As someone who eats a predominantly plant-based diet, you can imagine that I’ve enjoyed a long history of consuming soy-based foods. When I became a vegetarian at 16 and vegan thereafter, there wasn’t the variety of plant-based protein foods readily available as there are these days, nor was I educated about alternatives to meat back then. Soy became my answer and my replacement for everything from dairy to eggs to chicken nuggets (eew). Before I knew it, I was eating some form of soy up to three or four times a day, when things started to get weird. Without going into too much detail I’ll just say that my PMS and menstrual issues became incredibly, ahem, challenging. I didn’t even like being around me. Period.
Once I started studying holistic nutrition, I began to think that perhaps my issues lay in the hands of the health food industry’s little darling. Yes, soy. Seeing as I was really grooving on being a human guinea pig while studying, I decided to give up the soy for other foods, such as hemp, chia, nuts, seeds, leafy green, other legumes just to see what would happen. Call it a coincidence, but after a couple months, my symptoms started to clear up and I returned to my regular, only slightly neurotic self, every 28 days. Did I miss tofu? Actually, yes. And I still do from time to time, which is why I’m pretty darn excited to share this recipe with you today. A recipe for tofu, made from chickpeas.
But first, let’s discuss soy. I’ve gotten a lot of emails and inquiries from many of you regarding this topic, because soy and soy foods are drowning in controversy these days. What is all the fuss about? Well, there are two schools of thought: one being that soy is a highly valuable source of plant-based protein because it is complete (meaning that it contains all essential amino acids). The other school of thought is that soy is “bad”, or even harmful for you if it is not fermented.
This brings up a good point, and it’s great to hear that more people are turning toward fermented foods, especially legumes and grains. But the idea that unfermented soy is downright dangerous to eat is blowing things a little out of proportion if you ask me. If we are going down that road, then we also have to say that all legumes, grains, nuts and seeds are harmful if not fermented. The process of fermentation neutralizes some of the naturally occurring phytic acid (a compound that binds to minerals in the digestive tract making them difficult to absorb), while breaking down some the hard-to-digest proteins. Soy actually contains less phytic acid than some of its vegetable counterparts, like flax, sesame, Brazil nuts, and pinto beans. This is why soaking legumes, grains, nuts and seeds before eating them is important for better digestion, nutrient assimilation, and therefore overall health. That is a statement I can get behind.
Fermented soy foods include tempeh, miso, and naturally brewed soy sauces, like tamari. I for one have been eating fermented soy foods exclusively for the past few years just because I feel better eating that way. I also choose non-GMO and organic soy because I support those agricultural practices.
In conclusion, I will say that eating any food in balance is okay, as long as it is minimally processed. That definitely excludes tofu chicken nuggets, soy cheese, soy eggs, and even most soymilk (always check the ingredient list – some brands are good and some contain a laundry list of un-pronounceables). My rule of thumb with any food, is that if you can’t make it at home, don’t eat it. Although tofu and tempeh are bit of an ordeal to make yourself, I’ve done it and it is possible. Tofu chicken nuggets? Good luck with that one.
Okay, onto the Chickpea Tofu! Although this stuff is pretty genius, I am not the genius who came up with it. It’s a traditional food originally from Burma, and often referred to as Burmese tofu or Shan tofu (here’s the original recipe I followed). It is easy to make with just a few basic ingredients and is a tasty, soy-free alternative to regular tofu that I think will be on the regular rotation in my kitchen.
I think the really surprising thing about Chickpea Tofu is its texture. It is lusciously creamy and silky, not unlike silken tofu in fact. It is delicate yet firm, and kind of melts in your mouth. I’ve found it works really well fresh in salads (a traditional way of serving it), and in soups. This way you can really enjoy its unique consistency. I liked the it in a simple miso-ginger broth with a few rice noodles swirling around too. I’ve even seen recipes online for “egg salad” sandwiches and coconut curries. Yum!
The downside of Chickpea Tofu is that it doesn’t do all the things that tofu can do. It doesn’t fry very well (deep fried however, I’m sure would be ah-mazing), nor can you really bake it to crisp up as I had hoped. But, I am pretty new at this game and looking forward to trying out more recipes with it. If anyone out there really knows how else to work with Chickpea Tofu, please clue me in down below in the comments section! I am so curious to learn more.
Some thoughts on the recipe…
You can purchase chickpea flour at most health food stores, but it is also available (and tends to be much cheaper) at ethnic grocery stores. Chickpea four is also called garbanzo bean flour, gram flour, and cici flour. It also falls under the name besan, an Indian flour made from both chickpeas and yellow split peas. This will work just fine for the recipe.
I think making a half batch of this would be a good idea. This made so much tofu that I had to freeze the majority of it, and I have no idea what it will be like after thawing.
I used turmeric in my recipe, which is a traditional ingredient for colour. This is optional but gives the tofu a lovely golden hue. I also added garlic powder – a decidedly untraditional ingredient but I am really happy that I did because it gave the tofu a mellow garlicky flavour, which I love. This is also optional.
Genius Chickpea Tofu
Makes more tofu than you could ever eat
3 cups / 350g chickpea flour (or besan, a yellow split pea + chickpea flour combo)
15 cups / 3 ½ liters water
½ Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
2 ½ tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric (optional)
1 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
1. In a very large stockpot (make sure that is has capacity to hold over 20 cups / 4 ½ liters), combine the chickpea flour and water. Place somewhere to sit where it will not be disturbed. Let sit overnight, for about 12 hours.
2. In the morning, without moving the pot, carefully remove 6 cups of water from the top of the mixture with a ladle, and discard.
3. In a medium stockpot, melt the oil over medium heat. Carefully pour in the remaining liquid, without disturbing the bottom too much (what you’ll be left with is a thick chickpea sludge, which will be used as the thickening agent). Add the salt, and turmeric if using, and whisk well to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken.
4. Add the chickpea sludge. Like magic, you will notice almost immediately that the mixture thickens. To avoid the bottom burning, whisk vigorously and continuously for 10 minutes.
5. Line a 7×10” (18x25cm) baking pan with a clean cotton tea towel or cheesecloth (something you don’t mind being stained with turmeric!). This is important because the fabric will help absorb excess liquid. Pour the thickened chickpea mixture into the pan and smooth out the top. Fold the edges of the cloth over the top and let sit at room temperature until the evening, when it is ready to eat (about 8 hours).
6. To remove tofu from the pan, place a cutting board on top and flip over, pull cloth away. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to five days.
The salad in the top photo was a very quick dish I threw together to enjoy the tofu with, and it turned out so well I thought I should share it with you. I took the dressing from this recipe and combined it with shredded purple cabbage, spring onion, and plenty of cilantro. Later in the evening for dinner, I tossed the leftovers together with brown rice pad thai noodles, and it went over very well with the husband. He said it tasted better than junk food, which, coming from him, is the biggest compliment ever.
Update: A couple of you have asked if this tofu freezes well. It’s okay if you want to defrost it and put it into a soup or stew, but not great for anything else, as once the water content melts, so does the tofu, or rather, it totally collapses. I liked it in a chili, as it kind of melted into the whole thing and just thickened it up. Hope that helps!
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In other news, I am thrilled to mention that I’ve been nominated again this year for the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards! Super cool. And congrats to the other nominees in my category of “Special Diets” – what an honor to be in your company! If you’ve been enjoying My New Roots in the past year, show some love and vote for me (scroll down to the bottom of the page to the last category). Thank you a ton for your support. I’m still wild about writing this blog and it feels good knowing you’re wild about reading it.
Hugs and Chickpea Tofu,