If you avoid conventional milk for dietary or ethical reasons, you're probably already familiar with soy milk. It's an inexpensive and readily available alternative to the dairy variety, and equally versatile.
Although the commercial variety is an easy option, making your own at home is well worth the modest investment in time and effort. It tastes fresher, and you can easily opt for organic or non-genetically modified soybeans if that's important to you. The main piece of equipment you'll need is a Vitamix or other good-quality blender.
Unless you have a large household or operate a vegan cafe, you don't need a lot of soybeans. One cup of dry beans is enough to make roughly a quart of soy milk, so don't overdo it. You might still have a small quantity of leftover beans, but you can freeze those for later or use them in other dishes.
Soak the beans for at least 4 hours, or as long as overnight.
Cook the soybeans in a steamer for 15 to 20 minutes, then drain them and let them cool.
Measure 1 1/2 cups of the soybeans and transfer them to the Vitamix machine.
Add 3 1/2 cups of water, and select Variable 1 on your Vitamix. Turn on the machine and increase its speed slowly from Variable 1 to Variable 10, and then to High.
Blend on High for a minute and a half, until it's completely smooth.
When you finish processing the milk it will contain finely ground particles of soy. That's not necessarily an issue if you'll be using the milk in smoothies, where it will be hidden, but if you plan to drink the milk on its own or use it for tofu it's better when strained.
Line a colander with a clean muslin jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Pour in the soy milk and let it drain. There will be a mound of fine soy residue left in the cloth. Gather up the ends and twist them to make a tight bundle of the bean pulp. Twist and press this, to extract as much milk as possible. If you plan to make tofu, it's now ready to use.
If your milk is for drinking, taste it to see if it has a noticeably "beany" flavor. If so, simmer it in a saucepan for 6 or 7 minutes until the flavor dissipates. Stir in your choice of sweetener -- 1 tablespoon of sugar, or the equivalent in other sweeteners, is enough for this size of batch -- and add a splash of vanilla, if you wish.
The squeezed-out soy meal is a valuable ingredient in its own right, with lots of protein left. You can add it to soups, pilafs and baked goods as it is, for added texture and nutrition.
Alternatively, dry the soy meal thoroughly and then grind it finely in a spice grinder or food processor to make homemade soy flour.