The history of soybeans is fascinating. From their first domestication in China five thousand years ago, to their journey to other countries through sea and land trade routes, each chapter is full of colorful stories and legends.
What’s even more fascinating is their importance and versatility as food ingredients. In ancient China, soybeans, together with rice, wheat, barley, and millet, were considered five sacred plants. Over the centuries, their significance in Chinese cuisine has not only endured, but also evolved with myriad culinary variations and applications being created. From soybeans, you can extract oil and protein, make soymilk and tofu, or use fermentation method to make soy sauce, douchi (豆豉, fermented black soybeans), or furu (腐乳, fermented bean curd), to name a few.
With the right accompanying proteins or vegetables, soybean-based ingredients can create wonders for your dishes. You probably already have a few favorite recipes. Maybe you’ve mastered mapo tofu.
My list of favorite soy recipes is long and still growing: fried tofu skin rolls with minced shrimp, steamed tofu and pork balls, stir-fried green soybeans with pickled mustard greens, fish and tofu soup, home-style seared tofu… And of course, mapo tofu!
As I was going through my list the other day, I asked myself: wouldn’t it be fun to create a new recipe using soybeans in different shapes and forms in the same dish?
Since then, my mind has been wandering through all the possibilities, with new ideas popping up every day…
Here is one of them.
Tofu rolls with yellow soybean sauce
Makes 2 servings
For the rolls
7 oz (200 g) firm tofu
3 oz (85 g) frozen green soybeans, thawed and roughly chopped
Fresh tofu skin, enough to cut 4 pieces of 5 X 7 inch (13 X 18 cm) sheets
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Cornstarch slurry made with 1 teaspoon cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water
For the sauce
2 teaspoons Huang jiang (黄酱, yellow soybean paste. See note below)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon water
For the garnish
2 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- In a bowl, mash the tofu with the back of a spoon into a coarse paste. Add the green soybeans, egg white, corn starch, salt, and a few grinds of white pepper. Mix until all ingredients are well combined. Let the mixture set for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut 4 pieces of 5 X 7 inch (13 X 18 cm) sheets from the tofu skin with scissors. The tofu skin sheets should be pliable enough to make the rolls. If they are too dry to fold, brush some water on the sheets to soften them.
- Lay one piece of the tofu sheet on your work surface, with the shorter side facing you. Arrange a quarter of the tofu mixture in a line along the side. Gently roll up the sheet. Seal the edge with cornstarch slurry. Repeat with the remaining sheets and filling.
- Using a serrated or very sharp knife, slice each roll crosswise into 1-inch rounds. Try not to press down too much, so that they maintain their shape.
- Place the rounds on a plate that fits into a steamer. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until the filling is set and fully cooked.
- Make the sauce by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl. Depending on the brand of Huang jiang you use, you may need to adjust the amount of soy sauce or sugar to suit your taste.
- Arrange the cooked tofu rolls on a plate. Top each piece with the sauce and garnish with the red bell pepper and chives.
The “yellow” in the name refers to the fact that it’s made from yellow soybeans. You can see from the picture that the paste is actually in dark brown color. With it’s rich flavor and aroma typically associated with fermented soybeans, it is an important seasoning in Chinese cuisine, especially in the food of Northern China. One of the most famous dishes featuring yellow soybean paste is Zha jiang noodles (炸酱面).