Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chettinad Tofu

About two years ago, a couple of my friends and I started an informal cooking club, which we aptly named "Calorie Club".  The three of us would get together once a week to try out new recipes, drink wine, and talk about food.  Each week we'd alternate hosting responsibilities -- and if you were the hostess that week, you picked the menu!  Some weeks had themes, whether it was all appetizers, desserts, Julia Child cooking; other weeks were opportunities to have help cooking something we'd always wanted to try.  We made everything from fish cooked in cream, to homemade refried beans, to steak pinwheels, to blue cheese stuffed tortellini, to grilled pizzas, to chocolate desserts.  (I was a meat-eater during part of this!)  With three of us working in the kitchen, we were able to tackle a variety of dishes in a single meeting and build off of our collective kitchen strengths.  We created some amazing dishes, and along the way we encountered a few failures.  But after we finished eating, we would discuss the dishes and journal our experiences.  Every week, we learned something new.  And the Calorie Club met faithfully, once a week, until one of our founding members moved to out-state Minnesota. 

But this last weekend she was back in town, and the Calorie Club was revived for another meeting.  This time, our hostess and menu planner decided on an Indian theme.  And the two of them graciously offered to substitute tofu for the chicken in the main dish.  Love these ladies!!  The three dishes we made at Calorie Club this weekend had my mouth on fire (in a good way), and the kitchen was warm with lovely aromatics and sizzling sounds.  We all made mistakes as we went (I forgot to add a collection of spices at the right time!), but the finished meal was divine.  Acorn squash, green beans, and this chettinad recipe, made with tofu instead of chicken.  Served with basmati rice and some garlic naan, and I was in heaven.  Thanks for the great Calorie Club reunion, guys!

Chettinad Tofu
adapted from Healthy South Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan
serves 4

1 package extra firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbls neutral-flavored oil
2-4 very small cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns (about 6)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup diced onion (or about one small onion)
1/4 cup chopped tomato
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 heaping tbls fresh minced ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper and cumin combo (1/2 black pepper 1/2 cumin)
1 cup tomato sauce

Drain your tofu and press it between towels to squeeze out the excess liquid.  You can also place it between two plates and put something heavy on top.  Once the tofu is drained, cut it into small cubes.  Then in a bowl or on a large plate, dust the tofu cubes in the flour, shaking off any excess flour. 

In a large non-stick skillet with a cover, heat the neutral-flavored oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add the tofu in a single layer and fry.  Turn the tofu cubes as needed to fry all sides.  Do this in batches if needed.  Once the tofu has fried, set aside. 

Add more oil to the pan if needed, then reheat if necessary.  Once the oil is hot, add the cinnamon sticks, crushed bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Cover the pan and heat until you hear the peppercorns pop.  Then add the fennel and cumin seeds.  Saute until the cumin seeds are browned. 
Add the onion, chopped tomato, garlic and ginger to the pan and saute for until the garlic is fragrant.  Then add your turmeric and curry powder.  Stir and continue cooking until the onions are tender.

Add the cayenne pepper, salt, and the black-pepper-cumin combination.  Stir well and let heat for a few minutes. 

Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet and stir.  Simmer for about 4-5 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Finally, add the fried tofu back into the pan and allow the mixture to simmer for another 5 minutes so the tofu can soak up the flavors.  Find the cinnamon sticks and remove (or warn your guests).  Remove from heat and serve with basmati rice or naan.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the recipe. I like to use a press called EZ Tofu Press when preparing tofu. It removes all of the water quickly and allows the tofu to absorb flavors better. Also improves the texture.