Tuesday, September 13, 2011

saag tofu

the cooking from cookbooks continues! (and so does the alliteration, apparently).

my incredibly food-savvy cousin was kind enough to have a couple of wonderful books shipped and waiting for me when i arrived at my parents' place earlier this month. one of them, 1,000 indian recipes by neelam batra, makes me want to crawl inside a hole (a hole equipped with a full kitchen and mini indian supermarket) and cook for days. there are so many delicious recipes - one thousand, to be exact - that the biggest challenge has been actually picking out which ones to try. luckily, my mom is slightly more decisive than i am, and declared the other evening that she desperately needed something saag. we weren't feeling eager beaver enough to make our own paneer cheese, so the culinary geniuses that we are, we swapped in tofu. 

et voila! saag tofu for dinner!
growing up, my mother was the acclaimed indian chef of the household. while i have almost exclusively positive memories of her kitchen (there was just this one time with a hunk of ginger and me as a toddler and 3 hours spent wiping my tongue with a wet napkin "to make it go away"), her signature dishes are generally north indian (where she learned to cook) and many quite meat-centric: keema, tandoori chicken, ginger chicken, lots of  chicken chicken chicken. sadly, such dishes just aren't something i can recreate these days. so it was something very special to get to cook with the woman who brought indian cuisine into my life in the first place. and to do it vegetarian style!
this dish turned out absolutely delicious. we decided to pan sear the tofu beforehand, which helps a great deal as you don't have to be so careful when you incorporate it into the pot of cooking spinach. the other adjustment we made was leaving out a teaspoon of fenugreek leaves. this has nothing to do with my feelings about the spice - we just couldn't find it anywhere in tucson! next time i make this (which will invariably be very very soon), i'll make sure to scavenge them up, though to be honest, the dish is so flavorful anyway that you may not even know what you're missing.

saag tofu
from neelam batra's 1,000 indian recipes

8 ounces extra firm tofu
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, washed well
1 large yellow onion
4 quarter size slices peeled fresh ginger
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchstick
3 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
¼ cup water
3 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
2 sticks cinnamon
5 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly to break the skin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt, whisked until smooth
1 chili pepper, finely diced (with seeds)
½ teaspoon paprika

1. prepare the tofu by wrapping it in paper towels and letting it drain for about 2 minutes. repeat at least once (preferably twice) to remove all the water. cut into slices of ½ x 1 inch. heat ½ tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium high heat. once hot, place tofu in pan and sear on one side by cooking for about 1 minute. flip over and sear on other side. remove from pan and set aside for later use.

2. place the spinach, ginger slices, whole garlic, and water in a large nonstick saucepan. cover and bring to a boil over high heat. reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the spinach is just wilted and the onion is tender (about 10 minutes). let cool, then pulse lightly in a food processor until just minced, but not pureed. return to the pan.

3. heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat and cook the cinnamon, cardamom pods, and ginger matchsticks, stirring until the ginger is golden (about 1 to 2 minutes). add the minced garlic, coriander, garam masala, and salt and stir a few seconds. add the yogurt bit by bit, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t curdle. immediately transfer to the spinach pan. cover and simmer over medium heat for another 10 – 15 minutes.

4. add the tofu to the pan and stir to mix. cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes to let the flavors blend. transfer to a serving dish.

5. heat the final tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. add the chili pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender. remove from the pan, add the paprika, then immediately add to the spinach and swirl lightly to mix, with parts of the chili peppers visible as garnish. (if you’re worried about it being to spicy, add just half to the dish and serve the rest on the side). serve hot and alongside naan, rice, or any other carbohydrate!