If you already hate tofu, the term "tofu skin" is probably an effective emetic. But this stuff is addictive. You start by making fresh soy milk. I'm not going to soft-pedal how much work this is: you have to soak, grind, squeeze, and simmer dried soybeans. The result is a thick milk entirely unlike the soy milk you get in a box at Whole Foods in the same way Parmigiano-Reggiano is unlike Velveeta.
Then, to make tofu skins (yuba in Japanese), you simmer the soy milk gently over low heat until a skin forms on the surface, then pluck it off with your fingers and drape it over a chopstick to dry. It is exactly like the skin that forms on top of pudding, the one George Costanza wanted to market as Pudding Skin Singles. Yuba doesn't look like much- like a pile of discarded raw chicken skin, honestly. But the texture is toothsome, and with each bite you're rewarded with the flavor of fresh soy milk. It's best served with just a few drops of soy sauce and maybe some grated ginger or sliced negi.
"I'm kind of obsessed with tofu skins right now," said Iris, poking her head into the fridge to grab a round of yuba. Me too.
In Seattle, I had to buy, grind, boil, and otherwise toil for a few sheets of yuba. In Tokyo, I found it at Life Supermarket, sold in a single-serving plastic tub with a foil top. The yuba wasn't as snappy or flavorful as homemade, but it had that characteristic fresh-soy aroma, which to me smells like a combination of "healthy forest" and "clean baby." Iris and I ate it greedily. (The yuba, not the baby.)
Yuba isn't technically tofu, because the soy milk isn't coagulated. Japanese tofu comes in two basic categories, much like underpants: cotton (momen) and silken (kinugoshi). Cotton tofu is the kind eaten most commonly in the U.S.; if you buy a package of extra-firm tofu and cut it up for stir-frying, that's definitely cotton tofu.
Silken tofu is fragile, creamier and more dairy-like than cotton-tofu, and it's the star of my favorite summer tofu dish. Hiya yakko is cubes of tofu, usually silken, drizzled with soy sauce and judiciously topped with savory bits: grated ginger or daikon, bonito flakes, negi. It's popular in Japanese bars and easy to make at home, which I did, with (you will be shocked to hear) tons of fresh negi.