tofu part 1.

On a recent trip to Nepal, I was obsessed with eating fresh homemade tofu from a tiny Japanese restaurant near our hotel. The owner of the restaurant was a Japanese woman who had been living in Nepal for many years. I had never eaten anything quite like it. We ate it both fresh and lightly fried with a spicy gingery peppery dipping sauce. The owner found it funny that we came every night to eat the same thing, but some times when you are traveling and shooting, exhaustion takes over and what is simple is best. She didn’t mind me pestering her about how she made it and after a slew of questions and some broken English, and lots of smiles I vowed to add it to my repertoire. Once home, time slipped away quickly, I forgot about the tofu until a conversation one day with Chef Camille Beccera and prop stylist/ and amazing girl about town April Flores. Camille told us that after culinary school in her early twenties, a friend told her abut a cooking position in A Zen monastery in Southern California. Being from the East Coast, she jumped at the chance to go. At the monastery, where she was just one of two girls, she both studied and cooked. She made huge batches of fresh tofu every week.  Thus, this tofu making collaboration was born.

It took us a while to get around to it but when we finally did we had a great time and I saw how incredibly easy it is.

Fresh tofu is nothing like what you buy in the stores. It is light and a little sweet with a delicate flavor of the soybeans. Commercial tofu is much more dense and not at all as subtle in flavor. Fresh tofu is best eaten the same day you make it or within a day or two of making.

Once we established that we were going to make tofu we set about thinking of a few other recipes. (more to come)

Everything we made was a bi-product of the tofu making process.

Making tofu is a lot like making a simple cheese, the process is similar to making fresh ricotta.

Thank you April and Camille for an awesome day!

Below are Camille’s notes. From our day of tofu!




1-½ cups of high-grade soybeans

14 cups total spring or filtered water, room temperature

1-½ teaspoons dry nigari



Large heavy bottomed pot


Large strainer or colander

-Soak soybeans in 5 cups water for at least 12 hours. 

-Heat 6 cups of water in a heavy bottom pot.   In a blender, puree beans and their soaking liquid in 3 batches for 2 minutes each time, you may risk burning out your blender if you puree it all in one shot.   Add the puree in batches to the hot water and mix thoroughly after each time.  Allow to come up to an almost boil on a medium-low setting.  Stir frequently to avoid soybean pulp sticking to the bottom and scorching.  Keep your eyes on the mixture making sure it doesn’t boil over.  Remove from heat, cover and leave to cool for ½ hour.

-Make sure mixture is cooled enough to handle then strain using a muslin lined strainer or colander.  Grab corners of the muslin and twist to press out all the soymilk.  The leftover parched pulp is called okara and in Japan it is often times cooked with vegetables.  Clean muslin out of all the pulp well, we will be using it again.

-Rinse pot out well and add the drained soymilk to it.  Warm gently on low till the temperature reaches 175 degrees this process will take about an hour.  The skin that forms as the soymilk slowly reaches desired temperature is called yuba.   Yuba is a favorite amongst the Japanese.  Using chopsticks gently pull out the yuba and roll it on a plate, it’s classically served with soy sauce and a bit of wasabi.

-Dilute nigari into 1 cup of water.  Stir the milk in a zigzag motion a few times and while the soymilk is still moving add half of the nigari solution allowing the existing motion to transport the nigari throughout, do not stir after you add nigari.   Wait 2 minutes then gently add the remaining nigari solution around the perimeter and over the top.   Cover and let sit for 15 minutes to coagulate.  You should see the whey, a clear liquid when you gently move the curd from the side of the pot.  If not make a 1/4 batch of the nigari solution, bring milk back to 175 degrees on very, very low heat and sprinkle throughout the sides and top, do not stir, remove heat.

-Once your soymilk has coagulated line a tofu box with the clean muslin.  Set box in the sink or over a bowl.  Transfer the curds and whey into the box, do so with a large ladle so as not to break up too much of the curd.  Wrap excess muslin over top, place top part of box over muslin and use a one-pound weight to press for 30 minutes.

-Remove tofu after 30 minutes from the press and muslin.  Submerge tofu block in water for at least ½ hour and for up to two days.

beans. before and after soaking.

beans. before and after soaking.

 heating the pureed soy bean and water mixture. 

 heating the pureed soy bean and water mixture. 

straining the puree

straining the puree

 squeeze all the soy milk from the solids. 

What is left over is called okara. you can stir fry it with vegetables.

What is left over is called okara. you can stir fry it with vegetables.

reheated soy milk and nigari. should start to separate and look like this before you pour it in the tofu mold

reheated soy milk and nigari. should start to separate and look like this before you pour it in the tofu mold

pour the soy milk into the mold over the sink. once most of the excess liquid has drained, place a weight on the mold to press remaining liquids

pour the soy milk into the mold over the sink. once most of the excess liquid has drained, place a weight on the mold to press remaining liquids

finished tofu ready to eat.

finished tofu ready to eat.

use this for the following fried tofu recipe 



1-pound tofu

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ cup neutral oil (canola, grape seed, etc.)

Cut tofu into 1-½ inch cubes.

Warm oil in a small to medium frying pan, make sure it doesn’t get so hot it begins to smoke.

In batches dredge tofu in cornstarch and fry till very light golden on all sides.  Adjust fire so it cooks evenly throughout.

Transfer onto a paper towel.

Serve with chili oil and soy sauce. 

japanses pickles.

Lush spring and summer produce is currently feeding my pickle obsession. I am dreaming pickles these days.

Lately I have been into exploring Japanese pickling techniques.

I have been delving into the recipes in Nancy Singlton Hachisu's book Japanese Farmhouse Food. Below are a few images from the current issue of Kinfolk Magazine

recipes to come.

Ceramics by the insanely talented Jessica Niello.

Knife available at  QUITOKEETO 

where the wild things are. salted and pickled cherry blossoms

The bright weather this past week, though a bit cold, has really making me think spring! Pretty soon the West Village will be flush with blossoming Magnolias and Quince and Cheery blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of the year in New York and always reminds me of home. 

For me the seasons have always been marked by the comings and goings of botanicals. It is a little harder to notice these changes in New York unless you have a back yard or a country escape. To get your fix, you can visit the Green Market or make time to visit the Botanical Garden, which is just spectacular in the early spring and summer. You can also set out to explore one of New York's beautiful tree lines streets like many in the West Village or Brooklyn.

Recently, I needed salted cherry blossoms for a shoot and when the Internet came up empty (you can order them fro Japan but it would have taken too long) I have to admit I had never heard of them! I turned to Heidi Johansen from Bellocq Tea Atelier. I knew that if any one had a stash of salted blossoms it would be her!! Heidi is kind of magical and she produced these mysterious salty pink flowers of nowhere!

Now that the season is upon us, I have decided to create my own stash.

Sakura tea, or salted cherry blossom tea is often served at weddings or other auspicious events in Japan. It has a delicate salty and sweet flavor. It is fragrant and woody. The saltiness obviously comes from the salt but the sweetness is imparted through the flowers natural flavor and additional soaking in Plum vinegar.

Salted Cherry Blossoms 

2 cups of fresh cherry blossoms.

IF you have a  cherry tree in your yard you can pick from there or you may be able to pick up some branches from your local farmers market but be sure to ask if they are natural and pesticide free. You will want to pick them before they are full bloom when they are buds to a little more than half bloom. 

6 tablespoons of Japanese pickling salt

6 tablespoons of Plum vinegar

Wash the blossoms and set on a paper towel or kitchen cloth to dry. Gently pat until all the water is removed from the blossoms.

Place in a pickling croc or a shallow terra cotta croc.

Place a plate or a lid on top of the flowers. You will want this lid to fit nicely in your vessel. (I used a plate)   Then weigh it down with a weight of some sort. I used a river stone. You can buy a fermentation croc or you can use a vessel that you already have and weigh it down with a homemade weight.

Leave it in the fridge for two days. The salt and the pressure of the weight will force any liquid from the blossoms. 

After two days remove them from the fridge and drain off any excess liquid. My blossoms did not express much liquid.

 After draining any excess liquid. Place the blossoms in a glass bowl and add the Plum vinegar.

 Cover  and Refrigerate for another three days.

After three days strain the flowers through a sieve to remove any vinegar. Spread them out on a baking sheet covered in parchment.

Sprinkle thoroughly with pickling salt and set on your counter in the sun to dry or outside in a protected spot.

Allow drying for two or three days.

When the flowers are completely dry they are done. they will discolor a bit.

Store in a glass jar and cover tightly. They are preserved will last indefinitely.

Finally you can enjoy a cup of Sakura tea!

Boil some water and drop three or four petals in your teapot.

Don't be shocked! It is salty! It is an acquired taste!

Sakura Rice.

Rinse a handful of blossoms to remove excess salt.

Add to your rice in a rice cooker or on the stove. The blossoms will impart a lovely pink color to your rice.

 Here are some more ideas on what to do with salted cherry blossoms.

Below is a recipe from T Magazine

Salted Cherry Blossoms Adapted From Uni Sashimi Bar

2 cups rice vinegar¼ cup sugar½ teaspoon kosher salt1-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed1 umeboshi plum (available at Japanese markets or health-food stores)½ teaspoon grenadine syrup8 ounces cherry blossoms, or other edible blossoms.

1. Combine all ingredients except the cherry blossoms in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

2. Put the cherry blossoms in a heat-resistant container and pour the just-boiled liquid over them; stir gently to submerge the flowers completely in the liquid. Cool, cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator for at least three days before serving. The pickled blossoms will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Some other ideas..

Chop afew of the blossoms up extra finely and use as a special salt.

I am also thinking Salted Cherry Blossom shortbread?

Need to experiment with this one. 

This beautiful tea pot and cups from Jessica Niello at The Perish Trust

take a moment

Yesterday, of his own volition my son and his friend set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the earthquake victims of Japan. They made forty dollars. Now they are in the process of figuring out what organization to send it to. It was a very compassionate thing to do. I feel as though there has been so much trauma in their young lives, between 9/11, and cylclones and earthquakes and war. I worry about them. I travel quite a bit and this quake hit home especially hard for them as I was only ten days ago, speeding through the country side of Northern Japan on the bullet train. The terrain was peaceful and bucolic dotted with the occasional farmhouse with brilliant blue roofs. I keep going to the videos of the tsunami and watching as the water slowly consumes the landscape, swallowing those very same farmhouses.

It is important to take a moment to feel compassion for those across the sea. The tides can change at anytime. The world is not such a big place after all. Take a cue from two twelve year old boys and their lemonade stand. Even the smallest of gestures have heart and can make a difference.

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