Saag Tofu (Spinach and Tofu Curry)

This curry is for spinach lovers, and is utterly delicious. It started out as my version of Saag Paneer (which I’ve never tasted as I can’t eat the Paneer cheese) … so this isn’t a vegan Saag Paneer … it’s a dish in its own right. It’s mildly hot, with sweet undertones from the fried onion and tomato in the curry base sauce.

Saag Tofu

Serves 4 with accompaniments

1 (14 oz) pkt of firm tofu
1 lb frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
3/4 tsp salt for the spinach
1 tbsp coconut oil/Earth Balance margarine
1/4 large (3-4 oz) onion, finely diced

1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp chili powder, or to taste

3/4 tsp salt for the tofu

1 1/2 cups curry base sauce
1/8 cup raw cashews

Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2″ cuboids.

 

DSC_0004Lay a clean cloth kitchen towel on the work-surface, and line it with kitchen paper. Arrange the tofu on the kitchen paper, cover the tofu with more kitchen paper, then fold the towel over the top to help soak up excess moisture. Leave this for 1/2-3 hours. The tofu will have firmed up and have a drier surface when it’s ready, which makes it less likely to stick in the pan while it’s frying.

Put the spinach in a saucepan along with the salt for the spinach. Heat over high heat to remove excess moisture.

Heat 1/2 the fat in a frying pan over medium high heat; add the tofu, sprinkle over with the salt for the tofu, and cook (turning frequently) until the tofu starts to brown and become crispy on the outside. If it sticks to the pan at all, scrape it off with a thin edged spatula (these bits taste good, too).

Once the tofu has become crispy / chewy, scrape it out into the spinach, melt the remaining fat in the frying pan, and fry the onion over medium heat until completely soft and starting to brown (~15 minutes). Add the nutmeg, garam masala, and chili powder at this point, stir to combine (and allow to warm through), then scrape into the spinach saucepan.

Put the curry base sauce and the cashews into a blender, and blend until smooth. Add this to the spinach, stir and heat, then serve hot with rice or GF chapati.

Chana Masala (Chickpea/Garbanzo Bean Curry)

 

Chana MasalaThis dish is super easy and quick to make once the Curry Base Sauce has been prepared. It’s even better if it’s been allowed to sit for a while and then reheated, as the flavors combine and seep into the beans. It’s mildly hot, and is good for about 4 people when served with rice, or a vegetable side such as my Aubergine Curry. My husband made the suggestion that small chunks of dried apricot would also be a good addition (and it is … we tried it), however, mango chutney on the side is really all that is required … but regardless of whether apricots are added or not, daughter #2 is a happy girl. She loves British Indian Restaurant style curries!

1/2 oz (1/8 cup) raw cashew nuts
2 cups of curry base sauce
1/2 – 1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chili flakes
2 tsp garam masala
2 cans garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained

Put the cashews, curry base sauce, salt, chili flakes, and garam masala together in a blender, and process until smooth.

Scrape the sauce into a saucepan, and use  4 fl oz (1/4 cup) water to rinse the blender out into the saucepan.

Add the beans, and simmer until hot.

Serve hot with chapati, or basmati rice and mango chutney

Variation: Add ~1/4 cup small chunks of dried apricot to warm up along with the beans.

Curry Base Sauce

I do like curry. The authentic stuff is ok, but the stuff that I love is the British Indian Restaurant kind which can be fabulous! Apparently, restaurants generally rely on a curry base sauce which allows the production of many different curries really quickly as it contains ingredients common to many curries: onion, garlic, ginger, a few basic spices. It’s a base flavor that you tweak when making the actual dish, a bit like a flavored broth/stock. The secret is to have a spice combination that you particularly like … and not to skimp too much on the oil!

Oil: Apart from the taste aspect of the oil, it seems to help in the last section where everything has been blended together and you’re skimming off froth which is sometimes quite bitter. I tried to make an oil free version once, and ended up putting it in the bin!

Onion: I’ve also seen recipes that simply boil the onions to start off with, but once you’ve had your house filled with the smell of boiled onions, you won’t want to do it again. Don’t talk to me about authenticity …. I won’t be boiling any more onions as I’d like my husband to continue living with me.

Salt: Note that my version doesn’t contain any salt. This is not a mistake. Some of the dishes that I’d want to use it in require salt in their preparation (such as salting aubergine/eggplant or mushrooms to draw out their juices), and I’d rather put it in at that stage, than risk putting in too much.

Garlic: Generally, I expect to buy bulbs of garlic and peel the cloves as and when I need them, as they keep better this way.  However, for this dish I find the ready peeled stuff really useful! My store (Trader Joe’s) sells ready peeled garlic in 1 oz packets! So convenient! I don’t even have to weigh them.

Blender: I use the blender 3 times in moderately quick succession in this recipe … and am going to admit that I don’t do anything more than rinse it out into the pot between uses. The flavors are all going to end up in the same dish, anyway.

This recipe makes enough for 2 – 4 family meals, depending on how much the chosen recipe uses. I wouldn’t want to make it in any smaller quantities, though. Check out these recipes that use it (this list will get longer as time goes by): Chana Masala (Chickpea/garbanzo bean Curry), Saag Tofu.

Makes 4-5 cups of curry base (~190kcals/cup).

1 + 3 tbsp coconut oil/Earth Balance/vegetable oil
1 lb (1-1.5 large) onions, skinned and thickly sliced
8 fl oz (1 cup) tinned tomatoes in juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp fennel
1/16 tsp cloves
1 oz (~2″) fresh ginger, peeled
1 oz (just less than 1 bulb) fresh garlic, skinned

Heat 1 tbsp of the fat in a large saucepan; cook the onion gently over a medium heat in the fat for 20 minutes until completely soft and browned, stirring occasionally.

Put the tomato into the blender, and blend until completely smooth.

Gather the dried spices together into a small bowl.

Curry base oil

Note the oil separating out on the right hand side of the pan.

Heat 3 tbsp of the fat in a second saucepan. Add the spices to this second saucepan, and almost immediately add the blended tomato to prevent the turmeric from burning. Cook this mixture for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fat can be seen separating out at the edges of the tomato or as smooth, dark patches on the top.

Put the ginger, and garlic into the blender with 8 fl oz of water, and blend until smooth.

Once the onion has completely softened and browned, pour the ginger and garlic into the onion pot. Rinse the blender out into the onion pot with another 8 fl oz of water. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes with a tight fitting lid (or 5 minutes at pressure in a pressure cooker) until the onion is almost disintegrating.

Put the cooked onion mixture into the blender, and blend until totally smooth.

Simmering curry base sauce. Note the pale colored froth that forms around the smooth sauce in the middle, and needs to be skimmed off.

Simmering curry base sauce. Note the  smooth sauce in the middle of the pale froth that needs to be skimmed off.

Pour the onion mixture into the tomato mixture. Stir once to combine, then simmer over a low heat for a further 20 – 40 minutes without stirring. During this time, skim off any froth that rises to the surface by dragging the edge of a metal spoon lightly over the surface; try to avoid stirring it in. This removes a harsh flavor. You’re not going to get all of it, but you should get as much as your patience can cope with.

Once the simmering has finished, cool the sauce, and store it in the fridge in air-tight containers, using as needed. I use mine up within a week. I’ve seen some recipes that say it’s OK to freeze this, but I also know that garlic changes its flavor quite dramatically in the freezer, so I’d rather use mine fresh.

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

I’ve recently got the curry bug, again. Here on the western side of The States, even up here near Portland, Oregon (which prides itself on its cuisine) good Indian curry isn’t really available. The problem with Indian curry is finding a blend of spices that appeals. Cooking the curry itself isn’t difficult, but many curry powders rely too heavily on cumin (a relatively cheap spice), in my opinion, which has left me searching for blends that please.

Warmly spicy and intensely flavored, this tomato based curry pairs well with sweet mango chutney, and plain, boiled, rice.

aubergine curry

One thing you’ll notice about this recipe is the huge variation in oil that is suggested. For a home-style (and healthier) curry, use the lesser amount. For a rich, indulgent, restaurant style dish, use the greater amount. Aubergine has a reputation for absorbing all the oil in a pan in seconds flat, but it will absorb much less oil and stick less when it cooks (and consequently leave oil in the pan to cook the spices), if it has been salted before cooking and the oil is sizzling hot when the aubergine is added.

Note: if your aubergine/eggplant is a bit on the small side, add a 14 oz can of drained chickpeas/garbanzo beans along with the tomatoes.

1 aubergine (eggplant), cut into 3/4″-1″ chunks
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed dried chilies
1 tbsp – 1/2 cup margarine/vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, thickly diced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
14-20 fl oz (2 cups) tinned tomatoes
2 – 6 tsps sugar (optional – to counteract acidic tinned tomatoes)

Put the aubergine (eggplant) cubes in a bowl, and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to sit for at least 1/2 hour to soften and draw out some of the juices.

Gather the spices together in a small bowl.

Heat the fat in a medium sized saucepan, over a medium/high heat.

Wait for the oil to get hot, then add the onions, and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften.

Drain the aubergine (eggplant), and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Add the aubergine (eggplant) to the onions, and cook (stirring occasionally) for about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, and allow to warm through. (~30 seconds)

Sprinkle the spices over the veggies. Stir and allow to warm through. (~30 seconds)

Add the tomatoes, cover, and cook until they have broken down into a sauce, and the aubergine is completely soft.

Taste, and add extra salt (~1/4 tsp) and/or sugar to taste.

Serve hot with cooked rice.

Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

When eating out, curry is so often a good option for me. A decent curry house doesn’t have problems substituting oil for ghee and coconut milk for cream, being vegetarian is always understood, and wheat flour isn’t used in everything the way it is used in western cooking. They do, however, have a tendency to use much more fat than I could possibly contemplate while cooking at DSC_0001home, which is probably a really good reason for cooking my own! If you want to make yours ‘richer’ (and I don’t dispute that it tastes good!), then by all means increase the oil used to a couple of tablespoons per pan, but I don’t think it really needs it. It does benefit greatly from the use of fresh ginger and coriander, though. I peel my ginger by scraping a knife blade firmly over the surface, and I like to use a micro-plane to grate it, as this tends to separate out the fibrous parts that can be a little unpleasant. I also keep it vegetarian by discarding the last part so I don’t grate my fingers! However, finely chopping the ginger also works.

I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet to get intimidated by long lists of spices. This curry recipe, however, is relatively short and remarkably quick to make, cooking in only a little longer than it takes the potato to soften. One pan for veggies, one pan for sauce, and one pan for rice if you’re serving that too. This curry is mild in heat, and the flavors of the vegetables are still evident through the permeating spice flavor. This is a good starter curry for both cook and diner. Delicious!

This serves 4 – 6

1 tsp dry mustard powder
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp garam masala

1 + 1 tbsp coconut or other cooking oil
1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cubic inches fresh ginger, peeled, and very finely minced, or micro-planed

14 fl oz chopped, tinned tomatoes
1 – 3 tbsp honey / agave nectar / maple syrup (for vegan option)
1 tsp tamarind paste, or 2 tsp lemon juice, if tamarind is unavailable

1 1/2 lb potato, (waxy, preferably) peeled and chopped into bite size (1/2″) cubes
1 1/2 lb cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped

If you’re serving rice with your curry, now is a good time to put the water on to boil!

Measure out the mustard powder, cumin, coriander, and garam masala, into a small bowl.

Warm 1/2 the fat in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion over medium/low heat until completely soft and starting to brown.

Add the garlic and ginger, stir and allow to warm through for a minute.
Add the dried spices, stir, and allow them to warm and become fragrant.
Add the tomato, 1 cup (~8 fl oz) water, honey, and tamarind.
Simmer gently until the tomato chunks break down slightly.

While the onions are cooking, warm the other 1/2 of the fat in a saucepan, and gently fry the cauliflower and potato for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Coating the vegetables in oil will help them to hold their shape during the simmering process.

Add the turmeric, and stir until it evenly coats the vegetables and has warmed through.

Add 1 cup (8 fl oz) of water and the salt to the potato/cauliflower, bring to a simmer, and steam gently until the veggies are barely cooked. If the veggies are still uncooked by the time the water boils off, add another 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) of water and continue cooking.

Add the onion/tomato mixture to the cooked potato and cauliflower along with a couple of tablespoons of chopped, fresh coriander, and simmer uncovered for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check seasoning for salt, and add more sweetener if necessary to counteract acidic tomatoes.

Serve hot, garnished with more coriander, and rice or GF naan bread.