Friday, July 18, 2008

Making Tofu in an African Village

There is a woman who sells "soya" to us here in Ghana. We call them spicy tofu kebabs. She has been coming to our house to sell soya for a while now. I realized that I will miss her kebabs one day, so I asked her to show me how to make it myself. Although I don't have all the steps learned yet, I thought I would show you our family field trip to learn the art of making tofu - Ghana style.

(captions underneath each photo will explain the steps)

Here's the woman (with my daughter, Francesca, on her back) taking her soybeans, which have been soaking for 3 hours, out of one container and putting them in another.

She cleans, sorts, and drains them all at the same time this way.

Here we are walking to the grinder about 15 minutes away.

She carries them on her head to the grinder

(daughter on my back and son in the foreground to the left - photo taken by my husband).

The grinder with his machine. Up to the left you see the wires he touches together to start and stop the motor.

While the soybeans are getting ground, he adds water to make it go through easier. This is the first pass through. By the time it's finished it will have gone through about four times. She says this greatly depends on the grinder. Sometimes it only takes one time through.

The final product of the grinding process. The soybeans are now like a thick paste with added water.

Back at her house again, she has put them into her very large bowl. You can see better the consistency of the ground beans.

She stirs the ground soybeans with her hand as she adds water.

She fills it to the brim with water. The final amount shown here.

Close up (looks like a foamy "ocean," as my son put it).

One of her kettles she will use to squeeze out the milk from the bowl. She will eventually get two kettles full from this amount of soybeans.

She fills a large cotton sack with the ground soybean and water mixture, scooping it from the large bowl into the sack, on the edge of her kettle.

This next step proved to me how strong this woman is - here she squeezes the milk from the mixture through the fabric to get all the milk out.

She squeezes and squeezes, twists and squeezes some more...

...and when she can't get anymore from the soybean and water mix bowl, then she adds more water from another bowl to get even more out. I think I now know what the phrase "milking it for all it's worth" means now!

Her setup inside her house during this step. Front center is her original bowl of soybean and water mixture. She is squeezing the milk into her cooking kettle. The black bowl beside her holds more water to get more out of the sack. The smaller bowl diagonally opposite to her kettle is holding the dry pulp (okara) that is left after this step.

This step is time consuming. I liked getting photos of her hands at work.

Her kettle on the fire. She has a tripod type setup for support.

Another view.

She uses Epsom salts for the coagulant.

Mixing the coagulant with water.

Since putting the kettle on the fire, the milk has been cooking. During this entire time, we were asking questions and taking photos (I took over 100 total). Our children were playing in the courtyard that she shares with other close neighbors. My daughter here exploring. If you look closely, you can see in the background that she has a small version of her large kettle on a square brazier or cooker (uses charcoal). She has separated some milk out to make soy milk with it. All of this larger kettle and another will go into making the soybean curd (tofu). She makes this everyday for her family this way. She let us taste it - warm and sweetened with a little sugar - very delicious, like hot cocoa without the chocolate.

Her kettle has been cooking away for a while. Now it it is starting to foam up. This is what it looks like right before she adds the coagulant and water mixture.

She pours in the coagulant.

Another view.

One of the kettles that "settled down" after this step.

After about a minute on the fire after she adds the coagulant, a neighbor will help her take it off the fire. They use cloth threaded through the small handles and then carry it off careful not to touch the hot kettle.

Here the "meat" as she called it, rising to the top and the liquid is underneath. You can see it has pulled away from the sides of the kettle.

She scooped out one side to show how it looks (curds and whey).

Here are both kettles with another bowl waiting to help with the next step.

She scoops out some of the liquid to move it out of the way. She is putting it into the white bucket (pail) to the left in the photo.

The setup for this step. Similar to the squeezing out the milk earlier, she now is pressing the curds in another large cotton flour sack. This time it is for the final pressing of the tofu. She scoops from one kettle and then the other to combine them in her sack.

Auntie Akua hard at work.

Scooping some of the liquid from the bowl that has come through the sack.

She twists it closed.

She lets it rest a minute. It is very hot and steaming.

She is almost finished!

She presses more liquid out with a bowl so she won't burn her hands. That's a lot of tofu!

She positions it on her homemade press. The press is 2 cement blocks in the ground with a plastic tarp-like sack underneath the tofu. The tofu in a flour sack...

...a flat piece of wood on top to even out the weights she will place on top.

Placing two large stones on the flat piece of wood...

...and another to complete it.

The tofu will be pressed this way for two hours. From the start of the soak time for the soybeans until now it has been about 6 to 6 1/2 hours total.

Here my daughter plays with her youngest daughter in the courtyard.

Her family (with my daughter) with 4 of her 5 children in the doorway of her home. She provides for them as a single mother. Making tofu is what she does for a living.

I took all of the photos except the ones I'm in. My husband took this photo of us together. I felt a little like a journalist that day. Camera, pen and paper in hand taking notes. We really enjoyed it. She was very patient with us.

Later she brought me some of the finished tofu. I took photos of it for you to see the final outcome of her hard work. It is very firm and dense. Perfect for using in kebabs on the grill.

This is a photo of the "soya" as we buy it from her, ready made.

The steps you don't see are the preparation of the kebabs. She freezes the tofu, cubes it, then fries it in oil. She then skewers it and adds her seasoning. The seasoning consists of peanut powder (groundnut) from which the oil has been removed, roasted corn (maize) flour, and chili pepper and other seasonings from northern Ghana she tells us. She also adds small pieces of red onion between each piece of tofu. They are very good and spicy.

I hope you enjoyed the little tour. Makes me more thankful for those kebabs! =)

For great kitchen tips, visit Tammy's Recipes. Don't forget to vote in the newest poll.


Christina said...

Wonderful photo essay. Really make one realize how much effort some have to put forth for what we take for granted in the supermarket. I am sure it would taste better, with all the personal attention.

the7gerbers said...

Thanks, Loretta. This was a great post. I'm thinking of how hard Autie Akua works for her living and to support those 5 children. Bless her!!

in OH :-)

texasleslie said...

WOW! I took a trip to Ghana while waiting for pictures to load on my computer from a photo shoot tonite!.....WONDERFUL, colorful journey into this woman's life and livelihood.
Pics are great!
enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Impressive.

Dana said...

Such a beautiful trip into tofu making in Ghana! I am inspired to make my own now, instead of relying on the blocks from the local health food store.
Please share more of your photos with us, I feel like I was there!

Donna said...

Great post! Thank you so much for sharing this with us...on the other side of the planet!!!

I would love to know how they preserve their fruits and veggies...what is eat in off seasons?

I loved this post...DH ran me off the computer yesterday, so I came back to look again today!:-)

Mama Ant said...

What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing!

Anita said...

I so enjoyed this photo essay! I spent 7 summers in Ghana, this made me smile as I remembered good days there just watching and learning. Thank you for sharing this!