Tandoori Tofu with Saag Aloo

For Christmas my brother-in-law, Jim, and his lovely wife, Sarah Jane, gave me a collection of locally made chutneys. The box came with recipes including one for tandoori tofu. I was intrigued, never having considered the idea of using tofu in Indian recipes. A little online research showed that tofu is actually rather popular in India where many people are vegetarian. tandoori tofu, however, seems to be an American invention. No matter, the recipes I found were interesting enough that I decided to give it a shot. My recipe, using tandoori paste from a jar, is a distillation of several of those I found online and the one that came with the chutney. I served it with plain basmati rice and saag aloo, pureed spinach with potatoes and yoghurt, accompanied by various chutneys and Indian pickles.

Saag is a dish of cooked greens that originated in the Punjab, an ancient region along the tributaries of the Indus river now divided between India and Pakistan. Traditionally it is made with mustard leaves but in the West spinach is more common. Saag can be served plain or with the addition of meat, saag gosht; cheese, saag paneer; or potatoes, saag aloo. Some recipes call for the potatoes to be fried, others insist that they be boiled, while yet others just say “cooked.” Sometimes the dish contains yoghurt, sometime yoghurt and heavy cream, sometimes neither. (Since the yoghurt I had in the fridge had gone bad I used a sour cream—not authentic but not bad either.) And sometimes the spinach is pureed and sometimes not. Whatever variation you choose, saag is tasty as either a side dish or main entrée.

A note on cooking the tofu: the ideal way to cook it would be on a charcoal grill but mine is buried in the snow. Because I was in a hurry I tried doing it in cast iron skillet with a little bit of oil. The result was rather unsatisfactory so I recommend doing it in the oven as I describe below.

Ingredients

  • ½ block extra firm tofu, about 1/2 pound
  • Tandoori paste, I use Patak’s which is widely available in US supermarkets
  • 1 small potato, about 4 ounces
  • 1 Tbsp. oil or ghee
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ Tbsp. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ¼ tsp. Indian mirch powder or cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ pound spinach, thawed if frozen and chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt to taste, about ¾ tsp.
  • ½ cup yogurt, I use low fat
  • Basmati rice to serve

Method

Preheat oven to 375°. Cut the tofu into two pieces half the thickness of the original block. Place between folded paper towels, cover with a small cutting board and modest weight. Let stand for about 30 minutes then cut each piece in two so that you have four sticks each 3½ inches long by 1-inch square. Using a small spatula, spoon, or your fingers coat lightly by thoroughly on all sides. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Boil the potato for about 15 minutes or until it can be easily pierced with a small knife. Remove the peel with your hands under running cold water. Cut into ½-inch cubes and set aside.

Heat the oil or ghee in a non-stick fry pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and beginning to color. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Cook, stirring, for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach and water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

Place the tofu into the oven and bake while finishing the saag aloo, about 15 minutes.

Using a blender or food processor puree the saag, in batches if necessary. Return to the pot along with the potato and a bit water if necessary. Simmer another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the yoghurt and allow to warm through.

Serve over hot basmati rice.

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