Use Fermented Tofu To Make Vegan Cheese Dip

Fermented soy and soy products can be found in many food cultures across Asia. In Korea, there is the vividly colored gochujang paste, and in Japan, there is natto, which is a breakfast staple. In Chinese food culture, tofu is fermented several ways: the soy curd can be soaked in a fermented brine, concocted with what is often a secret combination of ingredients which can include meat and vegetables, to get stinky tofu.

But there is another type of fermented tofu, also known as "sufu" or "furu" in China, and "chao" in Vietnam, which has been around since China's Wei dynasty (220 to 265 CE).

To make furu, tofu is first cut, then laid out in wooden boxes and left in a controlled environment so mold can grow. It is then salted and brined with a range of liquids that includes Chinese wines and liquor. To that, you add spices like chili, pepper, and anise and then leave it to ferment. In other places like Taiwan, tofu is sun-dried before it is brined in a mix of rice wine infused with red yeast rice, which turns it red.

The different fermentation styles generally result in two types of furu: white or red. And while it might be referred to as vegan cheese, furu is generally used sparingly, and as a condiment– since it is very salty, and its flavors and aroma are quite strong.

Vietnam's answer to fermented tofu can be used as a vegan dip

But if you're looking for fermented tofu that could truly double as vegan cheese, Vietnam's chao could be just what the chef ordered. Like furu, chao is also salted — but this type of fermented tofu can not only be traditionally enjoyed with steamed rice as furu is but it is also mashed and savored as a vegetable dip. Chao and furu both have a creamy texture, but the flavor of Vietnam's fermented bean curd could well be better suited to the Western palate, as it has been compared to that of blue cheese.

Like furu, chao can be made in several ways. One way sees tofu first boiled and then dried, before it is seasoned with salt and chili. It is then stored in a jar lined with banana leaves and left to ferment. The other is a version that can be done at home — it calls for tofu, water, just a teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, and vodka. When made this way, we can see the more lightly salted chao amalgamated with other ingredients like lemongrass and lime before it is served up as a vegan dip.