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Tofu has always been one of those vegetarian culinary items I’ve been a little afraid of. I knew it could be manipulated to take on any flavor I wanted, but I was afraid of its texture. Because tofu runs the gamut from silky soft to extra-firm (and each variety is best in certain kinds of dishes), I wasn’t sure where to start.
Then, I found an Indian recipe in which extra-firm tofu could be substituted for paneer, a hard-to-find but very delicious Indian cheese, to make a curry with peas— another KB favorite. But could tofu really be a substitute for cheese? I was intrigued, so that $1 block of extra-firm tofu finally came out of my fridge to the chopping block.
This recipe does call for ghee, or clarified butter, which can cook at much higher temperatures than regular butter because the milk fats and water have been removed to leave only the yellow butterfat. Once it’s opened, ghee can be kept at room temperature. If you can’t find it at your local grocery store, you can use a combo of butter and oil to get the flavor and high smoke point of clarified butter. The ghee, though, is oh so good!
Am I a tofu convert? Absolutely! By lightly pan-frying it, the tofu gets a nice crisp crust that gives way to a soft and silky brie-like interior. When you fold it into a homemade curry sauce and serve it over fresh basmati rice, you’ve got an amazing meatless midweek Indian meal. If you’ve got a partner or children who say they won’t eat tofu, this is a great meal to try. I promise they won’t even be able to tell it’s tofu in there. Tell ’em it’s a fancy Indian cheese.
Curry with Pan-Fried Tofu and Peas
This recipe is adapted from Ivy Manning. You can find usli ghee (clarified butter; also called ghee) at some supermarkets, natural foods stores or Indian markets. Clarified butter or vegetable oil can be used in place of the ghee. Garam masala is a curry spice blend that’s available in the spice section of many supermarkets, at Indian markets, and from thespicehouse.com. For a print copy of this recipe, click here.
2 Tbs. all purpose flour
1 lb. firm/extra-firm tofu, cut into ¾- to 1-in. cubes and patted dry with paper towels
5 Tbs. usli ghee, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 serrano chile, minced with seeds
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes with added puree
½ c. water
1 tsp. turmeric
1½ c. shelled fresh peas (from about 1½ lb. peas in pods) or 1½ cups frozen peas, thawed
1 tsp. garam masala
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
Steamed basmati rice
Cook tofu. Place flour in medium bowl. Add tofu to bowl; toss to coat with flour. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Shake excess flour from tofu; add to skillet and cook until browned in spots, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Transfer tofu to plate; set aside. Reserve skillet.
Make curry. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons ghee in reserved skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and stir until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add chopped onion and cook until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, ground coriander, and minced serrano chile with seeds; stir 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes with puree, 1/2 cup water, and turmeric; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium low; cover and simmer until mixture thickens slightly and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Combine and serve. Add shelled fresh peas and cooked paneer; gently fold to incorporate evenly. Cook mixture over medium-low heat until peas are tender and paneer is heated through, folding occasionally, about 5 minutes. Fold in garam masala and cilantro. Season curry to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with steamed basmati rice and fresh naan.