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Beloved Bean Milk

by Wonona Wong Chang


Summer Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(2) page(s): 17 and 18

About 5000 years ago, according to Chinese history, the first emperor Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor) realized that soybeans, also called both huang do (yellow bean) and da do (great bean), were a very important crop. They were also a valuable food staple for his people. Therefore, he declared it to be one of the "Five Sacred Grains." Liu An, a prince of the Han Dynasty, circa 100 BCE, was able to process these into a nutritious and tasty milk called do jiang. According to history, he was also the first one to further process this milk into do fu.

Many forms of vegetarian food can be made from soybean milk. The most popular ones are soy milk sheet (fu pi), soft and firm forms of do fu(nun do fu and lao do fu), pressed do fu (do fu gan), fried do fu (yo do fu), and fermented do fu (fu yu).

When soybeans are harvested, almost all of them are dried. They can be stored in that form for a long time. Soybeans are grown mainly in Northern China, their price very reasonable. China depends heavily on this crop to supply its 1.2 billion population with much needed dietary protein.

Today, the United States grows the largest crop of this legume anywhere in the world. Soybeans, besides being a source of protein, are also rich in vitamins A and B. When other sources of animal milk are not readily available, or when a baby is allergic to cow's milk, this becomes a very important food for that baby. Even in this country, many babies are raised on soy milk for one of the above reasons.

My sister, who was the founder of two Buddhist temples in Medan, Sumatra, which is in Indonesia, was a very strict vegetarian. Her religion is a sect of Chinese Buddhism. At special Buddhist festivals such as the birthday of Buddha, Kwang Yin (Goddess of Mercy) or even on the days when the parishioners came to worship at their temple, she and her adopted daughter and grand-daughters would prepare a great variety of vegetarian dishes to feed them.

Buddhists do not believe in killing animals for food or for any other reason. They do not even drink milk or eat eggs, because these foods are related to life. Instead they use soybean products and forms of gluten to make vegetarian or what is often called mock duck, chicken, roast pork, abalone, shrimp, and ham, to name but a few of the forms that they use. Every vegetarian dish Buddhists make simulates the real thing so well in form, flavor and texture, that it is often difficult to tell the vegetarian dish from the real one.

In 1976, when I returned home with my husband for the first time, my family was overwhelmed with joy. My sister invited many of my childhood schoolmates and friends, and she asked her friends to come to her temple and celebrate this happy occasion. Over one hundred guests attended this home-coming event. She and her Buddhist family prepared a 36-course feast, all vegetarian, for everyone.

When I tasted my favorite sate. dishes and the vegetarian shrimp, I could not tell that these dishes are the same as those made from real meat and real shrimp. Besides these vegetarian dishes, the soybean milk prepared was rich and delicious. Whenever I drink it, I think about that occasion.

It is so easy to make, I suggest that you try; the recipe follows.
Soy Milk
2 cups soybeans
12 cups water
1. Wash and clean the soybeans, discard any broken or moldy ones and any extraneous matter that may be mixed with in with them.
2. Cover the beans with 2 cups of water and soak them overnight, or until soybeans are fully expanded. Drain the beans; this should yield about six cups.
3. Place one cup of soaked beans in a food blender, add two cups of water and mix in a blender at medium speed for thirty seconds, then turn the blender motor to high and puree this for thirty seconds.
4. Strain this bean mixture through a cheese cloth or a fine nylon bag. Then squeeze out as much of the liquid or soymilk as possible. Save the milk and transfer the residue into another container.
5. Repeat the procedure until all the beans have been processed. If you wish, you may add two cups of water to the combined bean residue, mix this well and squeeze out more milk.
This yields about three quarts of liquid.
1. Place liquid in a four-quart sauce pan and cook over medium heat, slowly bringing it to a boil. Watch it closely because milk foams easily and can boil over. Lower the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. This home-made soymilk keeps in the refrigerator for one week.

For Sweet Soy Milk: Add sugar, any sugar syrup, or maple syrup, to taste.
For Salty Soy Milk: Pour some of salty soy milk into a bowl and add a few teaspoons of finely chopped Sichuan preserved kohlrabi tza tsai, to taste. You might also want to add ten or twelve dried shrimp. If you do, clean and rinse them and chop them rather fine first. Use them for flavor and for a garnish. You can also add some chopped scallions or Chinese parsley (cilantro) and a few drops of sesame oil, to taste. One can also bring the milk to a boil, add tza tsai and the prepared dried shrimp, then lower the heat and simmer the for a few seconds. Add sesame oil and garnish with scallions, or parsley and serve hot. One can also add cut up fried puffs (yu tiao) to a bowl of salty soy milk, or you can just dip them into warm or hot milk and then into some sugar, and take a bite. Repeat this process until the yu tiao is finished.
Note 1: The soybean milk can be served hot or cold, and sweet or salty. As a snack it is tasty and nutritious and contains no cholesterol.
Note 2: Yu tiao generally comes in pairs. Often Chinese grocery stores place two or four pairs in a bag for easy handling. You may want to buy only one pair to try it first. That or you can be adventurous to use as indicated above and also in soups and stews. They are truly delicious!

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