Okara Donut

This is no ordinary little donut. It's an okara donut, which is sold at precisely 3pm at the local corner tofu shop. Tofu shop? Yes. And now you are just dying to know, aren't you? What's okara? Why would a small shop lit up at eerie hours in the middle of the night (I know cause I was walking Edward), presumably hard at work making tofu, bother with donuts?

Well. First some background on how I discovered okara and, subsequently, okara donuts. It all started on the second floor of my friendly neighborhood library, which, bless the librarians' souls, actually has English books--precisely one fairly tall shelf of books. Okay, so it's not exactly a treasure trove of literature, but who am I to complain when the next closest thing is a second-hand English bookstore approximately 40 minutes away by train and a real pain in the ass to get to?

When supplies are limited, you take what you can get. So on one rather unfruitful trip to the library, I convinced myself that The Book of Tofu, by Mr. William Shurtleff, could be an engrossing read. After all, I love tofu and yet know virtually nothing about it. The book turned out to have many fascinating facts, which were unfortunately presented in a less than fascinating manner. I never managed to complete this slim volume before the return date came up. But I did force myself to read a few chapters each night, and learned a couple of valuable things:

1) Storing tofu submerged in water--which is what I'd always done in the past--makes your tofu soft, waterlogged, and rather tasteless. I now leave my tofu in a dry tupperware container and let the water in the tofu seep out naturally overnight. This does give me a more intense-flavored tofu that holds together better in simmered and stirfried dishes.

2) When making tofu, you eventually have to give the grounded up soy beans a good wringing. The strained soy milk is made into tofu. The white fluff left behind in the colander or cheese cloth is called okara, which can be eaten. Okara doesn't actually have that much flavor. But it is full of fiber and seems to make cakes and breads light and fluffy, while actually being nutricious.

I hope it's evident that I had to give the above lengthy explanation because if I just said that okara donuts are made from the "by-product" or "leftover pulp" of tofu, that wouldn't sound so good. Okara used to be frequently used in Japanese cooking, back when most Japanese households made their own tofu. It was often stirred into soups, stirfried with veggies, and sometimes mixed with mashed potatoes to make croquettes--mmmmm, croquettes (the Japanese, by the way, make absolutely gorgeous croquettes: light, utterly crisp, perfect golden color, and so damn cheap). Okara, unfortunately, doesn't keep well, which would explain why I often see bags and bags of okara sitting outside the tofu shop, waiting to be thrown out, one presumes. This is really sad because okara is so good for you and could possibly be free, for me, if I ever could be bothered to ask the tofu man to give me his okara. I would love to try making a fluffy okara bread.

A few years back, when everyone was getting all health-nutty, and it was soy-this and soy-that, I think that was when okara started going into things like soy burgers and other imitation meats. I'm also guessing that that was when the idea of okara donuts started getting more common in Japan, cause I hardly think this is a traditional treat. I could be wrong. But traditional or not, they're good.

The first thing you notice as you bite down is the texture: not a Krispy Kreme airy cushion; somewhere between a cake and the inside of a canelé, but with a totally different fragrance.

I have to accept that there are some people who in fact do not like the taste and fragrance of tofu and soy milk. God, really? Yes, yes, it's true. But spending my earliest years in Singapore left its mark, and tell me, please, what is more delicious than a plastic bag of soy milk (that's how it's often sold in the local markets) sweetened with a little ladle of sugarcane syrup? Ohmmmmmm.

Sorry, I actually have a point. The local tofu man explained to me, the secret to his okara donuts is that he uses his own fresh soy milk in his donut batter. So not only do you have a moist product from the okara, but you also have a sweetly fragrant donut. Another magical thing is that although there's no coating of granulated sugar or--ugh--glaze, there is a definite caramalized crunch to the donut as you bite into it that, to me, is just right.

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Interesting stuff. Seriously. I mean, I never knew this about tofu. My mom wants to know if you can get the recipe for the okara doughnut. She makes tow hway at home and throws the white fluff out (or actually, it goes to the plants as fertilizer). She's keen to see what can be done with the okara, if your local tofu man has suggestions. 

- Hsin

12/10/2004 12:24:00 AM  

If you are ever inspired to make okara containing food and don't want to ask your tofu man, I have a soya-milk making machine cum rice grinder. Yes, I used to make my own soya milk in my non-working days.

I used to cook the okara and mix it in Libby's dog food when she was on hunger strike when we first came to Japan. But most of the time, the volume generated is just too much to deal with that I throw them away.

I've also had okara tempura before and it was really good. 

- Lynn

12/10/2004 11:30:00 AM  


Sorry it took me so long to reply. Something weird was happening with my blog. Again.

Okay, my mean, mean tofu man refuses to part with his okara donut recipe--although he did so with the sweetest, little-old-man smile. Damn him.

I found a pretty good English link (http://www.ellenskitchen.com/clearlight/okara/okara.html) that also explains some important things, like how to prepare raw okara before using it in cooking, and things like that.

Okay, here is a translation (by me--danger!) of an okara donuts recipe--but I just noticed that it is the shapeless puffy kind and not the knead-and-cut-into-rings kind... attempt at own risk:

All-purpose flour・・・150g
Soy/regular milk・・・150CC
Lemon juice・・・1teaspoon
Salt・・・a pinch
Melted butter・・・20g
Baking powder・・・1tablespoon

① Beat egg. Whisk in sugar, beating well. Mix in salt, butter, milk, lemon juice.

② Gently fold the flour, baking powder, and okara into wet mixture.

③ Very carefully drop spoonfuls into hot oil (sorry, no temperature given), turning the fritters, until deep golden.

Note: You can play with the amount of flour versus okara, as long as the total weight equals 250g.

For a picture, here's the link: http://www.coop-shimane.or.jp/manpuku/manpuku045.htm

Lynn, wow, where did you have okara tempura? The only kind of savory okara I've eaten is the mixed vegetables tossed in okara dish. Sorry, don't know the name.  

- Rachel

12/13/2004 05:30:00 PM  

Hi, thanks for introducing me to the Okara donut! I am interested in starting an Asian dessert business here in Los Angeles. Also I think it would be a hit at the annual Tofu Festival here in Los Angeles. www.tofufest.org

Love your blog! Please check out my site at www.joypoptv.com. 

- Bobby

12/16/2004 06:28:00 AM  

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for stopping by! I just took a look at your site--very fun. But you're in LA? How do you get so much info, and all those photos? Sorry, maybe I should be asking you this on *your* blog.

I think an Asian dessert place is an excellent idea. If you ever need any ideas, you know where to find me!

And being a great tofu lover, I think a tofu festival sounds like so much fun! Are you going to show people how to make tofu from scratch and all that?  

- Rachel

12/16/2004 10:14:00 PM  

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