My favorite restaurant style Indian dish is Aloo Mattar. John prefers Mattar Paneer, but they are essentially the same dish, one made with peas (mattar) and potatoes and the other with paneer (the homemade Indian cheese, similar to a cottage cheese) and peas. Ever since I made that Jack Bishop tofu dish (discussed here) I have been obsessing on making the mattar half of the equation but making it with tofu that had been glazed with tamarind chutney. Not as an improvement on the flavor of the dish, but upon the health of the dish, since eating Aloo Mattar for dinner is like having starch with starch served on starch (peas, potatoes, rice). And since I was making Dahi Chapati as my BBD Flatbread, make that a fourth serving of starch, albeit a whole grain one at least.
So I thought I could make the dish a little healthier by making it with tofu. Then I started thinking about my favorite chickpea dish and how it is really intense—very sweet and very spicy, and suddenly it seemed less like a dish and more like a chutney to be served with the tofu curry, further upping the protein. Throw in a dollop of yogurt and this is pretty much the perfect meal in my house.
Of course it did have the problem that Indian food always seems to have—you never want just one dish. It is absurdly expensive when you go out to eat because you want the samosa and the bread and the raita and the entrée and the rice… well replace money expense with time expense and I will admit that this meal got a little involved for a weeknight. And made pictures kind of difficult once again as I was distracted by other things.
But it was worth it. And honestly if it had not been for the chapatti (which I would never again make on a weeknight due to all the rolling out—naan, which is quickly stretched by hand and oh-so-much tastier in my humble opinion, is a better choice by far) I think this dish would have come together fairly quickly and painlessly. Plus on most weeknights we would either have bread or rice, not both, just as a matter of health.
These two dishes together are my entries for the Food Fight #3: Pantry Raid, hosted by Eating Out Loud. This event focuses on cooking out of your pantry and requires a photo of your pantry; I was actually able to make both dishes entirely out of my pantry, but rather than bore you all with pictures of my freezer and onion basket, garlic keeper, etc, I have just focused on the shelves which house the canned goods, the tomatoes and chickpeas. I normally cook dried chickpeas, but I had the canned, which I keep as back-up for just these occasions. Part of the challenge included getting ideas on how to organize one’s pantry from the pictures—well I have done my best but honestly I am living in a rental and the shelves you see are opposite the washer and dryer in the laundry room, which I have converted to a food pantry as well (dry goods only with the occasional onion or winter squash). If you are using my organization as an idea, well I feel as sorry for you as I do me!
2 very large onions, chopped (should have at least 4 cups if not more)
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 T minced ginger
2 t ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
1 t ground turmeric
cayenne pepper to taste
1 T neutral vegetable oil
1 T ghee
1 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes (or equivalent in fresh)
juice from one lemon, divided in half (lime is fine as a sub)
salt to taste
1 cup stock, vegetable or chicken
½ cup loosely pack chopped fresh cilantro, divided in half
1 bag of frozen peas
1 lb block of tofu
1 t ghee
2 t neutral vegetable oil
Tamarind chutney (I purchase this)
This dish relies on time to cook, so plan to make it when you have a few hours to let the curry simmer. Otherwise the tomatoes just taste too fresh and acidic. They need time to get mellow and sweeter.
Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven on medium high heat. Add the oil and ghee (I use both because I prefer the flavor of the ghee but the oil is healthier). Add the onions—as you can see from the photo, you will have a lot of onions. Let the onions cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and ginger and let this mixture cook an additional 10 minutes, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until quite softened and starting to brown.
Then add the spices and stir, toasting the spices. After 1-2 minutes (do not let the spices burn or stick), add the tomatoes, juices included. I usually (carefully and slowly to prevent squirting) squeeze each whole tomato into the pot. Let cook for 10 minutes, simmering briskly. Stir occasionally.
Add half of the cilantro and half of the lemon, as well as one cup of stock. Bring to a brisk simmer, and then turn the heat down as far as it can go while still maintaining a healthy simmer (something less than brisk, you don’t want to worry about it burning, but you do want it to reduce some and concentrate). Walk away for an hour or so.
In the meantime, slice the tofu block into 8 equal slices. Lay them flat on padded paper towels and press another layer of paper towels on top of them, draining all of the excess water out of the tofu. Then heat a nonstick skillet on medium high with the oil and ghee. When it is hot to the point of shimmering, add the tofu. Cook for 6 minutes (or until browned) on the one side and then flip, cooking an additional 6 minutes (or until browned). In the meantime, take 1 tablespoon of tamarind chutney and whisk it with 2-3 tablespoons of water. When it is combined, pour it into the skillet and let it coat the tofu. It will reduce into a thick sauce. Remove the tofu and when it has cooled slice it into ½ inch chunks.
After the curry has been cooking for an hour and is looking reduced, add the tofu and cover the pot, leaving it on low heat for another 1-2 hours (it can go longer if it is easier to time that way). Taste every now and then and add salt if needed.
Right before serving, add the other half of the lemon juice and cilantro, as well as the frozen peas. Let the peas cook through (which for me just means heating but if you like your peas more cooked by all means cook longer). Serve with basmati rice, plain yogurt and “chana masala chutney.”
Chana Masala “Chutney”
1 t neutral vegetable oil
1 t sugar
Salt to taste
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (or equivalent fresh)
2 T brown sugar
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 t garam masala (a good quality one with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, not too bulked on coriander and cumin–if you are not sure about yours and cannot smell those first 3, just add extra of them)
Cayenne pepper to taste (this should be spicy)
2-3 T water
1 15 oz can of chickpeas or cooked equivalent
Heat a nonstick skillet on medium high. Add the sliced onions and the vegetable oil. Cook on medium heat until well browned, stirring as needed to prevent scorching. This could take as long as 30 plus minutes—you want the onions to really caramelize; turn the heat down if they are burning rather than browning. While they are cooking, sprinkle the sugar and a pinch of salt onto them.
When the onions have caramelized, add the garlic and ginger and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Then add the spices and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently to toast the spices. Then add the tomatoes, juice included. Squeeze each tomato into the pan. Add the chickpeas, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of water if your mixture looks dry. Let this cook for 30 minutes, on a moderately low heat. Stir to prevent scorching. Taste at the end to see if it needs more sugar or salt; if you are using it as a chutney it should be quite intense and sweet—and preferably quite spicy.