Burmese Tofu

Unlike my husband, I was not a fan of tofu. Determined to show me that “tofu”, translated, meant “delicious”, he spent 10 long, hungry hours, meticulously constructing, as only an engineer can, an extravagant molded strata creation – tofu & red peppers, tofu & spinach, tofu & walnut, tofu & cilantro – layered 8-inches high in a well-oiled angel-food cake pan. Finally, at 10pm, candles lit, wine poured, grace and thanks given, we took our first bite. “Do you think Tasty Pizza is still open and would deliver?”, he asked.

That was years ago. Not long enough, apparently, for me to forget my one and only tofu experience because when my husband suggested ordering a Burmese-tofu salad this weekend at Yoma, a favorite Burmese restaurant, just the thought of eating “tofu” made my tongue feel covered in chalkdust and grit. The waiter assured my husband, “Not, Japanese tofu. Burmese good. We make here. You like.”

He was right. Cut 1/2×1 inch slices, its smooth custard texture and subtle flavor were the perfect accompianment cooling the spicy hot-chili salad dressing. Halfway through the salad – salad fork in one hand, Blackberry in the other – my husband read Google snippets to us, that Burmese tofu is made from fermented chana dal flour, turmeric and sea salt. We were familiar with chana dal, a legume common to East Indian cuisine, but hadn’t realized that chana dal is related to the garbanzo beans, or, “chick peas”, familiar to Americans.

Chana Dal Flour

First step, was to find the chana dal, which we knew our local East Indian grocery store carried. They had it available in flour and whole-bean form, so we bought both. Normally, I like to grind my own flour, since there’s a risk with any bagged flour that it may be rancid. But since the flavor and texture of Burmese tofu was so new and different, the already-ground flour would be good for testing purposes, as well as giving me an idea of the type of grind needed.

Next, I had to choose a recipe. There are only two online, and none to be found in my fairly extensive cookbook collection, so I opted to use a recipe at Netcooks Online. I like the fact it stressed that theirs was a fermented version, making it more authentic, and resulting in greater flavor development, as well as, more easily digestible as the lactic acid fermentation process breaks down the difficult-to-digest starches.

There were half-a-dozen comments online from people who tried the recipe, half of them failing, their tofu never congealing, having a consistency more like a soft pudding or creme fraiche’. Burmese tofu doesn’t use a coagulator like American-style tofu, so right away, the “soupiness” of their end-product indicated they either may not have used high-enough heat, or needed a long cooking time, both of which would have helped reduce the liquid.

The remaining comments were from people who were succesful, finding its flavor to be mild, pleasant, with a texture softer than American-style silken soy tofu, and more like a solid gelatin. Their descriptions were in-line with the Burmese tofu we’d eaten at Yoma.

It was time to get to work……..

Burmese-Style Tofu

3 cups Chana-Dal flour (other names: Chick-pea, Pare Hmont, or Garam Dhal Powder)
15 cups water
1 tsp. ghee, sunflower oil, or light olive oil (used for rubbing pan interior)
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric (yellow powder)
1 tsp. salt
Natural fine-weave cheesecloth – used for straining the mixture as well as lining the mold

Tofu Fermented
1. Add the chana dal flour to a vessel that will comfortably hold 15-cups of water,

2. Slowly whisk in 15-cups of water, making sure there are no lumps.

3. Let it stand overnight or 12 hours. Cover with a towel, if leaving on the counter; I put mine inside my over-stove convection oven.

The photo on the left shows the fermented mixture after 12 hours, the thickened chana dal flour floating on top the fermented liquid.

4. After 12 hours, (up to 20), slowly strain the mixture using natural fine-weave cheesecloth cotton cloth. I used a jelly-bag, as seen to the left, but believe butter-cloth or a natural fine-weave cheesecloth
would be better, allowing more chana dal partices through, necessary for coagulation or thickening.

Jelly Strainer Tofu

5. Set the cloth and strained residue aside, just in case, you need to borrow some for coagulation.

6. Cover the strained liquid, allowing it to settle for 3 hours

7. Carefully remove 6 cups of liquid, using a soup ladle, or any instrument that will not disturb the settled contents; discard removed liquid.

8. Prepare a 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven pan rubbing interior with ghee or oil.

9. Measure out 9-cups of the fermented chana dal liquid, WITHOUT disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the bowl; place the 9-cups of liquid into the 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven pan

10. Stir the turmeric and salt into the liquid.

11. Pour the thick chana-dal sludge into a 1-cup measurer; if you don’t have enough to equal 1-cup, use some of the drained chana dal which was set aside in the cheesecloth. SET ASIDE, as this is what will be added to create coagulation.

12. With medium-high flames, bring the 9-cups of liquid to a boil; cook for 30-minutes longer, stirring constantly.

13. Reduce heat to low, and add the chana-dal sludge – the thickening agent – cooking and stirring constantly for an additional 10-minutes. Remove from heat.

14. Prepare mold by lining a 9×5 or 10×4 loaf pan with Natural fine-weave cheesecloth Note: Lining the mold with Natural fine-weave cheesecloth is extremely important as it wicks the excess water away from the tofu.

15. Pour thickened mixture into the mold.

16. Cool completely, uncovered, overnight at room temperature – minimum 4-hours.

17. Slice the firm tofu into pieces of whatever size you wish. Enjoy!

Reviews and Experiences of others experimenting making Burmese tofu

Not thrilled, as texture is like that of polenta – Interesting, and I wish I knew if she ground her own chana dal, because ours had no texture to it whatsoever – extremely smooth and silky, having far more in common with a gelatin than polenta.

Too much liquid – “Too liquidy, but flavor was good”, said they’re using it as a type of creme fraiche, so they had problems with the coagulation stage.

This one looks like polenta

Another Burmese Tofu Recipe which uses 50% of the water that I did, and skips the fermentation, which would make this a modern, not traditional recipe.

“Original Recipe for Burmese-Style Tofu” – http://www.netcooks.com/recipes/Salads/Burmese-Style.Tofu.html – this is the one I made and reviewed.

Goma dofu, sesame tofu – Sounds great to try after I perfect the Burma Tofu!

Cultures for making tofu http://www.gemcultures.com/soy_cultures.htm

Tofu Coagulants coagulants

And more tofu coagulants

Recipes for Burmese Food

Salads, Rice, Curries!

Recipes of Burma – these look wonderful! Can’t wait to try!

Burmese-style Salad with Tofu – very similar to the salad we had at the Burmese restaurant