The Miracle of Soy
Up until now, we have focused the blog on ethnic vegetarian cuisines and how these are intimately linked to the physical and ecological environment and human history of their respective regions. This month we're going to take a different tack. As mentioned in our introductory blog entry, in an effort to keep the industrial-agricultural complex as far away from our kitchen as possible, we are also passionate about making as much of our own foodstuffs as we can. Our food interests thus have a strong Do It Yourself streak, whether it be making our own stocks or sausage, baking our own bread, fermenting our own sauerkraut, or putting up as much of our garden's harvest as possible as various canned goods. Given the prominence that tofu and miso played in last month's Japanese recipes, we're going to focus this month on a set of DIY projects related to making these and other soyfoods in your own kitchen.
The soybean (Glycine max) is the most recently domesticated of our major legume crops, dating back only 3100 years ago to northeastern China and Manchuria. This crop contains some of the highest protein levels for any vegetable (about 35% by weight) and produces 20 times more protein per acre than the amount of animal products generated by the same area of forage. It is thus not surprising that by 2000 years ago in mainland China and 1000 years ago in Japan, soy had become one of the dominant protein sources.
There is a major problem with eating soy, however: first, it is especially difficult for the human stomach to digest, and is well known to be among the most gas-generating legumes due to high levels of oligosaccharides. Jeff is particularly sensitive to this aspect of soy, and can vividly remember being incapacitated and rolling around on the floor with severe stomach cramps for at least two hours from eating only a handful of dry honey-roasted soybeans. It is not something that he ever plans on doing again. Second, soy also contains a compound which restricts the activity of the trypsin enzyme in digesting proteins. As a result the high protein levels in soy are not available to us and will simply pass through our gut unless 80% or more of this compound is broken down.
Even though the use of cooked soybeans was commonplace in US vegetarian cooking up through the mid-1970s, these two issues quickly made people realize that there were better legumes to directly eat, and the use of soybeans in the kitchen generally fell by the wayside.
The problem, though, was not soy itself but rather our lack of awareness of how other cultures had unlocked its nutritive value. In conjunction with domestication, the peoples of eastern Asia developed ingenious ways of removing or breaking down the offending oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitor to make soy's protein easily available.
We are going to discuss three principle approaches for doing this. First, we'll consider a chemical approach: by grinding soaked soybeans, mixing in water, and then cooking and straining this gruel, it is possible to extract 80% of the protein through the creation of soy milk. The proteins in this milk can then be precipitated though the addition of certain natural chemicals, and when these curds are strained and pressed, tofu is created. This product turns out to be one of the most digestible forms of protein, as the offending compounds have been deactivated, destroyed, or removed.
Second, with tempeh we'll look at a way to make soy digestible via rapid fermentation. In this product, partially cooked soybeans are inoculated with spores from the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus and incubated for about 24 hours. Because of fungal activity, the resulting bean cake is easily digestible and high in not only proteins but also various B-Vitamins.
Last, we'll show with miso – one of the principle flavorings in Japanese cuisine - how to make soy digestible through a slow (2-month to 3-year or longer), complex, two-stage fermentation based on the fungus Aspergillus oryzae and a host of lactic-acid generating bacteria. This is the most involved process that we'll discuss, but is still easily accomplished in your kitchen and back room.
As long as you have some specialized equipment on hand (a food grinder, a tofu press, a food steamer, a food thermometer, and a thermostat-controlled incubator) we have found that these three processes are all easily done in your own kitchen at a fraction of the cost of store-bought products. And, we are never ceased to be amazed at how much food we can create from so little starting product: only 4 cups of dried soybeans (about 1½ pounds) turns into 6 pounds of high protein, easily digestible, low fat, healthy food (2 lbs of tofu and 4 pounds of tempeh). We are even able to use the leftover whey as a soap and bath treatment. Nothing from these beans is allowed to go to waste. For us this is a process reminiscent of a loaves-and-fishes miracle.
We will be relying heavily throughout this month on three books by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi of the SoyInfo Center: The Book of Tofu, The Book of Miso, and The Book of Tempeh. These are encyclopedic treatments on making and cooking these three soyfoods, and are literally the last word about each. All we can do here is briefly summarize the information presented in detail in these books. We cannot recommend strongly enough that if you find the following entries of interest you track down and purchase your own copies. Unfortunately, all three are now out of print, but on-line versions are available from the Soyfoods Center website, and second-hand copies are available via the internet. Also, we were initially inspired to try and make our own tempeh and miso from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. This book still is in press and is also a good and useful read.
The transformation of soybeans into tofu is so complete it is hard to imagine that one comes from the other. It should not thus be surprising that the invention of the process is likely due to the activities of Chinese alchemists. Chinese alchemy arose out of the Taoist tradition, and like alchemy in the west had a principle goal of discovering the secrets to immortality and for transmuting base metals into precious ones. Lord Liu An, the king of Huainan and Taoist philosopher and alchemist, by tradition is said to have invented the process to make both soymilk and tofu around 160 B.C. However, other sources suggest that Lord Liu An simply lived with vegetarian Taoist monks and he learned the method -- based largely on standard alchemical techniques -- from them. In fact, some unattributed sources suggest that the process was actually invented from 400-300 B.C. during the Warring States period. Tofu-making was exported to Japan about 1300 years ago.
The soybean to tofu transmutation can be accomplished in your own kitchen in less than two hours with only a few specialized pieces of equipment. The result is tofu that is impeccably fresh and actually has flavor, and at a considerably lower cost than store bought.
The principle steps are: (1) soaking dry soybeans until they have fully expanded; (2) grinding these beans to make a soy gruel (called gô in Japanese); (3) cooking the gô to help mobilize soy proteins and deactivate the trypsin inhibitor; (4) straining and pressing the gô to separate the soymilk from the remaining solids, called okara; (5) continue cooking the soymilk to fully deactivate the trypsin inhibitor; (6) curdling the soy milk; and (7) pressing the curds to make a solid block of protein.
The following recipe should produce between 1½ - 2 pounds of tofu, and another 4 pounds of okara -- which we’ll use to make tempeh -- depending upon the age of the beans, with fresher soy producing more tofu.
Step 1: Soaking the beans
4 cups dry soybeans
10 cups water
Wash soybeans and soak in water for 10-12 hours. The beans are ready for Step 2 when the two halves are easily split apart, flat, and of the same color throughout. You have over-soaked the beans once small bubbles begin to form on the water surface.
Step 2: Making Gô
Drain beans, and run through a food grinder using the plate with small (~1/8 inch) holes. When they are all ground, add 4 cups water into the ground beans, and blend using an immersion blender until a smooth gruel is formed.
Or, combine whole beans with 4 cups of water and divide into 3-4 batches and process at high speed in a blender.
Step 3: Cooking the Gô
Now heat 16 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. When the water comes to a boil, add in the soybean gruel. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to make sure that the bottom does not scorch. When the mixture begins to rapidly boil and foam quickly rises in the pot, remove from heat. Be careful to not let it boil over and make a mess of your stove!
Step 4: Straining the Soymilk
Immediately strain the hot gô through a cloth bag held in a colander over another large pot. Press out as much of the soymilk as possible using a rubber spatula or glass jar. When you have pressed out most of the liquid, empty the soy grits (okara) into a bowl, and mix in 6 cups of cold water. Stir, and then pour again into the pressing sack. The okara will now be cooler and be able to be squeezed by hand. Keep squeezing and wringing the okara until no more liquid can be squeezed out. Turn the dry okara into a dry bowl and reserve for making tempeh.
Step 5: Cooking the Soymilk
Combine the first and second rounds of soymilk into the large kettle (which has been cleaned), and bring to a gentle boil.
Cook for 5-10 minutes.
Step 6: Curdling the Soymilk
Remove boiling soymilk from the heat and let cool to 170° F. This is a vital step, as the coagulation of the soy proteins into curds is temperature dependent, and won’t work well at too high or too low of temperature. If the soymilk is too hot, the curds will be too small and the resultant tofu will crumble easily. If this happens, your best option is to make the tofu into Monk's Loaf. If the soymilk is too cold, your yield of curds will be too low.
Mix together 3 tablespoons of your solidifying chemical of choice into 1 cup water. Once the soymilk has reached 170° F (10-15 minutes or so), rapidly stir with a large spoon or spatula to make a vortex. Pour the 1 cup of dissolved solidifying chemical into the vortex, and cover. Let stand for 10 minutes. If at the end of this time the milk has not separated into a clear yellow whey and white curds, stir the liquid gently and add in another 1 tablespoon solidifier mixed into another 1 cup of water and let set another 5 minutes.
There are a number of choices for curdling agents. You will get a different type of tofu depending upon what you use. Nigiri, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride will make subtly sweet and firm tofu like what you would buy soaking in water in a store. Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) or Calcium sulfate (gypsum) will make a very soft, silken tofu like the pasteurized tofu that comes unrefrigerated in boxes. Lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar will create a tart of sour tofu not unlike ricotta cheese.
Nigiri is the Japanese name for bitter magnesium and calcium chloride salts that are removed during the making of table salt (sodium chloride). Seawater has also been historically used to make tofu along the Japanese coast, and will create a nigiri-style tofu. We thus suspect that another potential solidifier would be the ‘instant sea’ salt mixes that can be purchased in an aquarium store for salt-water tanks. But, we’ve never tried this.
Step 7: Pressing the curds
Once the whey is clear and the curds have settled to the bottom, place a large strainer into the pot to hold down the curds, and ladle out the hot whey. Do this until almost all of the whey has been removed, and mostly curds remain in the pot.
Place a clean straining bag into your tofu press, and the tofu press into a pot or pan. Ladle the curds into the bag in the press. When all the curds have been placed into the press, carefully fold the top of the sack over the curds, place the top cover on the press. Weigh down the lid to press water out of the curds. To make a firm tofu place 4-6 pounds of weight on the lid (a water filled quart jar works fine) and press for 1 hour.
Remove the tofu block from the press, and carefully unwrap from the pressing sack. Either wrap tofu in cling-film or place in a water bath and refrigerate. Use within 3-4 days.
Don’t throw out the whey! As long as you have not added in too much bitter solidifier, it can be used to replace the milk in baked goods and can be used as a base for broth and soups. It also serves as a wonderful gentle soap, and traditional Japanese tofu shops will use it to wash down their utensils and work space at the end of the day. You can put it into your bath water where it will help clean and soften the skin. It is also a favorite drink of farm animals: William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi in the Book of Tofu relate a story of a horse in Kyoto that refused to pass a certain tofu shop each morning until it was given a 3-gallon bucket of whey to drink.
Specialized ingredients and equipment
You will need some way to grind the soaked soybeans to make the soy gruel. We use the food grinder attachment to our kitchen mixer, and then follow this up with a secondary grinding with an immersion (or ‘stick’) blender. But, you can do this just as well with a normal kitchen blender. We just don’t own one.
You need a kitchen thermometer to tell when the cooked soymilk cools to the optimum 170o F temperature.
You’ll also need to find a source for one of the solidifiers mentioned above. You may be able to buy nigiri at a Japanese market, and it is supplied with many tofu kits. What we have found most easily available are liquid magnesium chloride solutions from alternative medicine and health food stores.
You will likely need to acquire a tofu press. If you are adept at carpentry, and have a shop, the Book of Tofu provides instructions and designs for making your own. If you don’t there are a number of tofu presses available for sale over the Internet. We decided to buy the Japanese-made Hinoki (Cypress) wood tofu press and kit from Toiro Kitchen. This setup includes not only an exquisitely made press large enough for a 2-pound block of tofu, but also a pressing sack, nigiri, and instructions. We could not be happier with the purchase.
One last thing: you can of course grow your own soybeans for this project. However, the typical soybean grown in the USA has generally been bred for high yields, soy oil, and animal food, not tofu. These varieties have slightly smaller and more yellow beans than typical Japanese varieties. If you can find soy varieties that have been bred for tofu / miso production, you'll likely enjoy your products more. In Japan, the soy varieties considered to have the finest flavors are known by names such as "Child of the White Cranes" and "Waving Sleeves." As far as we are aware, the only source for soybeans especially bred for use in tofu / miso production in the USA is the Kitazawa Seed Company from Oakland, California, who sells a variety called Shinonome (東雲 or Daybreak).
In the tropics of Indonesia, a different method for increasing the digestibility of soybeans was developed. Here, soybeans were cooked until tender, and then inoculated with spores of the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus and held in a humid environment at around 90° F. for about 24 hours. Precooking the soybeans inactivates trypsin inhibitors, while the fungal fermentation further increases the digestibility of the soy while generating high levels of various B-vitamins and the enzyme phytase which brakes down phytates present in soy. Phytate is a chelated compound that can tie up a number of minerals such as zinc, iron, and calcium and limit their uptake into the body. The Rhizopus fungus also creates a series of esters and other flavor compounds that impart a savory, meat-like flavor to the soybeans.
Typically, tempeh is made from whole soybeans that have been shelled and cracked in half. In this way, all of the nutritive value of the soy is passed along to the tempeh. However, this process can be used on other soy products. In our case, we will inoculate the Rhyzopus spores onto cooled okara, the grits left over during the production of tofu. There is a considerable quantity of okara generated during the making of tofu -- about 8 cups in the batch previously described. Because of soymilk extraction, okara (and the tempeh made from it) will have 80% less protein, 75% less fat, 75% less iron, and 66% less Vitamin B1 as compared to whole-bean tempeh. However, it will also have 4 times the dietary fiber, twice the calcium, and the same proportion of carbohydrates. As a result, okara remains an excellent food source that should not simply be thrown away. The tempeh make from okara is not only lower in calories and fat than typical tempeh, but also has a wonderful texture that makes it especially good in a number of dishes.
We need to make sure that the correct microorganism grows on our okara. To do this, we must become applied community ecologists and provide Rhizopus oligosporus with environmental conditions that favor its growth over that of other organisms. We’ll do this in a number of ways: First, we’ll make sure that the okara is held at the optimal temperature for Rhizopus growth – somewhere between 85-90° F. Typical food molds, such as Penicillium, do not grow well at such high temperatures, and actually favor conditions at least 20° F cooler. Second, Rhizopustolerates acidic condition better than many microbes. We’ll thus add vinegar into the okara to acidulate it and make it less likely for other organisms to gain a foothold. Third, unlike some microbes, Rhizopus requires oxygen to live. Thus, we’ll aerate the tempeh cakes by punching holes into the bags holding them. Lastly, we’ll initiate the fermentation with a great quantity of Rhizopus spores through a starter mix, giving it the opportunity to crowd out any other potential organisms.
Step 1: Acidulating and Inoculating the Okara
8 cups (approximate) of okara remaining from tofu production
3 tablespoons rice or distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon tempeh starter
Cool okara until it reaches 90-100° F. This is important because at higher temperatures the Rhizopus spores will be killed. Sprinkle vinegar over the surface of the cooled okara, and mix with a wooden spoon for approximately 2 minutes. Make sure that you mix all of the okara and that bits along the sides and bottom are not missed. Now sprinkle the tempeh starter over the acidulated okara. Mix thoroughly for another 3-5 minutes, making sure again to not miss any of the okara. This step is essential as if you do not mix the inoculated okara well you’ll likely get spore-free patches which will develop into holes in the tempeh cake with no fungus and only loose okara.
Step 2: Forming the tempeh cakes
Locate 4 one-pint sealable polyethylene storage bags. Wash hands thoroughly. Divide the inoculated okara into four units, about 2 cups each. Scoop each into its own storage bag. Press air out of the filled bag, and close its seal. Place the 4 bags onto a flat surface and press into cakes of even thickness. Take a large diameter needle, and punch 12-20 holes across the surface of each bag. Flip them over and repeat on the other side.
Step 3: Fermenting the tempeh
Place the 4 aerated storage bags with acidulated, inoculated okara into a clean egg incubator set at 85° F. Now all you have to do is wait and let Rhizopus do the work. There will be little evidence of Rhizopus growth over the first 18 hours. But after that you should see a white mat of fungal hyphae quickly encompass the entirety of each cake. If you like your tempeh mild, remove from the incubator when the hyphae are still white with only small dark spots under each of the needle holes. If you like a stronger tasting product, you can leave it in longer until the cake is gray in color. You may not want to do this, though, as many feel that such ‘over-ripe’ tempeh is an acquired taste. Experiment and see how mature you like your tempeh.
Step 4: Storing the tempeh.
The Rhizopus will continue to mature even when removed from the incubator. Thus, you’ll want to quickly move it to a refrigerated environment unless you plan on cooking it immediately. Be sure that you do not stack the 4 cakes on top of each other, as the fungal activity in the middle of the stack will keep the temperature high and the Rhizopus maturing at a rapid rate. Even if kept separate in the refrigerator, the cakes will continue to mature – although much more slowly. For optimum flavor you’ll want to use them within 2-3 days. You can also freeze the cakes, where they will remain at optimum quality for at least a month. In this case, you’ll want to remove them and let them thaw for 2-3 hours at room temperature before cooking.
Whole Bean Tempeh
If you'd rather make your tempeh from unprocessed whole soybeans, please refer to the basic tempeh recipe from The Book of Tempeh. In a nutshell, before Step 1 you'll need to measure out 4 cups of dry beans. If you have a grain mill, you'll want to run these soybeans through it on the coarsest setting -- all you want to do is break the beans in half. Then, soak the beans in ample water for 10-12 hours, skimming off the hulls that float to the top. Drain the cracked, soaked beans and place in a pot. Or, you may simply soak the whole beans for the same amount of time, and then rub the beans between your hands until the hulls are separated and they break in two. Repeat this process until all of the beans have been hulled and split. Drain and place in a pot. Cover beans generously with water and bring to a boil. Cook for at least 40 minutes until the bean pieces are still somewhat firm but soft enough to be crushed between your thumb and forefinger. Drain the beans, and dry by placing between two towels and rubbing thoroughly. You must remove as much water as possible. If the beans are too damp, they will not be able to maintain proper oxygen levels, and the Rhizopus fungus will not grow well. Rather other anaerobic microbes will dominate, and make for a very stinky and inedible product. Once the beans are dry, proceed to Step 1. You'll want to use the same soybean varieties that are used in tofu or miso prodcution, such as Shinonome. Also note that as long as you use dry, cooked substrate, any number of other materials can be turned into tempeh, including beans, peas, lentils and all grains.
You will need to obtain tempeh starter. There are a number of companies that sell this product. One is GEM Cultures from Lakewood, Washington. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing (second week of March, 2014) their tempeh starter is out of stock. We bought our starter from The Tempeh Lab in Summertown, Tennessee, and were very happy with the quality and price. We've kept our starter in the freezer, and have been using it now for over a decade with no noticeable reduction in viability. As a result, we have not purchased any tempeh starter from them in a long time, and do not know the current pricing schedules. We wrote them a few weeks ago asking for updated information, and have yet to hear back. When we do we’ll pass the information along.
Second, you’ll need to buy an egg incubator that will be dedicated for use only in food fermentation projects. UNLESS YOU LIKE GETTING SICK, DO NOT USE AN INCUBATOR THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN USED TO HATCH POULTRY! We purchased the Little Giant 9200 still air incubator made by Miller Manufacturing in Eagen, Minnesota. It maintins the set temperature very well, and with its styrofoam construction it also holds humidity – an essential issue for this type of fermentation. The price seems to run between $40-50, depending upon the vendor. You should be able to pick one up at your local farm supply store.
Last, you’ll need a food thermometer to let you know when the okara, beans, grains, etc have cooled to a safe temperature for the Rhizopus spores.
We finish delving into homemade soyfoods with miso, one of the principle flavorings of Japanese cuisine. In fact, it is unheard of for many Japanese to have a day pass in which they at some point do not have a bowl of miso soup; there are even Japanese cookbooks providing recipes a different miso soup for every day of the year.
Miso’s origins lie within fermented Chinese pastes called ‘chiang’ which were historically made from any number of protein-rich ingredients, including shellfish and meat. In the Analects of Confucius it is said that “foods not accompanied by the appropriate variety of chiang should not be served.” In the 7th Century B.C., in the rituals of the Chou Dynasty, it is mentioned that “one hundred and twenty crocks of chiang were stocked for a party.” Around 500 AD the production of chiang using soybeans as the protein source was developed. Chinese traders then helped migrate soybean chiang south into Indonesia (where it was called taucho), Vietnam (tuong), and Thailand (tao-chio). The same fermentation process was also used on fish to create the salty fish sauces (nuoc mam in Vietnamese) so prevalent in southeast Asian cuisines. It is interesting to note that either through independent evolution, or by the sharing of information along the Silk Road, the Romans also extensively used a fermented fish sauce not unlike nuoc mam in their cooking, which they calledgarum. In modern times in the west, Worcestershire Sauce (also a fermented product) takes on a similar function, and may be a direct descendant of this Roman condiment.
Soybean-based chiang migrated into Japan via Buddhism about 100 years after its development in China. Over time, this product was refined and altered until it became something unique to the Japanese – with the term ‘miso’ being coined by 900 AD. Miso is produced through a two-step fermentation process in which first the fungus Aspergillus oryzae (or related species) are allowed to infect steamed grains or soybeans, creating what is called ‘koji’. The koji is then mixed with cooked soybeans, water, and salt in the second stage, where enzymes in the now inactiveAspergillus break the soybeans down into more simple chemical compounds. Some of these are then converted to various more complex organic acids, esters, and alcohols by a large number of salt-tolerant yeasts and bacteria living in the fermenting mixture. At the end of this process (perhaps 3 years later) the rather indigestible soybeans have been converted into an array of simpler organic chemicals that are easily used by the human digestive system.
A few words about the primary fermentation are in order. The principle goal of this process is to make a great quantity of mold hyphae that contain protease, amylase, and lipase enzymes which assist in breaking down the complex soybean proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids (respectively) into peptides and amino acids, polysaccharides and simple sugars, and simple free fatty acids. Because the principle substrate for many misos are either rice or barley, the high carbohydrate concentration of these grains means that enzymatic activity will ultimately lead to the production of sugars. The creation of koji is thus exactly analogous to the malting of grains in the west, as in both cases enzymatic activity is being used to make simple sugars from complex carbohydrates. While enzymes in Aspergillus mediate this process in koji, in malting the grains are allowed to sprout with the amylases being created by the germinating plants themselves. It is interesting to note that in both cases this enzymatic creation of sugar from starch was used in combination with secondary alcoholic fermentation to make sake on one hand and beer in the other.
Like we did before with tempeh we’re going to manipulate the fermentation environment to ensure that the correct microbes dominate the miso community, and not ones that will make us sick. In terms of the primary fermentation, we’ll make sure that the grains are cooked by steaming, thus preventing them from becoming waterlogged. This ensures that there will be plenty of oxygen available for theAspergillus to use, and prevent the growth of anaerobic microbes. We’ll also keep the temperature of the grains at a constant 85° F., the optimal temperature forAspergillus growth. Last, we’ll initiate fermentation with a great quantity ofAspergillus spores through a starter mix, giving it the opportunity to crowd out any other potential competing organisms. In the secondary fermentation, we’ll ensure that beneficial microbes – and not harmful ones like Escherichia coli orStaphylococcus aureus – dominate by excluding oxygen and putting high levels of salt in the mixture.
The creation of first koji and then miso is no harder than making tempeh, with the most difficult part of the process being patiently waiting for fermentation take place at room temperature. Note that by changing the type of koji grain (rice or barley or wheat), the ratio of koji to cooked soybeans, and the salt content, a multitude of different miso styles can be made. Please refer to the charts and tables in The Book of Miso to see how the various types of miso can be made.
The following recipe is for a relatively rapid fermenting mellow barley miso, which will require 2-3 months of secondary fermentation. When this is ready (the illustrated batch should be finished sometime in May or June) we’ll update the blog to show you the final product. This recipe will make about 1 gallon of miso. [MAY 31 UPDATE: we have now removed the miso from its crock and packed it for long-term storage. You can now see what the final steps and the finished product looks like.]
Step 1: Barley Koji
3 pounds (about 7 heaping cups) of pearled barley
½ teaspoon koji spore powder or 1 tablespoon homemade koji starter
¼ cup white or whole wheat flour
Place barley in a bowl, and cover with cold water. Mix with your hands, allowing the water to become chalky. Drain off water and repeat 3-4 times until the water remains clear. Cover deeply with cool water and let soak for 3 hours. Turn on your incubator and make it is set for 85° F.
Scrub two steamer trays with boiling water, and let dry in a sunny place. When the grains are done soaking, drain them in a colander. Half-fill a large pot with water, and bring to a boil. Place a clean cotton tea towel into the bottom of each steamer tray. Place half of the soaked barley into each tray, fold the overhanging part of each tea towel over the barley, and stack the steamer trays over the boiling water. Steam for 50 minutes; then swap the two trays, putting the bottom on top and the top on bottom. Making sure there is enough water in your pot, continue steaming for another 50 minutes. The barley will be fully steamed when the grains become somewhat transparent and slightly rubbery.
While the barley is finishing steaming, mix well the koji spore powder or starter into the flour. Also, place a muslin towel at least 3’ x 2’ into the bottom of the incubator.
When the barley is done steaming, transfer it onto the muslin towel in the incubator. Using a wooden spoon or paddle, spread it to a uniform depth. Insert a thermometer into the barley, and wait until the temperature drops to 110° F. Sprinkle ½ of the flour-koji mixture over the barley and mix thoroughly with the spoon / paddle, breaking up any lumps of barley. Don’t forget any bits of barley, as these will not turn into koji. After mixing for 2 minutes, sprinkle on the rest of the flour-koji mixture, and continue mixing for another 2 minutes, continuing to break up any lumps.
Mound the inoculated barley in the center of the incubator. Insert the thermometer, and wrap the mound with the edges of the muslin towel. Put the top on the incubator, and turn on. Check the incubator occasionally over the next 6-8 hours to make sure that the barley temperature stays between 75°-95° F.
After 24 hours, open the incubator and unwrap the barley mound. Flatten it out into an even thickness on the towel across the bottom of the incubator. If the grains seem like they are drying, you can mist them lightly with a bit of water using a spray bottle. Reinsert the thermometer, and re-wrap the top with the rest of the muslin. Put the incubator top back on.
Keep checking the temperature of the grain bundle to make sure that it stays below 95° F. At some point the Aspergillus will become visible and in 12 hours or so will becomes a white felt that will bind the grains together. As this happens, there will be enough fungus present in the bundle to begin to generate heat, and the temperature will begin to exceed 90° F. Once you see the first evidence of yellowing in the fungal growth (usually on the edges of the bundle) it is time to check to make sure the koji has penetrated at least 2/3 of the way into the grains. This can be done by breaking a few grains in half. Do not let the koji begin to turn green. If it does the smell will become musty and over-fermentation will have happened. You will not want to use this grain for miso!
Once you feel the koji is done (and this may take up to 48 hours from initial inoculation), remove it from the incubator and scrape the grains from the muslin towel onto a large metal tray. Let the koji drop to room temperature, and then put the pan into a refrigerator. When cool and dry (1-2 hours should be fine), place the koji into a sealable plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Making your own koji starter.
Koji spores cost from $4-$12 for 10-15 grams, or enough to make about 5-7 of the above batches of koji. While you can keep buying starter, it is very simple to make your own for future use. Remember to keep your utensils and work space very clean, and you should have no problems in maintaining a pure culture. We’re now using 3rd generation homemade koji spores, and it is making as good of koji as it did with the initial spore sample. Here’s how you do it:
When bagging the finished koji grain, retain 1-2 cups, place in a clean bowl, and return to the incubator. Let it continue fermenting for another 24 hours. The grains will eventually turn olive-green from ripe Aspergillus fruiting bodies. When all of the grains have turned deep olive green, remove the bowl from the incubator. When you brush against the grains a green dust will rise into the air. These are the ripe koji spores. The best way to keep them from floating away is to pour ½-1 cup of unbleached white flour over the top of the green grains: the flour dust has a static charge that will help grab onto the spores. Mix the flour and grain together with clean hands, and then pour this mixture into a plastic bag. Close the seal and then rub the grains vigorously into the flour. The flour will become pale olive green. When the flour color stops getting any greener (perhaps 3-4 minutes), empty the mixture into a clean sieve, and shake the flour-koji spore mixture through the sieve into a clean bowl, leaving the grains behind. Pour the koji-flour starter into a clean plastic bag and seal. Write the type of koji on the bag and the date. Then place in the freezer. The starter should keep for years.
Step 3: Making Miso
4 cups dry soybeans, preferably a human food-use strain like Shinonome
12½ cups barley koji
12.4 oz. (about 1¼ cups) sea salt or kosher salt
5 cups reserved bean cooking water
2 tablespoons seed miso (optional)
1 gallon ceramic crock
Wooden or non-reactive plastic cover for crock
Weight of at least 5 pounds (clean rock, brick, tub full of nails, etc.)
Wash beans and cover with cool water. Let soak for 3-4 hours or until the beans have swelled and tightly fill their hulls. Drain beans, and place in a heat-proof bowl that will fit into a pressure cooker. Fill pressure cooker with at least 3” of water. Place beans in pressure cooker and top off bowl with water. Seal cooker, heat to boiling, and bring to 15 pounds of pressure. Cook beans for 25 minutes, turn off heat, and let cool until pressure returns to normal. Take off pressure cooker lid, and carefully remove the bowl with the beans – it will be hot!
Drain the beans into a colander, saving the bean cooking water. Mash the beans with a potato masher or immersion blender. If you like a chunky miso, stop when about 1/3 of the beans remain whole; if you like it smoother you can continue mashing until all of the beans have been processed. Insert a thermometer into the mashed beans and let cool to 110° F.
Measure 5 cups bean cooking water, and use the thermometer to make sure this, too, is no more than 110° F. Mix into the bean water all but 2 tablespoons of the salt, and seed miso (if used). The seed miso is used to help initiate secondary fermentation by anaerobic, salt-tolerant microbes. It is not strictly necessary, as these organisms exist in the air, but adding in a bit of miso with these live cultures will ensure that they are present in large numbers and will shorten the amount of time needed in secondary fermentation.
Crumble the koji into a large, clean mixing bowl. Stir in the bean water/salt mixture. Now add in the mashed soybeans, and mix all together thoroughly first using a wooden spoon, and then with your clean hands. The finished mixture should have the same consistency as mature miso and be a thick, unpourable paste.
Moisten the inside of your crock, and rub all but 1 teaspoon of the remaining salt onto bottom and sides. Spoon in miso mixture, packing firmly to expel all air pockets. When all the miso is in the crock, smooth the surface, and sprinkle the top with the last 1 teaspoon of salt. Wrap the crock in a large plastic bag, and then place the cover on the crock.
Move the crock to the location that you will let it ferment, preferably somewhere in an unheated garage, storage room, workshop, or barn which receives no sunlight. Living spaces and basements are not optimal, as the temperature will not change much from winter to summer. Because the miso may weep salty water during fermentation, it may be a good idea to place the crock into some sort of basin. Place the lid on the crock. Because we live in the desert, and did not want our miso to dry out over the long fermentation time, after we shot the picture below we wrapped the crock, lid, and basin in another thick plastic bag. Last we placed a 5 pound weight on top of the lid to press it firmly into the miso.
Now you simply wait and let the secondary fermentation proceed at its own leisurely pace. The most rapidly fermenting misos – like sweet white miso, with secondary fermentation being completed within 4-6 weeks – have a high proportion of koji to soybeans and relatively low salt levels. Miso with lower proportions of koji and higher salt levels take much longer, with red Sendai miso taking 2-3 summers to ferment. All-soybean misos take the longest of all, with more than 3 summers being thought to create the best tasting product. You can check flavor and taste once every few months to see how the fermentation is progressing. To do this, remove lid and plastic bags, and using a clean spoon open a small hole 3-4 inches deep at the center and remove a sample. Compare the flavor to your favorite store-bought miso. If the flavor is too salty or the color too light, you’ll need to let it ferment longer. If the texture is too soft, you’ll need to increase the pressing weight and remove the liquid that comes to the surface. Don’t overdo your testing, as increased exposure to the air will encourage growth of molds and other contaminating organisms.
Miso ferments at ambient air temperatures, and thus undergoes periods of slow fermentation when the weather is cold (winter) followed by periods of rapid growth (summer). The age of miso is measured by the numbers of warm summers the fermentation has been exposed to: one year miso has only seen one summer, two year miso two summers, and etcetera. Because miso is generally started in the cold winter months (often at the end of winter in February or March), miso is usually six to -nine months younger than its listed age.
When the miso is mature and ready to be used don't be alarmed by its rather shocking appearance. Simply remove all the coverings and scrape off and throw away any surface mold or bacterial scum - which is not dangerous but will lower miso quality. Move the miso into a large bowl and thoroughly mix to equally distribute salt, liquid, and bean paste. Because we like smooth and not chunky miso, we pureed the fermented miso using an immersion blender. However, this is a strictly optional step. Once the miso was smooth we moved it into clean pint or quart jars which we will store in the refrigerator, where it should keep indefinitely.
Remember the fondness for home-made miso is so strong that it gave rise to the Japanese proverb temae miso (手前味噌) which translates literally into “the miso in front of you” and refers to someone who is raving about the greatness of their own home-made miso – or in other words is guilty of self-flattery.
First, you’ll need to find koji spores. These are available in sake-making kits at most home-brewing stores (see Northern Brewer online), or from GEM Cultures, which offers different koji strains depending upon the type of miso you want to make.
Second, you ’ll need an incubator that is used only for food fermentation projects. We use the same incubator for koji and tempeh making, and recommend the Little Giant still-air incubator from Miller Manufacturing of Eagen, Minnesota. These are generally available at farm and ranch supply stores. As we said in the tempeh entry, DO NOT USE THE SAME INCUBATOR THAT YOU"VE PREVIOUSLY HATCHED POULTRY IN!
Third, you’ll need a food thermometer to make sure that your various substrates have cooled enough before you mix in the living fermentation cultures.
Fourth, you’ll probably want a pressure cooker, as soybeans take hours to cook on the stove top, and may never fully hydrate when you live at high altitudes. A pressure cooker will enable you to have properly cooked beans within 1 to 1½ hours no matter where you live, and is well worth the extra cleanup.
Fifth, you’ll need a 1 to 1¼ gallon ceramic crock for the secondary fermentation. You do not want to use metal, as long-term exposure to the fermentation products will cause metal to leach into your miso and spoil its flavor. The same tends to happen with plastic containers. Ceramic containers are the most non-reactive and will give you the best-flavored miso. You may want to consider using the ceramic inserts from large crock-pots, as these can sometimes be found for a pittance without their heating elements in thrift stores.
Last, if you try this recipe, like it, and want to make more types of miso and in larger quantities, you really need to buy your own copy of The Book of Miso. While it is out of print, the SoyInfo Center provides information regarding a free electronic download. You should also be able to find a second hand copy for a few dollars.
Hunan Tofu Stirfry
Now it's time to make some really wonderful meals with our soyfoods. First, we'll make two dishes that emphasize home-made tofu. We'll start with a stir fry from the Hunan Province of southern China.
Hunanese cuisine is known for its generous use of chiles and another important soyfood: fermented black beans. Called "douchi" (豆豉), they are made by salting and fermenting black soybeans in a way that is very similar to the two-step fermentation process used in making of miso: First, black soybeans are cooked, drained, allowed to thoroughly dry, and inoculated with koji -- the Aspergillus oryzaefungus. They are then incubated until a fragrant felt of fungal hyphae binds the beans together. The soybeans are then put into a wooden vat where they are immersed in salt water containing ginger and other herbs or spices. A weighted lid is placed on the beans to exclude oxygen, and the mixture is allowed to undergo a secondary fermentation by anaerobic, salt-tolerant microbes for about 6 months. Finally, the fermented soybeans are drained and allowed to dry in sunlight.
Douchi is the earliest known fermented soyfood, and dates back to at least 200 BC. Like tofu and chiang, they were ultimately transported throughout eastern Asia. The 700 AD Taihō Ritsuryō by Japanese Emperor Monmu sets out regulations regarding the production, trade, and taxation of both fermented black beans and an ancestor to miso. The SoyInfo Center has recently published a free, downloadable electronic book that details the history of douchi, and you should give it a look.
The following recipe also makes use of deep fried tofu, which remains wonderfully chewy even after long-simmering in flavored sauces. These make a very satisfying substitute for meat. When served with cooked rice, the following recipe will make about 4 servings.
2 tablespoons dried black beans
6 dried shītake mushrooms
1 lb tofu
1 pint cooking oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Sichuan chile paste
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
¾ cup stock
1 lb broccoli florets
4 Japanese leeks, cut into 1” pieces
1 tsp cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon water
1 tsp sesame oil
Put mushrooms into a bowl and cover with hot water; let soak 30 minutes. Put beans into a bowl and cover with hot water; also let soak 30 minutes.
Drain mushrooms, and cut into thin strips. Drain beans, and mash beans with a fork.
Cut tofu into 2”x2”x½” thick squares, and then cut squares in half along the diagonal to make 2 triangles per block. Heat oil to 350° F, and then fry tofu triangles in batches, turning once, until golden brown – about 5 minutes. Remove from oil, drain, and dry on paper toweling.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok over high heat. When smoking, add in crushed black beans and stirfry for 30 seconds. Add in the garlic ad continue stir frying for another 30 seconds. Add in chile paste and continue stir frying for another 30 seconds. Add in wine, soy sauce and stock and bring to a boil. Add in broccoli, lower heat to medium, cover, and steam until the florets are bright green and slightly cooked, about 5 minutes. Add in tofu and Japanese leeks and simmer another 3 minutes. Add in cornstarch mixture, stir well, and cook until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Take off heat, dress with sesame oil, and serve.
You'll likely need to visit your local Asian market to obtain the fermented black beans, Sichuan chile paste, dark soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and sesame oil.
Inari (稲荷大神) is the Shinto kami (spirit) of rice, agriculture, fertility and, once money replaced rice as the principle commodity for wealth, general prosperity and worldly success as well. More than one-third of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari – a number totaling approximately 32,000.
The principle messenger who takes prayers to Inari are kitsune (狐or Japanese fox) spirits. The entrance to an Inari shrine is usually marked by kitsune statues wearing red bibs, because presenting a food offering to a kitsune messenger is believed to be one of the best ways to make sure that your prayer is delivered to Inari. Kitsune spirits are thought to be particularly fond of aburage (油揚げ), or fried tofu slices. In 1848 chef Jiro Kichi began making a new type of sushi in which he stuffed sumeshi balls into poached aburage pouches. Because kitsune are also fond of rice, and Inari is a rice spirit, these little treats were associated with Inari and her kitsune messengers, and began being called 'inari-zushi'.
Inari-zushi is perhaps our favorite form of sushi, and are a wonderful way to use your homemade tofu.
The following recipe will make somewhere between one and two dozen inari-zushi, depending upon the size of the fried tofu pouches.
2 lbs tofu
oil for deep frying
1½ cups water
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
½ batch sumeshi
Slice tofu into 3”x2”x¼” pieces or 3”x1½x1½ rectangles, and dry. Heat oil to 350º F. Fry tofu in 4-5 batches, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper toweling.
If using thin tofu pieces, simply cut the thin side in half along the long axis. If using the larger tofu pieces, make 4 cuts, each about ¼” from the edge and not quite all the way to the bottom and lift out the middle rectangular piece of tofu, creating a hollow fried tofu rectangle.
Combine water, sugar, soy, and mirin in a small pot, and bring to a simmer. Add in the fried tofu pouches / rectangles in batches and poach for 10 minutes. Remove tofu and drain in a colander. When all pouches have been poached, fill with sumeshi balls (see February 2014 recipe for instructions), and garnish with sesame seeds.
Serve at room temperature.
Potato and Tempeh Yellow Curry
One of the most useful aspects of tempeh is how easily it can substitute for mild flavored meat. Here we adapt a traditional Thai yellow curry by swapping out chicken for tempeh. The original dish is one of Thailand's favorite curries, and is notable for its savory curry flavor but lack of fierce chile heat. This recipe makes four generous servings when served with a bowl of jasmine rice.
¾ cup coconut cream
¼ cup yellow curry paste
1 lb tempeh, cut into 1” cubes
4 cups coconut milk
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 2” cubes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Henderson's relish
2 tablespoons palm sugar
Salt to taste.
In a large casserole, gently heat coconut cream until it comes to a boil. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it becomes fragrant and small oil spots begin to form on the cream surface. Add curry paste and blend. Cook for another 4 minutes. Add tempeh and stir to coat evenly with the curry sauce. Increase heat and add in coconut milk, potatoes, onion, Henderson's Relish, and palm sugar; stir well. Let come to a gentle boil and reduce heat. Simmer mixture until potatoes are tender. Adjust seasoning, including more Henderson's Relish if desired. Serve hot.
A few notes on ingredients are in order. First, you'll find coconut cream, coconut milk, and Thai yellow curry paste at any oriental market. You can make your own coconut cream and milk, and a number of directions exist explaining how, but frankly we've not found it worth the time and effort, especially when fresh coconuts are not readily available. So, we opt for buying these canned. Palm sugar is also available in eastern markets, but you can use light brown sugar as a replacement.
You can -- and should -- make your own yellow curry paste, as it is easy to make and will be so much more fresh and flavorful than any canned product. We're not sharing the recipe here, though, as this really fits into a more general discussion of Thai vegetarian food, and we promise to do that at some point when we'll show you how to make not only yellow but green and red curry pastes as well. For the moment, consider just buying this condiment pre-made and canned, or find a good recipe (we're particularly fond of the one described in Nancie McDermott's first cookbook, Real Thai).
Now about the Henderson's Relish. We needed to find some sort of savory replacement for fish sauce. Because of the similarity of this condiment to Roman garum, and thus to Worcestershire Sauce, we thought perhaps a good analog would be some type of vegan Worcestershire equivalent. By far and away the best is Henderson's Relish, which has been made in Sheffield, England for well over 100 years. It was perfect in this recipe. This sauce is barely marketed in the UK outside of Yorkshire, and not at all outside of the country. We became addicted to it when visiting fellow land snail ecologist Robert Cameron at the University of Sheffield, and we always bring back a bottle or two whenever we do. We actually are within a tablespoon of using up our last stash, and with no potential trips to Sheffield in the offing, we're going to buy a liter from the Yorkshire Pantry, who will ship to the USA. We'll likely do an entire month of blog posts revolving around Henderson's at some point.
Satay is a favorite street food in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and usually consists of skewered meat pieces drilled over a charcoal fire and served with various savory sauces. In this vegan version from Indonesia, however, tempeh is used. We're going to make a classic spicy peanut sauce to accompany the grilled, marinated tempeh cubes. The following recipe will serve 8 as an appetizer and perhaps four as a main course served with rice.
3 shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ tsp salt
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 tablespoon powdered galingal root
1/3 cup sweet Indonesian soy sauce (kechap manis)
1 lb tempeh, cut into 1” dice
3-4 Japanese leeks, cut into 1” pieces
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water
Combine shallots, garlic, lime juice, salt, sugar, galingal, and soy sauce in a blender or food processor and grind until smooth. Pour marinade evenly over tempeh cubes and let sit for at least 15 minutes.
Impale 2 tempeh cubes, then a piece of Japanese leek on a bamboo skewer, and repeat until the skewer is full. Repeat until all the tempeh and leek is used. (You'll probably note that there are no leeks interspersed among the tempeh cubes in the picture below. We ran out earlier on the in meal, and just went ahead without them. We wish we'd had them.)
Grill over hot coals – or under a broiler – for 7-10 minutes, turning 2-3 times, until the tempeh and onions brown. Serve hot with peanut sauce (below) or peanut nerimiso.
2 tablespoons canola oil
3-4 shallots, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup coconut milk
½ teaspoon sambal ulek or other hot chile paste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sweet Indonesian soy sauce (kechap manis)
salt to taste
Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onion and garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes. Place into blender or food processor and add in the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Return paste to the skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 3 minutes.
You'll need to visit an oriental market to find the palm sugar, powdered galingal root (sometimes called 'Laos Powder'), kechap manis, and sambal ulek. You can substitute brown sugar if you can't find palm sugar, and any non-sweet oriental chile sauce if you can't find sambal ulek. You probably should try and track down the galingal root powder and kechap manis if you'd like this to be authentically Indonesian, as there are no good substitutes. If your local market does not carry these, there are on-line Indonesian markets that will ship ingredients. In a pinch you could try using ground ginger for the galingal and a 1:1 mix of soy sauce and molasses for the kechap, but the resulting satay -- while tasty -- won't be quite right.
Miso Soup & Green Beans with Miso Dressing
We finish our exploration of soyfoods with two simple Japanese recipes using miso. First we'll make a tasty vegan version of the iconic miso soup that almost everyone in Japan eats at least once a day. In it we'll not only use our home-made miso but our home-made tofu as well. This soup is infinately variable and can be changed to fit whatever fresh, seasonal ingredients you may have on hand -- remember that there are Japanese cookbooks that provide recipes for a different miso soup for every day of the year. Be adventureous!
Shitake and Tofu Miso Soup
6 dry shitake mushrooms
4 oz home-made tofu
4 cups shitake dashi
1/3 cup miso
¼ cup slivered Japanese leeks
1 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste
Soak shitake in hot water for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and reserve water for shitake dashi; slice shitake into 1/8” wide slices. Cut tofu into ¾” cubes. Makeshitake dashi.
Bring dashi to a simmer. Add in sliced shitake and tofu. Reduce heat so that it is at a low simmer and mix in the miso. Make sure that the broth does not boil. Add in the slivered leeks and sesame oil. Serve hot.
Last, here's a very simple green-bean sunomono that takes only a minute or two to assemble.
Green Beans with Vinegared Miso Dressing
3 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb green beans
Mix together miso, vinegar, sugar, and garlic in a small saucepan and gently heat while stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the garlic well mixed into the sauce. Blanch or steam the green beans until bright green but still crisp. Cool under running water, drain, and dress with the miso sauce. Serve at room temperature.