Savory Tofu Pudding
Makes about 4 cups (2 pounds)
If you’re new to making tofu, this recipe is a great one to start off with. It doesn’t require as much finesse as silken tofu, nor do you need to obtain or rig up a tofu mold. The technique is simple. Heat the soy milk, then pour it from a height of about 12 inches into a deep pot containing gypsum and tapioca starch dissolved in water. The strong gush of soy milk ensures that the ingredients commingle well. As the soy milk sits, the coagulant solution sets it to a tender-yet-firm texture.
Gypsum is the traditional coagulant for tofu pudding; used alone, it yields a good tofu flavor and delicate, slightly coarse texture. However, it weeps a lot of whey. For less whey and a silkier and firmer finish, add tapioca starch. Less whey also means a milder flavor. As you learn about your soy milk and personal preferences, play with the texture. For example, try 2 teaspoons of gypsum with 1 teaspoon of starch, or vary those ingredients by 1/4- to 1/2-teaspoon increments.
This tofu pudding is usually featured as a warm savory or sweet snack. You can also serve it chilled with savory garnishes such as grated ginger, green onion, and soy sauce (see recipe above). Or, let it enrich hot pots like Korean soon dubu chigae.
You have to scoop the tofu pudding out of the pot that it is made in; consider it whenever you need a soft tofu that does not need to be cut into neat shapes. Tofu pudding can be purchased at some Asian markets, but homemade is fabulous.
5 cups Medium Soy Milk, at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons packed gypsum, or 1 1/2 teaspoons packed gypsum plus 1 1/2 teaspoons tapioca starch
1/4 cup water, filtered or spring preferred
1 Put the soy milk in a medium saucepan (a lip makes pouring easier). Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching and keep a skin from forming.
2 Meanwhile, choose a larger, tallish pot, such as a deep 4-quart pot, to hold the finished tofu. In the pot, whisk together the gypsum and water to create a milky liquid. Position the pot somewhere low enough so you can pour the soy milk into it from about 12 inches above—on a chair seat or opened oven door. If you like, put the pot on a baking sheet or dishtowel to minimize mess from any splashing. Keep the whisk nearby.
3 When the soy milk reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat off. Whisk the coagulant because the solids tend to settle. Holding the saucepan about 12 inches above the pot, pour the hot soy milk into the coagulant; the gush of turbulence will mix the ingredients together. (You can start low and raise the saucepan higher as you pour.) Cover immediately with a lid and move the pot if necessary. Let the tofu sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
The tofu can be used once it has set. However, let it sit for another 30 minutes and the flavor will have developed further. Check recipes for information on using the tofu. If there are a lot of residual bubbles on the surface of the set tofu, use a spoon to gently remove them. Once you scoop the tofu, you break it up and it begins releasing whey. That is its nature. The longer it sits, the more it will drain, just like regular tofu. Use a slotted spoon to scoop if you want to leave some of the whey behind. To minimize the amount of whey that seeps out, scoop large pieces of the tofu and do it right before serving as savory or sweet tofu pudding.
To store the tofu pudding for up to 3 days, replace the lid on the pot and refrigerate after the tofu has completely cooled. When reheating for warm tofu dishes, gently pour water into the pot around the tofu’s edges (to avoid breaking it up) to cover by 1/4 inch. Heat over medium-low heat until the tofu is warm to the touch. Avoid boiling because that may break up the tofu or make it unpleasantly firm. To keep the tofu warm, use the lowest heat.
Savory Tofu Pudding (Doa Hua)
Serves 6 as a snack
One of the popular Chinese tofu snacks is warm soft tofu topped with a variety of piquant toppings that range from mild green onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil to intensely flavored chile oil, pickled vegetables, and stir-fried meat mixtures. Sometimes dou hua is served with noodles, but I prefer to let the custardy tofu take center stage.
The toppings below have a certain Sichuan bent—the cooks of that province prepare exceptionally good renditions. The toppings may be savory-spicy, savory-spicy-tart, or savory-spicy-rich. In Chengdu, Xiao Tan Dou Hua (Mr. Tan’s Bean Flower) has specialized in tofu pudding since 1924. Three generations have endured through the tumultuous twentieth century to continue their delectable craft today. Unfortunately, few street hawkers remain and their Sichuanese cry, “Dou huar! Dou huar!” is seldom heard anymore.
For wonderful earthy depth, head to a Chinese markets for preserved mustard tuber (zha cai). It is sold in cans labeled “Sichuan preserved vegetable.” Maling is a reliable brand. At home, buy or simply prepare the tofu pudding and lay out a bunch of different toppings for your guests to choose among.
2 tablespoons regular (light) soy sauce
11/2 tablespoons Chile Oil, with chile flakes
11/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
11/2 tablespoons Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onion, green part only
1/4 cup unsalted roasted soybeans (soy nuts) or peanuts
1/3 cup chopped preserved mustard tuber (zha cai), rinsed if overly salty, optional
2 ounces wonton or pot sticker skins or fresh flat Chinese noodles or linguine pasta, optional
Canola oil for deep-frying, optional
4 cups Tofu Pudding (see recipe below)
1 To make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, chile oil, and sesame oil. Add Sichuan peppercorn to taste. If you’d like a hot-and-sour finish, add the vinegar (or set it out and let your guests add it to their sauce themselves).
2 Prepare the garnishes. Put the green onion, roasted soybeans, and mustard tuber in separate small dishes. For extra crunch, deep-fry strips of wonton skin or short lengths of noodles. If using wonton or pot sticker skins, cut them into narrow strips, about 1/3 inch wide. With the noodles, cut them into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Heat about 3/4 inch of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry bamboo chopstick into the oil; if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil is ready. Fry the noodles or wonton strips in batches for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a serving bowl. Set at the table with the garnishes and sauce.
3 If your tofu pudding is cold, reheat it as directed in step 3 of the tofu pudding recipe below. Use a metal spoon to scoop up shards of the tofu into individual serving bowls. Expect liquid (whey) to accumulate in the bowls. While you can pour it off, it is nutritious and has a tangy flavor that commingles well with the garnishes. Invite guests to add garnishes and drizzle on the sauce themselves. Enjoy with spoons.
Variation: Spicy Meat Topping
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of canola oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add 4 ounces ground pork or chicken and cook, stirring and mashing the meat into small pieces, for about 1 minute, until it is just cooked through. Add 2 tablespoons chile bean sauce and 2 minced garlic cloves. Keep stir-frying for another minute until the mixture is super fragrant. Stir in 1 chopped green onion (use the white and green parts) and remove from the heat. Transfer to a small bowl and offer it along with the other garnishes. Include the sauce too, if you like.
Excerpted from Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2012 by Andrea Nguyen. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.