Soy-Free Shan Tofu

I feel like a lucky explorer today, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s because I was flipping thru a new Asian Tofu cookbook (a gift from Sis & The Guitar Man) and found a certain recipe, had a light-bulb-moment and made way to the kitchen, a whisk and a good dose of inspiration in hand.

A couple days and several recipes later, I was feeling downright smug.  “This stuff is so simple, so versatile, so delicious!”, I thought, and did a quick little jig before J could see me (I try to spread out the instances he catches me dancing or singing to myself in the kitchen, it maintains the illusion his wife has some tiny sliver of poise).

Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain what this recipe is for, right?  Well, it’s not the Shmoo… its tofu.  No, don’t leave yet!  Let me finish, I promise its not what you’re thinking.  No complex ingredient lists (coagulants?  NO!), no special presses…. and no soy.  What’s that?  You read that right.  This is Shan tofu.  A chickpea version from Burma that has somehow escaped my notice until now.

This is puzzling considering how beautifully simple this is.  In fact, there’s just THREE ingredients: salt, chickpea flour, and water.  And unlike soy tofu, this chickpea tofu involves only two specialized skills:

a)  the ability to whisk something
b)  the ability to boil water

…and all that “effort” takes you a whopping 10 minutes and then its off the chill in the fridge (though you could use it the minute it is room temperature for some things).

Flavor and texture-wise, it is not the same animal as soy tofu.  The texture is similar to a chilled polenta.  Sauteed, they get a nice crispy exterior and baked (or fried) they puff up but retain a creamy, almost custard-y center.

Chickpeas have a nice, natural nuttiness, but its awfully nice that you can also add your own spices and flavors right to the mixture.  So far I have used them as everything from a dessert, to snacks, to noodle dishes and salad toppers, and I’m still finding new ways to use it (the book mentions shaving them to make “noodles”!).  A few things I’ve tried mixing into the batter are:

2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander and 1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder for spicy tofu to toss into salads

Add 1 tablespoon of curry powder for tofu you add to Asian noodle dishes or cut to make baked “fries”

Replace ½ cup of the initial 2 cups with maple syrup, add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Let mixture chill for several hours up to overnight, then cut into squares, toss with a neutral oil (like coconut oil) and bake for 25 – 30 minutes at 400 F until puffy and golden.  Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup or some raw sugar and cinnamon, and you have something like a vegan doughnut.

Shan Tofu – Chickpea Tofu

Hands-On Time:  10 minutes
Total Time:  2 – 24 hours
Serves 6

Gluten-free, all natural, vegan, easy, soy-free


2 cups / 150g chickpea flour (also called garbanzo flour, or Besan)*
6 cups / 1.4 liters water
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
Neutral oil for greasing pan(s)


Lightly oil pans or wide bowls for tofu to chill in later.  I use a 15 x 10 baking dish most often, but two 8×8 cake pans or 8-inch pie pans would work as well, for example.  Ceramic or glass vessels work best, but a 17-inch rimmed baking sheet lined with oiled parchment can work as well (just lift out the chilled tofu to cut it to avoid damaging the metal surface).

Whisk together chickpea flour and salt in a medium bowl and add 2 cups / 470ml water.  Whisk to incorporate.

Place your remaining 4 cups / 950ml water in a large, shallow pan or pot and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-high, give your chickpea mixture a final whisking, and then pour in a steady stream into your boiling water, whisking continuously.

Lower heat to medium-low and cook mixture for 5 minutes, stirring continually and scraping sides to avoid burning.  After 5 minutes, the mixture will be smooth, thick and have a nice sheen.  If there are a few lumps, don’t worry, just try to get it as smooth as you can.

Immediately pour mixture into prepared pans, and allow to set and cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to the refrigerator and allow to chill for 1 hour, up to 24 hours.  The longer it chills, the firmer the texture.  At 1 hour, it will be firm enough to cut and use as cubes of tofu in salads and for snacking.  At 3 – 4 hours, it can be used for more “sturdy” applications like stir-fries and as baked “fries”.

Store in its pan, covered securely in plastic wrap for 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator, and slice portions as needed.