Steamed kofta of spinach and paneer in a roasted red pepper gravy
Is it just me or are people less obsessed with being thin these days? Is it my age (thirties), where people grow into themselves more, or is it my life stage (mum of toddler and prefer sleep, family time, me-time and just some food over the less necessary stuff)? I don’t know but mostly, people say they need to lose weight but eat the brownie anyway, right? I made some a really gorgeous batch the other day with saffron, rose, cardamom and pistachio and nobody said no.
However, my body has a way of telling me that I need to be kinder to it and right now; I have gone off my food (as in the taste rather than eating itself). If you have ever watched a cheesy television serial and I am old enough to admit to recalling the crashing sounds and multiple replays of dramatic scenes in Dallas (and every Bollywood serial I come across) then this is what is playing in my mind right now. I, Deena, have gone off the tastes in my food.
At first I thought it was the onset of a cold. But it didn’t appear. Then I thought perhaps it is just over-working and exhaustion. But then I realised that I do feel hunger, it is just that I am not enjoying eating so much. I want to feel the thrill. But I am not.
SO, I have surmised that there are many culprits to this condition of mine; exhaustion, A LOT of cooking recently (maybe too much of my own cooking), overindulgence and heavy tastes, eating more functionally than socially (a lot of eating alone or in a desperate rush). Explains a lot doesn’t it?
You know I have been putting myself into solution mode more and more these days and not focusing on the problems, ‘think solutions, not problems’ – chant, chant, chant. My solution is this steamed kofta of spinach and paneer in light and easy roasted red pepper gravy. It is the curry that thinks it is naughty, but really is quite virtuous. Deceptively simple, ridiculously soothing and fun to eat too! I like that I want to get my fingers into them, but should really wait for the gravy to join the kofta. Let me know if you do a better job at waiting to scoff the lot together, won’t you.
I am doing it again but must nip it in the bud. I am once again the hamster (on a wheel), the rat (slowly racing) and the chicken (very much headless). I am not quite the dog (I don’t eat other dogs and not just because I am vegetarian.) I am most definitely, absolutely the owl (night is when I work, not sleep). That is not because I enjoy being up late but because I want to be productive in a work sense, and also want my child to have his mother raising him and whilst my panda eyes lose focus now and again, my heart is not.
This time in life, I am looking back at the smaller steps I have made, and they are steps forward. I have so far been so fixated with big milestones for the future that I have neglected to be grateful and recognise for the smaller steps that I have made. The little things have lifted me, given me hope, encouraged me, kept my days rolling, stopped me thinking of wasteful things, buffered my falls, given me reason to channel energies, re-instilled confidence for me, pushed me to change, made me more humble, made me more me. The small things, the smaller steps. When I thought of how I would feel should I no longer have the teeny sized fruits of the small seeds I planted, then…well. It wasn’t a happy thought.
This is why today, I share with you small tikki. I have taken inspiration from tikki that Indian street food sellers tantalise passers-by with; steaming hot patties that are crisp on the outside, fluffy and moist inside and full of peppery spice. Traditionally they would be made of chickpeas and potatoes and I am using deep black beans, silky spinach and a little oozy cheese. I have retained the influence of pungent and peppery chaat masala, which uses black salt.
Riverford sent me the silkiest perfect leaves of spinach, not punched with ominous looking holes. A huge bag of light green and juicy goodness, none of this limp stuff you often get. Spinach actually happens to be one of those refrigerator items that sometimes yield less love than we in our house can spread over the week, a bit like bananas. Now, experimental as I can be, I am not about to suggest pairing banana and spinach together today. Not today anyway, but the tikki, now those I ate a few straight off the pan, ah the little pleasures.
Two fabulous things happened at the tail end of last week; my husband returned home for a couple of days, after eleven days of business related work in Australia and I found a Riverford fruit and veg box wrapped up and tucked behind my garden gate.
Years ago, when my husband made the switch from his role in the pharmaceutical industry to make a living in the field he is so passionate about (magic) I would cry upon his departure for these clustered long-haul trips. After years of listening to him talk about making dreams manifest and how life is so short and it is not worth spending limited moments of breath and potential smiles doing something one is less than passionate about, there was a juxtaposition of, ‘I want you to LIVE’ and ‘I don’t want to be alone’.
I didn’t like the quiet of the evenings or cooking for one. I didn’t like the ‘filling in’ activities. I didn’t like waking alone or going to sleep with just the telly for company. But look, years on. Who would have thought that I could become accustomed to waving goodbye with a young child on my hip and that the quiet of the evenings would become precious time to prepare for lectures or cookery classes and those textbooks have become me, once again? Years ago I would find solace in those messages, ‘how are you coping on your own’ and now I see ambition and vision through how much courage I have mustered up in recent years. I have even considered spending a few years abroad.
So the contents of the Riverford fruit and veg box this week made me chuckle because they matched my thoughts of more exotic climes and the will to LIVE. Now, I am sure I have gone on, and on enough about how much of an alphonso fan I am but alas we can’t have these in the UK this year but I was tickled by the delivery of a large and firm mango. I spotted red chillies and red onions, salsa? I could have done yes, but I fancied something sensational and explosive. It is how I want to feel you see.
I am taking a deep breath before I tell you this. Macaroons and chaat. OK. Let me explain. These are the two foods that make my limbs turn to jelly with anticipation and heart skipping joy. Heart-leap-frogging. I am a girl that does not need to be gifted shoes, give me macaroons and chaat. And if I haven’t told you before, chaat is Indian street food (vegetarian snack) of inordinate amounts of sensual pleasure. The trickles of tamarind chutney and chilli green lip-smacking chutney heighten a fine balance of sweet, sour, crisp, cool, soft and spicy textures. It pops every sense and leaves anyone and everyone hankering for more, more, more.
But, you know me. I can’t just leave it there. I saw this mango and thought Indo-Thai would be absolutely perfumery delight. The mango gives sweet-sharp balance to the aniseed Thai basil. I have used coconut and peanuts for the salty and nutty elements too. This is not an understated dish (I have stressed that enough haven’t I?) it is a full show. New potatoes ensure that you get a soft bite without soggy mess that an ordinary potato can bring and you can get the puffed rice from most supermarkets or Indian grocers. I have used chopped mint and coriander too for a real herby feel. I would definitely recommend getting hold of the chaat masala that is made of peppery black salt, it lifts the dish to a whole new level. Just try it.
Slow roasted tomato and pistachio pasta rotolo in a spiced butternut squash sauce
I cook a lot of ‘welcome home’ meals these days.
I have a husband who travels a lot for work and I’ve spent most of this month solo parenting, juggling lectures and cookery classes, recipe submissions and general life. Thank goodness for my awesome parents who have done their best, again, for me? Each time he goes away though, I feel like I grow.
This time I have grown because I had to sort my repeated, month long car related mayhem out myself (although my brother helped significantly), I grew because I had to prepare lectures through till 2am and wake with my toddler at 7am and get him sorted without the 30mins of relief that his dad might otherwise give me in the morning. I grew because I had to fix the printer ink issues out and get taxis at 10pm on my return from work that broke down whilst my phone battery died. I grew because when a relative told me that she is never left in the home alone by her family because she fears the silence and won’t go to toilet alone, i realised that i no longer dear the lonely evenings. I no longer feel sad when people see through social media that I am on my own but don’t take a couple of minutes to ask how I am, because you know, everyone is living their own challenge each day, in their own way. But most of all, I grew because life just carried on as normal.
So, after a couple of days with my folks I received a welcome home present from Riverford. A huge box of seasonal fruit and vegetables packaged in green, and tucked at the side of my home. My toddler yelped, ‘yes, it’s the vegetables mumma, what did they send?’ The best of the season’s last tomatoes and a bulbous butternut squash amongst green goodness of autumn is what they sent. I’m always so impressed by the perfect quality of the fruit and veg, there’s not a single bruise on them and they smell so sweet and earthy. My tot almost instantly headed for a chair and asked to scrub the vegetables to reveal luminous oranges and red of sweet potatoes and peppers and we got the most perfectly quenching grapes.
I have to admit though; I’m not normally a butternut squash kind of person. I don’t like sweet soups and I can’t eat them boiled, I just can’t. But the colour of this one was just so rapturing that I needed to do something with it.
To me, a welcome home meal is one that is bubbling and simmering, thick and cajoling. A smile for home trickles through when the meal is nourishing and inviting, and full of the flavours of home. When my Husband arrived home from his last trip in Australia I made an Indian inspired feast of curries and dhal, vegetable and cheese raitha, Shrikhand and a stack of chapatti and vegetable rice. But this time, he returned from Mumbai and I knew he would have not only the finest Indian food but also some Chinese, Mexican and Italian food, so what to feed him this time?
This pistachio and slow roasted tomato rotolo is rousing in that the slow tomatoes tingle on the tongue with sharp sweetness and the pistachio and quark is a whack of aroma and colour which balances with the rich and thick spiced butternut squash sauce. A little goes a long way.
Last weekend felt like a weekend from the yester-summers, with a few subtle differences.
We attended a wedding near where we live and I do love a wedding. As my husband and I fussed with car parking botches before our arrival at the wedding, thanks to faulty ticket machines and lengthy queues of cars filled with sari’s and gifts and then of course a toddler who unquestionably did not agree on how handsome he looked in the suit jacket and smart shirt, I sighed and smiled that this is all part of the happy mayhem with the background tune of, “I can’t like these clothes mumma, I don’t look brilliant.”
As we entered the wedding venue soft romantic music played to a quietly seated and orderly congregation of guests, not like the chattering sprawl my aunts and mum mingled between during my childhood. The priest spoke in soothing, professional and gentle tones, rather than the more directive and stressed tone I remembered from back in the day. The couple looked lovingly at each other, not tensed or fatigued. My cousins and I, who used to chase each other and chatter on in weddings as kids now we entertained our own in the corridors so as not to disturb the silence of the audience. We attempted to orchestrate pictures of the kids but alas, they just wanted to run, as we had once done. Luckily for the collective team of under 5’s the wedding was over in a couple of hours whereas in our day, they were full day affairs that rarely ran to time.
After the wedding my cousins, a few of our parents and of course all the kiddies came back to ours and we had a spray of happy chaos. A crawling baby, toddlers tugging over toys, grandfathers on strawberry picking special-assignments with little super-heroes and squeals on slides and swings. We had pasta and Khichdi and even roasted potatoes all over the house mingling with crisps and grapes. Nappies, spoons and splishing drinks generating curious scents and sounds and a few of us admitted that feeding tired and excitable kiddies was something we were dreading today.
Nobody wanted the Khichdi, or the vegetables, or the pasta or the potatoes but there is one vegetable that everyone agreed on (and this, amidst happy pandemonium is relief). That is corn.
I am not sure whether it’s the independence element of grabbing corn and just going at the juicy kernels or the cave person freedom. Is it the juicy sweetness or just the easy pleasure? I don’t know but what I do know is that Riverford sent me the freshest and most untainted corn this week in my vegbox and not a single kernel of corn was bruised or damaged. Utterly in season, fresh and golden juicy gorgeousness was in my box and I wanted to do it justice.
Fresh and good quality corn like the stuff I received is sweet and loudly so. To balance the sweetness I whipped up some homemade hoisin sauce which includes salty soy sauce and nutty peanut butter, a bit of chilli and garlic…so you see all the flavours balance so well and it’s such a joy to eat corn sticky and bold in flavour. Go on, be happy.
This is a post that is different to the posts you may be accustomed to seeing from me. Yes there is a recipe, but there is something different.
I was asked a few months ago to share a recipe for the Curry for Change competition, held in conjunction with Natco for the Find your Feet charity. I, like many of you out there get a lot of emails each day but this one caught my attention and held it. I used to be one of those people that was so preoccupied with life that charitable stuff was scheduled in for particular times of the year yet always on the agenda. Since having my boy, my emotional equilibrium has, well, shifted. If you have followed my blog (I thank you once again if you have been) then you will know that during the past few years I have found myself quite lost, confused and in search of that, ‘lifeline’. I have gone without so many aspects of previous life that I felt had defined me, but I can not pretend to know what it is like for people who go without the basics of life; food.
The rawness of the truth for me is that I needed to feel that ‘I CAN’. That I can make a difference for myself, that I can be productive by myself, that I can voice myself once again. It has taken me a few years to find my feet again, and I am trying to imagine how someone who does not have the support, systems, means, facilities, access and options that I have, would find their feet.
So, my recipe was one of the winning recipes for this challenge, as selected by Vivek Singh and I am delighted to share it with you all today. The recipe is for black eye bean pakora in coconut kadhi. This is a sumptuous and soothing dish, filling and versatile and you can make the components ahead of a dinner party and then throw them together at the last minute. The pakora are deep and nutty and full of texture. The little gram flour fritters are lightly spiced and sit in a tangy, spicy and hot yogurt based soup/curry that is tempered with whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon, curry leaves, cumin seeds and ginger. I have used coconut powder to give it a light and fragrant touch. This is perfect for the season and easy to do.
When our own lives are filled with good food, it’s hard to imagine that one in eight people around the world will go to bed hungry tonight.
The Find your Feet charity works to support families in Asia and Africa to not got hungry. Not by feeding them, but my helping them find their feet. They support and encourage families to innovate, using their own resources more productively, trying new seeds, making compost and diversifying their crops.
This means they can produce a variety of nutritious foods to eat throughout the year so that they never go hungry and to earn an income by selling the excess.
They provide them with training and support to start village saving and loan schemes so they can borrow a little capital to start a small business.
This allows them to sell their surplus vegetables or eggs or start a small local shop which enables them to become more self-reliant and provide a better future for their family.
They empower women so that they have the confidence to speak out and take a stand on issues that affect them, such as accessing better healthcare for their children or clean water for their village. This in turn enables them to demand what is rightfully theirs.
Life is so short.
So, what can you do?
Well you could hold a curry event at your home or at a friends and ask each person to make a charitable contribution. You cook up a few dishes (you could use this recipe as one) and enjoy yourselves. For every penny your curry event raises, Nacto will match it. The person that raises the most will win a class with Atul Kochhar at his esteemed restaurant, Benares in Mayfair.
Here is my recipe and the video that I did, showing how to cook this recipe, for Curry for change.
For the pakora
60g black eyed beans, pre-soaked overnight
50g finely chopped fenugreek leaves
1 tsp. minced ginger
Salt to taste
½ tsp. chilli powder (or to taste)
1 tsp. amchur powder or the juice of ½ lemon
100g gram flour
One medium onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
Oil for deep frying
For the coconut kadhi
400g plain, natural yoghurt
100g coconut milk powder
2 tbsp. gram flour
Salt to taste
2-3 green chillies slit open
1 small stick of cinnamon
5-6 curry leaves
1 tsp. minced ginger
2 tbsp. cooking oil
You will need to pre-cook the black eyed beans for about 25=30 minutes until they are tender, then drain any liquid
Heat the oil for deep frying whilst you make the batter for the pakora
To make the pakora firstly lightly mash the black eyed beans. Don’t puree them but with your fingers give them a tender squeeze. The reason for this is to avoid them rolling out of the batter and popping in the oil on their own.
Combine the lightly mashed black eyed beans. Then add the onions, fenugreek leaves and all the dry ingredients and mix them all well before adding all the wet ingredients and mix it all again.
Drop a small amount of batter into the oil to check if the batter sizzles and rises. If it does, then drop in small amounts (roughly 3-4cm sized pieces) into the oil and deep fry until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon, releasing any excess oil, onto kitchen paper.
Turn your attention to making the Kadhi. Mix the coconut milk powder, yoghurt and gram flour to a smooth paste and leave it to side whilst you make the tempering.
In a deep pan, heat the oil and then add the cumin seeds, chillies, curry leaves, cloves and cinnamon. Let them sizzle and then add the minced ginger before you sauté for under a minute, but don’t let the Kadhi brown.
Pour in the yoghurt mixture and the water and bring it all to a simmer before adding salt.
Cook the Kadhi for 7-8 minutes, and then add the pakora and cook for a further 2-3 minutes before serving with hot and steaming rice.
As I walked (rather than take the car) to pick up ingredients today with the boy in the buggy I sniffled lightly as I thought of all the work I have pending. Exam season is near, but it’s still summer isn’t it because there is still a week before it all kicks off. A whole week. I looked down at my jumper; well at least it has a floral print on it eh? And you know the menu for my upcoming cookery class has kale included, maybe I should just give in.
I mean there is even back-to-school stuff in the shops and the swimming pool is already quieter for all the children are screaming in playgrounds now. There is more traffic building up on the roads and the trampoline in the garden is filling up with rain water. I am still making the season’s last visits to the zoo and well, making ice cream.
So when the chap from Riverford tucked a box of seasonal jewels near my garden with a wrapper l on it and I saw it as I arrived home, my boy and turned our glances away from the wilting flowers and drying rose bushes to grab it and see because we have learned after a few deliveries that the quality of the fruit and vegetables we get is absolutely outstanding. Here is the thing, with no word of exaggeration. The corn we got this week is probably some of the best corn we have eaten in years. Years! I also got a perfectly sweet-tart and sunny looking plums with which I have struck a deal with the season-Gods. They bestow these beauties and I pretend it is still summer by adding a touch of exotic and aniseed-sexy star anise and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t create a little Asian-Italian fusion with the amoretti biscuits. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I will. This ice-cream is out of this world. It is sensational. You have to do it. The creaminess is exquisite and definitely not bashful. The spice is bold and the plums, they are tantalisingly sensual.
Home-made Falooda ice cream (rose syrup, chia seed, and vermicelli)
They say you become like the people you surround yourself with.
Home-made Falooda Ice cream (rose syrup, chia seed, and vermicelli) by Deena Kakaya
So, if you are around people who are athletic you will be more likely to use your gym membership or actually put on that swimming costume. If you spend time with folks who eat really healthy foods, you will consequently take inspiration and be eating gloriously green, blueberry chia and super food fuelled meals and if you find yourself with positive and happy people who tend to see the brighter side of life, you will inevitably think of challenges as stepping stones. If you immerse yourself in environments of intellectual dialogue, perhaps on politics or economics between ambitious and focused people, you will cultivate and progress your own mind and if your friends like money, cars and big houses…you may just find a way to achieve those same things.
If your mates are academic you will probably finish that post graduate qualification you’ve been thinking about for ages and if your pals wear cutting-edge make-up even to the supermarket or on a run, you will think twice before postponing that hair dressers appointment to cover up those grey hairs. If the banter around the dinner table on your Friday night get-together is about getting that next promotion or making partner, your energies too will flow that way. If you friends have found peace, love, God, family, children, simplicity…you may just find some time to do the same.
Intuitive isn’t it. I mean naturally. It’s one of the reasons parents worry about the company their children keep because we know that we can drive all our efforts to instil good values but the association that our children forge with groups of their choice will often have a very powerful influence on their own attitude and outlook. Why then have I not become more like my mother?
We stood at the Pani Puri stall in Wembley the other day and whilst I stood a little bit removed on the side, my mum plunged into the crowd and cheekily ordered a plate of dahi puri chaat and we could also that the anticipation was positively tickling her. I remarked to my dad that my mother hasn’t lost her inner child and he told me that it’s the way to hold onto the beauty of life.
Iridescent eyes and quivering excitement greeted us and of course a hand wafting around a plate bursting with cool, crisp, sour, sweet, tangy little filled puri. There is no pleasure like eating them with loved ones, outdoors, before they fall apart but nobody knows how to live a moment like my mother. Nobody would guess anything else about her.
As I had a little moan about the kitchen, the mess, the heavy earrings and stifling outfit, my hunger and of course the worries of nursery and work and oh! Life. My mother just chuckled and went upstairs in the cool of the late afternoon. She didn’t return for ages but I heard a loud snore as I went up the stairs thirty minutes later. When I told my dad, he said, ‘look, this is how peaceful people live life’.
Here’s to my mother. She wanted a falooda after her paratha, curry, Pani Puri and dahi puri on the street but couldn’t fit it in. Falooda are thick milkshakes perfumed with rose syrup, pumped with swelling chia seeds, and silky vermicelli and there is usually some sort of fruit and soaking in there too and perhaps even jelly but there is always ice cream floating on the top and it conveniently holds the umbrella. You get the picture. It is a treat for all but has that youthful, fun element to it-just like my mum. If she were a drink, I reckon she would be a falooda.
I would not be me if I did stretch the recipe a little…Rose milkshake was the remedy and bribe for many a parental challenge during my childhood. Don’t want to drink milk? OK have some rose milkshake. Don’t want to sit and watch that Bollywood movie? OK have some rose milkshake? Too much arguing with the cousins…yep. Rose Milkshake. It looks pretty and that aroma…mmm…You’ll find rose syrup in the ethnic aisle of large supermarkets like Tesco or in an Asian Store.
I have made an ice cream of it all. Ta-DA! The bright pink vermicelli? I soaked that in beetroot juice. I even have chocolate vermicelli in this version but the thing is, it’s an ice cream.
300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
7 tbsp. rose syrup
1 ½ tbsp. chia seeds
3 tbsp. finely broken vermicelli
25g cooked beetroot
One pink apple, cut into small cubes
4 tbsp. sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. corn flour
If you are using an ice cream maker, ensure that your equipment is ready.
Mix the milk, cream, Rose syrup and chia seeds together and chill them in the fridge for 3 hours.
In the meantime puree the beetroot and soak the vermicelli in 50ml water.
Once the milk has been chilled for the three hours, to allow the chia seeds to swell, make the custard. Combine the three egg yolks, sugar and corn flour in a large bowl and whip them until the sugar is no longer grainy and becomes a pale yellow colour and creamy in texture.
Heat the milk and cream until it almost boils but do not let it boil.
Add the milk and cream into the large bowl a little at a time, to avoid the eggs getting too hot and scrambling. Combine well and then turn it back into the saucepan that you heated the milk and cream in.
Heat the custard on a very low flame and stir continuously. Do this until the back of the spatula can be covered and when you draw a line through the layer on the spatula, the line holds.
Turn off the heat and mix in the vermicelli and apple and then allow the custard to cool to room temperature before leaving it in the fridge overnight. Now add the chocolate vermicelli if you are using it.
Churn the custard in an ice cream maker or leave it in the freezer until it has set.
I took my toddler to the pool today and because I’m hanging on to every precious day and really feeling the countdown towards loosening the cord a little more, I was even more patient with him. He was even more ecstatic than usual. ‘I love you so much in the swimming pool’ he told me, and he also told me that he was going to ‘demonstrate’ his ‘swimming skills’. He is not even 2.5years old yet.
So here is the thing. Whilst he was shivering post-swim under my deep red towel and as we walked to find a large changing cubicle he chatted away to a member of the cleaning staff. He asked her about her favourite planet, car and animal. She asked him if he likes chocolate and he didn’t reply. He noticed that three of this softly spoken and calm looking staff’s colleagues kept walking by but nobody said hello to her. He asked me why? Well. What do you tell a not-yet-2.5 year old?
I had the same questions in my first job at the Bank of England. I had the same question in my last role at a household name-type brand. I thought it would be different in my new world. My new world is cluttered and tangled in a new way because it has emotion and passion factored in.
I was quite tempted to change the topic, but thought better. I told him that some people like to feel important, like a super hero. Some people like think Mars is better than Earth. Mars is amazing because it is red and Martians and they think they are cool because they don’t get dehydrated but people on Earth think they are cool if they are have lots and lots of stuff. ‘But that’s messy isn’t it’ he asked. ‘Yes’, I said. It certainly is.
So, here is a recipe that isn’t cluttered, it is simple. But you can get messy whilst eating it-if you fancy celebrating the glorious mess that one can be (me for a start). If you read my posts regularly (thank you if you do) then you will be familiar with how I love to balance contrasting senses. In tune with that, the (certainly not bland) tofu is salty, warm and bold. The mango is sweet and juicy. Then you’ve got spring onions. Who is celebrating a messy life with me?
The hubby recently bought Dhruv Baker’s book SPICE for me as a thank you. I have been instrumental in helping him (the husband) shed a few KG in weight with some of the lean recipes I have been cooking and in his book Dhruv cooks duck with some of the essences that I have used in the tofu. It works.
Ingredients to serve two
One block of firm tofu
2 tbsp. soy sauce
One medium sized mango, cut into thin strips or julienne
3 tbsp. kecap Manis
1 tsp. Chinese 5 spice powder
3 star anise
8 taco shells
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. galangal paste
3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
Wrap the tofu in kitchen paper and leave it to stand until the excess moisture has been soaked up before cutting it into large chunks of roughly 3cm cubed.
Heat the oil in a pan and shallow fry the tofu until it is crisp and lightly golden.
Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
Pour in the soy sauce, then the star anise and rice wine vinegar and mix through. Then add the 5 spice powder, galangal and kecap Manis and combine well.
Pour in the water and reduce the heat to a medium to low flame and cook until the moisture has been absorbed and the tofu looks well coated and almost crisp.
Compile the tacos by cooking the shells per packet instructions and adding the fillings as you like. Serve immediately whilst the tofu is still hot.
Tofu stuffed with toasted sesame, almonds, sorrel and chili
I taught a cookery class the other day and after I had introduced the dishes a gentleman who told me knew the general drill asked, “So where is the protein”. As I explained where the protein was and how in a vegetarian diet that is varied and borrows recipe from the world, there is plenty of delicious and nutritious variety…look at the pulses, tofu, lentils…
You know what followed don’t you? Yes, there was an upheaval of the ‘tofu is dull and sanctimonious’ debate.
1. Tofu is bland
a. A blank canvas more like! Is a potato bland? Well of course it is if you just boil it and eat it on its own. Tofu is inviting you to soak it, marinade it, dress it, bake it, fry it, scramble it; for goodness sake just do something to it. Nobody is asking you to eat naked slivers of spongy pointlessness as your main meal. Have you ever put it in a curry? It soaks up the juices and then releases them in succulent and generous bursts in each mouthful. Have you ever marinated it? It catches essences like a long-lost embrace. Have you scrambled it with some spices and veg-you won’t miss the egg! 2. Tofu is expensive
a. Is a block of tofu more expensive than a steak or chicken for a family dinner? 3. Tofu mushes up too quickly
a. Wrap it up in kitchen paper and leave it to stand for a 15 minutes if you are using firm tofu to shallow fry or in a curry and if you are using silken tofu then add them into a stock rather than when stir-frying vegetables. 4. I can just eat meat for the protein
a. Yes of course. Tofu is an protein source for a) those want to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet b) those who cutting down on meat to enjoy health benefits c) those who want to address food shortages in the developing world d) those who want to positively influence the environment 5. I don’t like the texture of tofu
a. Not sure I would be if I just ate it as it is. I like it shallow fried and then spiced and doused with soy, rice wine vinegar and chili. When I have friends over I sometimes deep fry it and they became crisp with a lovely chewiness inside and I add them to noodle soups and sometimes we assemble our own. I make, Vietnamese spring rolls where I use tofu in a slippery bite, and then there are kofta, which are spongy and juicy. Do you like scrambled eggs? Then you will like spiced and scrambled tofu in a pitta or wrap.
Funnily enough when I asked for feedback half the group asked for another class demonstrating different techniques on preparing and cooking tofu. Well…
You could use this recipe on your next barbecue and here a few of my other recipes for tofu if you haven’t already seen them
One block of firm tofu (I used the cauldron pack)
20g sesame seeds
2 tbsp. agave nectar
One large red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp. sesame oil
Salt to taste
A few dashes of your favorite chili sauce
40g sorrel leaves
For the dressing
5 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. chili oil
1. Wrap the tofu in kitchen paper and rest it until the excess moisture has been soaked up.
2. Toast the almonds and sesame seeds until they lightly brown and the seeds begin to pop before taking them off the heat.
3. Place the sesame seeds, almonds, sorrel, agave, oil, chili, salt, chili sauce all in a food processor and grind it to a paste.
4. Slit the tofu open by making 4-5 lines across the tofu and then fill them as deeply as possible without breaking the tofu block but try and hit the bottom.
5. Lightly grease a non-stick pan and then place the tofu and cook until browned, a little charring is quite pleasant so don’t worry.
6. When once side is browned, flip it over and repeat. I usually start with the un-slit side first
7. Drizzle over some of the dressing and serve immediately- you will get the best effects when the tofu is still hot.
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