A little overdue but hope you had a great start to 2016. I’m not one for resolutions as I never keep them and I end up feeling guilty by the end of January. It is a new year but in the grander scheme of things, it’s just another part of your entire life. So rather than making new year resolutions, I just make life resolutions as and when they’re required. How about you? Do new year’s resolutions work for you?
One of the things I’d like to work on is to make more meatless dishes as we’ve had quite a lot of meat while we were in New Zealand. (Yes, we’re at tail end of our working holiday in New Zealand and heading back to Singapore very soon) It was inevitable as New Zealand has some of the best lamb and beef we’ve ever tasted. 2015 was a year we experimented a lot with food by using different cuts of meat and produce we don’t usually get in Singapore. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d know how often we went to farmers’ markets and how many photos I’ve taken of the amazing produce and café food in New Zealand.
And so it’s time to scale back a little and what better way to start than with a vegetarian version of the popular British Indian takeout- Chicken Tikka Masala a.k.a CTM. My version is Tofu Tikka Masala. Now, if you’re wondering how a vegetarian version compares with the original, I’d say that it doesn’t vary too much. ( If you use really good quality firm tofu, you’d get a texture that’s quite similar to chicken breast. I used a Korean brand firm tofu which had lesser water content than most Asian grocery store firm tofu. And I’m aware that you can’t just substitute a non-meat alternative for meat and say it’s equally tasty. Meat adds umami – the fifth primary taste made up mainly of glutamates, a type of amino acid. So substituting a vegetable for meat will result in a rather flavourless masala. Instead, adding a rich vegetable stock and savoury yeast flakes helps to add some umami flavour that tofu or most vegetables lack. Also, ripe tomatoes, like in many Indian dishes, also add a vegetable umami-flavour plus a hint of sweetness. Better yet if you have vine-ripened tomatoes. If fresh tomatoes are unavailable then about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste would be a good substitute. Eventhough this is a vegetarian/vegan dish, it does score many points in the flavour department. I will not try and sell you anything that is less than tasty or anything that has artificial flavouring like Tofurkey (Yuck!).
Though the origins of Chicken Tikka Masala lie in murky waters, it is undeniable that the chicken element of the dish should be cooked in a wood or charcoal-fired tandoor and then added to the rich gravy. To replicate the tandoor flavour, I added smoked paprika to the masala to add a mildly smokey note which is impossible to create with a home oven and to add texture to the otherwise bland and somewhat crumbly tofu, I fried it till it took on a golden brown hard skin that did not loose its texture even after sitting in the gravy overnight. Dredging tofu in flour to make it crispy is quite pointless as nothing really sticks to tofu’s surface. Though deep frying isn’t exactly winning any health points, keeping the oil temperature high minimises the amount of oil the tofu absorbs and keeps it really crisp. And to make it as close to the indian takeout as possible, I used kashmiri chilli powder for the boost of red colour instead of the red colouring used in most indian restaurants and takeouts. You could of course use any type of chilli powder but reduce the amount required as kashmiri chilli powder is less spicy.
This Tofu Tikka Masala keeps well in the fridge and tastes better the next day. You could make also make the masala ahead and freeze it without adding the fried tofu. I hope you give my vegan/vegetarian Tofu Tikka Masala a go. I’ve given vegan options for those of you who want to omit dairy. Cheers to flavourful vegetarian dishes that still pack a lot of punch!
Tofu Tikka Masala
Inspired by and adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation
For tofu marination
- 500g extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric pwd
- 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli pwd
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 pinches of smoked paprika
For the masala
- 4 tbsp virgin coconut oil/ any neutral cooking oil
- 300g large red onion, finely sliced
- 1 1/2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
- 5-7 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp coriander pwd
- 1/2 tsp turmeric pwd
- 1 tsp cumin pwd
- 3/4 tap kashmiri chilli pwd
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 4 heaped tbsps full-fat yoghurt/ coconut yoghurt
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 350 ml low-sodium vegetable stock
- 1 tsp savoury yeast flakes (optional, available at most healthfood stores)
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- bunch of coriander leaves
- some lemon wedges
- sliced green chillies (for those needing the extra kick!)
- Gently squeeze out the excess water from the tofu and then carefully toss the cubed firm tofu pieces with all the marination ingredients and leave to marinate for 1-2 hours.
- Fill a medium heavy-bottomed pot with vegetable oil until at least 1/2 way up the sides of the pan and heat the oil till 160-190°C / 325-375 °F or until the oil bubbles around the stick end of a wooden spoon when it’s inserted. Fry the cubed tofu in batches so that you don’t overcrowd your pan and reduce the oil temperature. Keeping the oil temperature consistent makes sure that the tofu is crisp and will not absorb too much oil. Use a slotted spoon or a chinese spider strainer (an excellent investment for frying anything) to remove tofu cubes once they are golden brown and very crispy on all sides. Tap the tofu cubes with your strainer and they should have an rough, crackly texture. Once ready, drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
- For the masala, in another heavy-bottomed pan heat 4 tbsp of virgin coconut oil/ neutral oil over medium heat and sauté finely sliced red onions till golden brown. Sprinkle a little salt over onions to brown onions faster. The onions should be evenly caramelised so have a little patience. Then add grated ginger and garlic and sauté till aromatic.
- Add coriander, turmeric, cumin, chilli, smoked paprika powders with 3 tbsps water (to prevent the spices burning) and sauté till raw spice smell goes off. Then, lower the heat to low and add 1 tbsp of yoghurt/ coconut yoghurt at a time, mixing each tablespoon into the sauce before adding the next. (Yoghurt may split and turn grainy if added to hot liquids)
- Turn the heat up to medium and add chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Cook till tomatoes turn pulpy and jammy.This is your masala base.
- Now add vegetable/chicken stock and savoury yeast flakes and cook for about 2-3 minutes until sauce comes together. Add fried tofu cubes and garam masala. Coat all tofu cubes with sauce. Taste and season to your liking. Squeeze some lemon, scatter some coriander leaves and sliced green chillies and serve with hot rotis or plain basmati. Goes brilliantly with light beer.