DIY Soy-Free Tofu: Yes, You Can Make Tofu From Any Bean You’d Like

Homemade chickpea tofu. (Kate Williams)

Unless you spend a lot of time eating Burmese food or reading alternative wellness food blogs, you have likely not heard of any type of tofu other than the traditional soy-based stuff. That’s not necessarily a problem; soy tofu can be quite delicious, especially when you’re making it yourself. But there are other tofus out there in the universe: Shan tofu, a Burmese preparation, made from chickpea flour; hemp tofu, which Vi Zahajszky made for this food blog back in 2012; peanut tofu, made in a similar manner to soy tofu; and a world of other tofu-like concoctions made from any bean you can think of.

Cooks have different reasons for making tofu from beans other than soy. Some are concerned about GMOs, others have soy allergies, while still others just like the flavor of a different type of bean. Personally, I’m in the “I want to explore new flavors” camp.

In this exploration, I’ve learned that you can’t just pull another dried bean out of your pantry and follow soy tofu directions. Soybeans are actually quite unique, and it is their particular protein and fat proportions that allow their milk to be curdled and separated just like cheese. According to some internet sources, peanuts behave similarly to soybeans and, with the help of a couple of extra ingredients, can be treated the same way. (Unfortunately for all of you reading this, I am allergic to peanuts, so I’ll leave you to experiment with them and report back in the comments.) Other beans need an almost entirely different approach.

The most common recipe for soy-free tofu is chickpea flour-based Shan tofu. Chickpea flour is simply finely ground dried chickpeas, and, thanks to its use in gluten-free baking, it is now fairly easy to find in grocery stores. However, I set out to make this recipe adaptable for any dried bean in your pantry and it is not very easy to find flours made from cannellini or pinto beans. (I’m also assuming that most of you do not own a grain mill with which you could grind your own dried beans into flour.) Instead, I decided to harness the power of starch, along with my bean milks of choice, to make my soy-free tofu.

And yes, before the definition police come calling, I do know that, traditionally, “tofu” is only made from bean curd. However, there already exists a range of tofu-like products made with other ingredients that are referred to as tofus, so I will do the same. You can make up your own new name if you’d prefer.

First, soak your bean of choice in cool water overnight.
First, soak your bean of choice in cool water overnight. (Kate Williams)

To get started, soak your bean of choice in cool water overnight. I prefer using yellow- or white-colored beans, such as chickpeas or cannellini beans, because they make for a prettier end product. If you prefer black or pinto beans and don’t mind their dark colors, I say go for it.

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The next day, drain and rinse the soaked beans and blend them up with 2 cups of water. Get this mixture as smooth as possible — you’re trying to get all of the protein and starch out of those dried beans. If you’ve been paying attention, this process is almost the same, so far, as soy tofu. However, the volume of milk is smaller; this is because we will not be curdling and separating out the milk, giving us a higher yield per given volume of beans.

Squeeze out as much milk and starch from the ground bean pulp as possible.
Squeeze out as much milk and starch from the ground bean pulp as possible. (Kate Williams)

Now strain the milk through a towel-lined strainer into a large bowl. Twist and squeeze the towel to get as much of the milk (and starch) out from the bean pulp as possible. Discard or compost the bean pulp; it is still raw and likely not very tasty!

Next, pour the milk into a pot along with a teaspoon of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook the milk for 15 minutes. This cooking process will take away any raw bean flavor and will make the final tofu digestible and delicious. Depending on your bean of choice, you will notice that the milk will have started to thicken by this point. Chickpeas, for example, have quite a bit of starch in them, and their milk will turn to a thick custard on its own. In fact, some recipes say that you can cook chickpea milk to a tofu-like thickness all on its own; unfortunately, I did not have any success with this method.

To get the milk from custard to sliceable tofu, you will need to add more starch. I like to use cornstarch since it is cheap and always on hand in my house. If you prefer not to use cornstarch, other recipes call for tapioca, potato starch or (you may have guessed it) additional chickpea flour. Experiment as you’d like!

Stir the thickened bean milk until it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot.
Stir the thickened bean milk until it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. (Kate Williams)

In order to keep lumps from forming in the cornstarch, you’ll want to make a slurry/paste concoction. Pour out around a cup of the bean milk into a bowl and sift in the starch. Whisk it well, and then add the slurry back into the main pot of milk. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes super thick and pulls away from the sides of the pot. If the milk doesn’t thicken up within a minute, sift more cornstarch into the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it does. You’ll know it when you see it.

Finally, transfer the thickened tofu mixture to a loaf pan and let it cool. The tofu will continue to thicken and set as it reaches room temperature. Once it is cooled, you can flip it out onto a cutting board and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Depending on the bean you’ve used, the tofu will have a slightly different texture. Cannellini tofu is more jelly-like than chickpea tofu, for example, and they’ll all be less firm than traditional soy tofu. If you’d like to cook them, I’d highly recommend using a non-stick skillet and a gentle hand. Or, do as I’ve been doing, and pop a few cubes into your mouth straight from the fridge as a protein-packed afternoon snack.

Homemade cannellini and chickpea tofus.
Homemade cannellini and chickpea tofus. (Kate Williams)

Recipe: Homemade Soy-Free Tofu

Makes about 1 pound

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Note: Unlike traditional soy tofu, which is made by separating soy milk into curds and whey, “alterna-tofus” are set by cooking down their milk and an additional starch. All beans contain some starch, but this is not enough to fully set the tofu on its own. Because every type of bean has a slightly different starch content, I’ve written this recipe to use a flexible amount of cornstarch. You may need to experiment a bit to find your perfect proportions. In this recipe I prefer to use light-colored beans, such as chickpeas or cannellini beans, instead of brown or black beans, because the final result is simply prettier.

    Ingredients:
  • ½ cup dried beans, such as chickpeas or cannellini beans
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup cornstarch, plus more as needed
    Instructions:
  1. The night before making the tofu, place the dried beans in a large bowl and cover them with at least 2 inches of cold water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer the beans to a blender and cover with the water. Blend until very smooth, about 1 minute. You should no longer be able to see any little bits of bean and the mixture should be slightly foamy.
  3. Place a strainer over a large bowl or pot. Line the strainer with a thin kitchen towel or a triple layer of cheesecloth. Pour the bean milk slurry into the towel-lined strainer, letting the milk drain through.
  4. Bring the edges of the towel together to form a sack and twist to squeeze out more of the milk. Try to get out as much of the milk as possible. Compost the bean pulp. (Unlike with soybean tofu, this pulp is still basically raw, so it likely will not taste great.)
  5. Pour the strained bean milk into a medium saucepan, add the salt, and place the pot over medium heat. Bring the milk to a low simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  6. Reduce the heat as low as it will go. Ladle out about a cup of the milk out into a large bowl. Sift the cornstarch over the milk in the bowl and whisk it in until smooth. Pour the cornstarch-milk mixture into the pot with the remaining milk and whisk until smooth. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the bean mixture turns extremely thick and pulls away from the sides of the pot, 30 seconds to 1 minute. If the mixture does not thicken up, sift in additional cornstarch, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.
  7. Transfer the tofu mixture to a loaf pan measuring about 9 by 5 inches (smaller loaf pans will work as well; your tofu will be thicker) and smooth the top as best you can. Let the tofu cool completely.
  8. Flip the cooled tofu out onto a cutting board (it should slide right out) and cut into squares. You can store the tofu for up to 1 week before eating.

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