As a child growing up, I’d never heard of people who chose not to eat meat or drink milk or those who couldn’t take them because of health concerns. It was unheard of to see a person who didn’t want anything to do with animal products. So, it was more strange when I saw people on TV eating what they referred to as meat substitutes.
Come the 21st Century and being vegan or vegetarian is a whole world of its own offering really amazing foods that I would never have thought to combine! It has brought a new perspective on cooking and I enjoy showing people that eating vegetarian and at times vegan can be a culinary experience. That mentioned, I should point out that even though I greatly enjoy vegan and vegetarian meals, I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. I love my occasional Nyama Choma (charcoal roasted goat meat) and my spicy mutura (Kenya’s traditional sausage) once in a while.
My first interaction with tofu was at my local supermarket. This funny looking white substance that I’d heard was an Asian delicacy roused my curiosity but I didn’t have the guts to buy one. I didn’t know how to handle it, let alone cook it! My second interaction with tofu was at a friend’s place and they were making tofu for dinner with some fried eggplants and I got the courage to make some on my own.
So, on valentines day, I decided to surprise my husband to a three course candle light dinner! His first experience with tofu in an Asian restaurant in New York was the worst he’d ever had and I was lucky not to have such a high standard of tofu expectation to work with. After a bit of research and a lot of time in the kitchen, we had an amazing valentines dinner!
What is tofu?
The soybean plant was first used in Asia where tofu is known to have originated from. The plant was later introduced to America where it was grown for the purpose of making animal feeds but over time, they borrowed the Asian technique of making tofu and used the beans to make tofu. The spread of tofu in Asia is linked to the spread of Buddhism and their culture of eating plant-based foods across China and Japan. It was (and still is) a delicacy in most parts of Asia.
The young soybeans in a pod are called edamame and are also used in meals. Edamame is generally sweeter than mature soybean. They are locally available in the vegetable sections of some supermarkets. You can also use soy milk as a milk substitute for recipes that required dairy milk.
Tofu is basically curd made from soy (soya) beans. It’s made by crushing soaked soybeans to make soy milk. The soy milk is coagulated to form curd which is separated from the soy pulp (okara). The coagulated soy milk is then placed in cheese cloths/muslin bags and forms tofu after a certain period of time. The ‘pulp’ is used to make okara balls, the vegan version of meatballs.
There are two distinct types of tofu, firm tofu and soft tofu. The firm one has some level of moisture and a variation of the firm tofu is the extra firm tofu that barely has any moisture (we locally know it as soya meat which is sold in almost all supermarkets). The soft tofu also has two variations, a very soft tofu that is usually used in pastries and can’t be picked my a chopstick and the slightly firm tofu that is used to make scrambled eggs (tofu version). If you’re a DIY kinda person, you could make some for yourself at home. There are a number of online resources that can teach you how to do it.
In Nairobi, I’ve found tofu in a number of Supermarkets around Hurlingham and Westlands. They range from Kshs. 80 to Kshs. 200 per piece depending on where you buy them from and how much they weigh. They are also packaged differently depending on where you buy them from and most are stored in water jars. I’d carried an empty container when I bought tofu the first time because I didn’t want water leaking into my shopping bag.
Update: They are now packed in containers after you select the piece you’d like to have.
You can find Nagari (used in making Tofu, in the local Chinese shops located around Hurlingham.
Check out the next post on how to transform tofu from a white bar of curd to an amazing meal.
This post was first written on March 14, 2018