Monday, November 8, 2010

Tofu makhani

I have been meditating for almost two years, generally using a mindfulness practice.  One focuses on the breath, letting sensations and thoughts arise as they come up, noticing them, and letting them pass without attachment.  The biggest challenge that I face in mindfulness is letting go of my planning thoughts, especially planning meals.  Much of my time in meditation is spent desperately trying to let go of the plans for my next dinner or Shabbat meal.  This generally takes the form of menu planning, but on occasion focuses on specific dishes. Sometimes it is even productive, if not mindful, and leads to a successful meal or a new dish.  Last Friday morning I was sitting at home, and spent much of my time worrying about what to serve with a meal of vegetarian hot borscht, basmati rice with mung beans, Kashmiri collards and Sri Lankan sweet potatoes, a very low protein meal.  My attention shifted to tofu, and then a dish that I will call tofu makhani emerged in my consciousness. (Do you think I am kidding?)  This is vegetarian version of murgh makhani, a dish of tandoori chicken or chicken tikka served in a spiced tomato sauce with butter and cream.  It was probably one of those treatments of leftovers that took the already delicious leftovers to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Lord help me, but I never thought that I would prepare a dish like this, which is based on tofu marinated in tandoori spices with fake pareve chicken broth powder, then baked and broiled, and served in a sauce.  The components are like independent modules.  The tofu, inspired by the method of abusing tofu used at The Cheese Factory in Wisconsin Dells, can be used with other sauces or none at all.  The marinade and the sauce are inspired by various recipes of Madhur Jaffrey's.  The sauce could be used for all sorts of other things.  It is one of those sauces that would even make floor tiles edible. (Another is raw cashew chutney, about which I will post shortly.)  My current state of spiritual development precludes me from using it as originally intended, with tandoori chicken, however, it would be good with grilled or fried paneer cheese, many roasted vegetables (especially cauliflower), fish (saute it first or it will make the sauce watery), and if you want to get elaborate, vegetarian kofta (meatballs).

This dish is much easier than it sounds.  It helps to demonstrate, if anyone needs the proof, that tofu or vegetarian food need not be health food. Here is how you make it:

Tofu makhani


For tofu:
  • 2 pounds extra firm tofu, each cut into 6 "cutlets"
  • 10 cloves of garlic (I use one package of the pre-peeled garlic)
  • 2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 tablespoons Osem pareve chicken soup powder, optional (forgive me)
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • salt (use more if you don't use the soup powder)
  • 1/4 cup water or more to make an easily spreadable paste and help dissolve the soup powder
  • Vegetable oil spray
For sauce and to serve:

  • 10-20 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1-4  tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 sticks cinnamon (regular cinnamon, i.e. cassia, preferred here)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole dried red chilies, or to taste
  • 3 cups tomato puree
  • salt
  • 1-2 cups heavy cream, to taste and depending on your cardiologists advice
  • 1-4 tablespoons sweet butter cut into pats and softened at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
  1. To make the marinade, chop the garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender.  Add the spices and the other ingredients through the salt, and puree until a paste.  Add water as desired to make it a loose paste.
  2. Smear the paste over the tofu and put in a container in the refrigerator.  Let marinate for at least 2 hours, or as long as 24.
  3. When ready to cook,preheat the oven to 450, and remove the tofu from the refrigerator.
  4. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray liberally with the oil spray.
  5. Remove the tofu from the marinade, scrape off most of the excess, and put on the baking sheet.  Spray the top liberally with the oil spray.
  6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
  7. Broil on high for 5 minutes, to brown the top lightly, being careful not to burn.
  8. Meanwhile, start the sauce.  Take the butter out to soften now so you don't forget. 
  9. Puree the onions, garlic and ginger in a processor or blender.
  10. Heat the oil on high in a very large skillet, nonstick if you are using less oil.
  11. Add the whole spices and cook until they puff and begin to change color, but be careful not to burn.
  12. Add the paste from the blender (averting your face) and cook on high for about 3 minutes stirring constantly, or until it looses its raw aroma.  Be careful not to brown.
  13. Add the tomato puree, about 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste, and cook on high, stirring occasionally, or until the oil begins to separate and it turns into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes.  Be careful not to scorch, especially if you use a regular skillet. Add a bit of water if it reduces too quickly.
  14. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cream.  Stir well to incorporate and cook about 10 minutes or more to reduce and thicken.  Taste for salt and correct seasonings.
  15. Add tofu to the sauce and reheat on low.  Add the butter and stir in carefully so as not to break the tofu, and heat until it melts in.
  16. Remove tofu to a serving dish, pour the sauce over, garnish with chopped fresh coriander, and serve.
  17. Serves 6.
Make ahead tips:  If you don't plan to serve this right away, prepare slightly differently.  Put the broiled tofu in a baking dish, pour the warm sauce over, and dot with the butter.  Cover and leave in a 200-225 degree oven for up to 2 or even 3 hours until ready to serve.  Garnish with coriander.

The marinade:  There was a lot of discussion at the table when we served this as to how much difference the marinade made to the final results.  While I thought that the marinade could be simplified drastically, everyone else seemed to think it was essential and said to leave it alone.  Next time I will try it with just onions, garlic, lime juice, salt and garam masala. 

Variations:  You could serve the tofu in many other kinds of sauces.  Any Indian style tomato sauce would work well, even without the cream.  You could also try some of those jarred Indian sauces that they have in the market now, though I never would.  You can vary the marinade to something more European (say onion, garlic, salt, soup powder, water and some herbs) and serve it in a mushroom and marsala sauce or a mushrooms and sour cream sauce.  Go wild! It's only tofu.

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