Sunday, April 7, 2013

Achari Tofu: Spicy Baked Tofu


This morning, my daughter wanted me to make her favorite dish, which always reminds me of my granny. "Chor-parippu-nai", which is Malayalam for rice with lentils and ghee (clarified butter). I don't remember much about my maternal grandmother, since she passed away when I was very young. But one memory that sticks is how she would make little balls of rice/lentils/ghee and feed then to us as we sat around her and listed to her recount tales from the Indian scriptures, Ramayana and Mahabaratha. The aromatic rice along with the pappads, and her sweet voice laying out all kinds of fantastic episodes of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, in the waning evening light - all made for such a soothing, sensory experience. It's a very special memory, and I love that my kids know something about that warm feeling from my telling them about my grandma as I feed them this dish. I'll share the simple recipe later on this blog.

Since I was making chicken cutlets for the carnivores as a side-dish to the rice, I decided to improvise a tofu dish for myself.

Becoming vegetarian worked well on my conscience, but was tough on my protein intake. I'm glad not to be vegan, since paneer (Indian cottage cheese) is a big favorite of mine. And there's the usual suspects - lentils, quinoa, etc. I have Indian recipes for quinoa on this blog. Now, here's an Indian twist on tofu, which makes it easier to integrate into an Indian meal.

I called this dish "Achari", since the combination of tomato paste and spices evokes the spicy side-dishes called Achars or Indian Pickles - explosive flavor bombs that accompany Indian meals and can be found sitting on most Indian dining tables at every meal. See my recipe for ginger pickle here. If you have a more evocative or creative name, do suggest it to me in the comments below....

Ingredients:

250 grams extra firm Tofu
2 tbsp. tomato paste (if you don't have a simple tomato puree, feel free to substitute ketchup)
1 tbsp. course sea salt
1/4 tsp. pepper powder
1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
1/4 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. coriander powder
1/4 tsp. red chili powder (ignore this if you don't want it to be too fiery)

  • Combine the tomato paste, salt and spice powders into an even paste
  • Cube the tofu, ideally into 15 to 20 pieces, then mix it into the spice paste 
  • Make sure the tofu pieces are not too big, so that you can cover all sides of the tofu with the paste
  • Oil a baking sheet, tray or, better yet, a baking tray covered in foil 
  • Heat your oven to 350 degrees, and place the tofu broad-side down on and bake for 10 minutes
  • Turn over an bake for another 10 minutes
  • The course sea salt adds a crunchy texture to the dish 
  • Serve as an appetizer with mint chutney or as part of a broader meal with rice or roti