milk”.
In this post, I’ll show you how to make soy milk, which is the first step in making tofu. I’ll save the tofu part for a later post so I don’t overwhelm you. To make soy milk, you need dried soy beans, a large pot, another large pot or a large bowl, a colander or large strainer, and an “okara bag”. An “okara bag” is just a piece of muslin folded in half and stitched on two sides, leaving one side open and forming a bag. You want to make it large enough that you can fold the edges over your pot or bowl; see the photos below. You can get muslin at any fabric store and it is very cheap. Some people use cheesecloth instead of muslin, but I don’t recommend this because it’s too easy for the okara squirt out when you are pressing it later, and although there are heavy kinds of cheesecloth they say are re-usable, it just seems very messy to me.
You can make as much or as little soy milk as you like at a time. I’ll assume here that you want to make about 2 quarts, because that’s how much I make to make tofu. But for drinking purposes, I halve this recipe and just make one quart because that’s all I need. If you make double this recipe, though, you’ll need to use a large stock pot to cook the soy milk: it expands a lot, so you need extra room.
So to make about 2 quarts of soy milk, put 8 ounces of dried soy beans into a bowl and cover with a lot of water. The soy beans will double in size, so put them in a big enough bowl and use enough water. Let them soak for about 8 hours. Here are my soaked soy beans:
The first few times you make soy milk, you will want to follow the directions precisely, what with the weighing and the measuring. Later, you may find shortcuts, as I have. For example, I noticed that my little fist grabs almost exactly one ounce of soy beans, and I often just grab 8 fistfuls of soy beans and call it a day. See, I’m a very imprecise cook. I have no right to be explaining how to do things to other people!
After soaking, drain the soy beans and put half of them into a blender. Measure 8 cups of water and put into a large pot over medium heat. When changing the yield on this recipe, this is easy to remember: one cup of water for every ounce of dried soy beans. That’s all you need to know! Allow the water to come up to temperature as you blend the soy beans. Add enough water to the blender to cover the soy beans by about an inch or two. The more water, the easier time your blender will have, so be generous:
Now blend, blend, blend! And blend some more. You want to make a very smooth mixture, that looks like this (or a little thicker, I don’t know why that looks so thin):
Pour the mixture into your large pot, and repeat with the remaining soy beans. You should have enough room in the pot for the contents to double, as it may swell up quite a bit. Simmer this mixture over medium heat for about 20 minutes. When it begins to swell, it’s ready, and you want to be watching it because when it starts to swell, it will very quickly swell higher than you expect, quite possibly over the sides of the pot if you aren’t careful. Ask me how I know this.
While the mixture is simmering, get another pot or a large bowl ready. Place your strainer or colander into it, and then line the colander with your “okara bag”, like this, except don’t pull up the one side as I did here so you could see the arrangement:
Carefully (because it’s hot), pour the soy bean mixture into the lined colander, and let it sit for a moment or two as the liquid slowly drains down into the pot or bowl:
Now here’s the part that caused me so many problems in the beginning. You want to squeeze all of the liquid out of the bag, making the contents – the okara – as dry as possible. At least that’s what I read, and for some reason I got it in my head that I had to REALLY squeeze on that bag so incredibly tightly that the okara came shooting through the weave of the fabric…and onto my face. What I would do is pick the bag up out of the colander, spin it around to seal it at the top, and, wearing gloves because it was hot, squeeze and twist as if my life depended on it, bent on draining every last drop of milk out of that bag. It’s a good thing I milk soy beans and not cows. But then I decided to just relax and MOSTLY get the liquid out of the bag by just pressing it with a potato masher against the colander and if the okara didn’t end up quite as dry, well, too bad. And what do you know, I no longer ended up with white stuff all over myself and I got just as much milk out of the bag anyway. The lesson here is to NOT take all your frustrations out on the okara bag and squeeze or press it just enough.
And now guess what! You’re done! Woo! Lift the colander out of the bowl or pot and YOU HAVE SOY MILK! If you are making tofu, you are ready to move on to the next step (coming soon). If you plan to drink this soy milk, or use it on cereal, you have the option of adding sugar and/or flavoring. I just add a bit of sugar, maybe 2 Tbsp per quart (which would be 1/4 cup if you used the measurements I’ve used here), but I don’t like it very sweet and if you are used to commercial soy milk, you may find you need to wean yourself from their excessive use of sugar. As I read somewhere, don’t be afraid to add sugar in any amount, because chances are you still aren’t adding as much as the commercial brands do!
I also often use maple syrup instead of sugar. You can add a pinch of salt if you like. If you like vanilla flavored, add that, or cocoa for chocolate milk.
The finished product (in a lovely glass pitcher I got from King Arthur Flour…have I mentioned my problem with that place? But seriously, it tastes better stored in glass than in plastic.):
I know I’ve been very wordy here, but once you do this a couple of times, it takes next to no effort. If I use the last of my soy milk on my cereal in the morning, I throw my four fistfuls of soy beans into a bowl, cover with water, and head out to work. When I get home, I just whip up the soy milk at the same time I’m making dinner. The only part that requires any thinking is making sure the pot it’s in doesn’t boil over, and since I’m right there working on dinner, that’s no problem.
And a final word about okara: don’t throw it away! You are supposed to eat that too! You’re supposed to be able to add it to all sorts of baked goods, although honestly, I haven’t had much success doing so. It seems to make baked goods leaden. I’m probably doing something wrong though. The best thing to do with okara is make Susan V’s Okara “Crab” Cakes. (By the way, Susan’s Fat-Free Vegan blog is one of the best food blogs out there and one of the inspirations for this blog.) The truth of the matter is I usually throw my okara away…and feel really guilty about it. I end up with a lot of it though. If nothing else, I should be composting it, but I haven’t started composting yet. So I challenge you to outdo me and use your okara more wisely. I really should be getting twice as much use out of my soy beans and saving even more money. If you know of any great uses for okara, please share!