Shortly after becoming vegan, I somehow stumbled upon Beth Terry's blog Fake Plastic Fish which details her attempts to live a plastic-free lifestyle. I've always been a big fan of the environmental movement and decided to put my money where my mouth is and try to do something to reduce my own consumption. So I wrote a list and posted it on my freezer of food items that came packaged in plastic, whether or not I could make them on my own, and what I could do to replace or live without items that I didn't know how to make.
I immediately started buying things in glass jars and started buying things in bulk more often. These days I won't buy oil or vinegar unless it's in bulk, because even the glass jars come capped with plastic. But I digress. Some of the things on my list weren't so easy, and I still haven't taken all of the plastic out of my life. A huge gallon sized jug of mustard (yes, they do exist) doesn't use as many resources as many 8-oz bottles, but it's still plastic. And every few weeks I'd buy more packages of tofu and tempeh. I'd say that Jeff and I, roughly, consume three blocks of tofu and maybe an equal number of tempeh packages per week. And I'd sigh, and toss the tempeh package in the trash and set aside the tofu carton to plant seedlings in.
And then I found this cute little book while I was back at home during Troy Night Out: Cooking with Tofu by Mary Ann DuSablon. It's part of a series of pamphlets published by Storey Press dedicated to teaching everyone, including city folk such as myself, necessary skills for living smaller and simpler. I initially picked it up because of the recipe for eggless mayo, but then realized it also had a tofu recipe in it.
I had tried two or three tofu recipes up to this point. Jeff and I would invest a lot of time into making the soymilk, curdling with coagulant (packaged in plastic, came with our tofu kit) and pressing, only to get a tiny, 1-oz slice of tofu. All of that effort for something we ate in 30 seconds! Tofu making isn't quick or even necessarily that easy the first time you try it, so you definitely want a return on your investment. Enter the new recipe book. The first thing I knew I was doing right was adding a substantial amount of soybeans. It doesn't make sense to get a pound of tofu out of less than a cup of soybeans, right? And the coagulants the recipe suggests are simple things like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, that you probably already have. No weird phrases like nigari are thrown around.
The recipe is incredibly intuitive, and Jeff and I were very excited to produce a nice big, solid block of tofu. (I'd say at least a pound.) We used three times the vinegar called for, which makes an extra firm block. We cut this into thirds and have three meals out of it. This is enough for about one week for us, and each weekend when we have time we will make more. The nice thing about tofu is that, if you have enough beans, and a big enough pot, you can double the recipe and make twice as much with just as much effort.
By the way, if you already have a soymilk maker, then 99% of the hard work of making tofu is already done. Just take your fresh soymilk, pour in the coagulant, let the tofu form for 10-15 minutes, and then press it in a cheesecloth lined strainer or similarly lined tofu press.
Another wonderful thing about this recipe is that the blended beans are boiled before being strained. This means that the pulp that remains in the cheesecloth as the soymilk filters out, which is known as okara, is cooked. Jeff and I have made okara burgers with uncooked okara before, and I never knew that they would be so much more delicious with cooked okara! It's a night and day change, and I can't rave about the amazing taste and texture of cooked okara enough. We also found this fantastic recipe for okara bread and I just want to eat it all the time! The first batch of tofu we made with this recipe, we didn't save all the okara, thinking we wouldn't use it all. I regretted that decision the moment I took a bite out of the first loaf of okara bread.
I wish I could reproduce the recipe here, but the book makes it pretty clear that it's copyrighted. I have not found any other recipes online that are as good. So all I can do is recommend that you just spend the few bucks buying this pamphlet, because it will save so much money from buying tofu, and save a lot of plastic from the landfill!
Next up: tempeh. Jeff and I just ordered a tempeh culture but it hasn't arrived yet. Hopefully it will be just as delicious and rewarding as the tofu.