Fusing the elements of Zen-style cooking with familiar recipes is something I love to do. And curries are fun to fuse. In the UK there’s a long history of curries dating back to the 1800s, if not earlier – a legacy of the British colonials returning from India. (Let’s hope with the advent of Brexit we can keep our palates border-free.) No surprise then that almost everyone has their favourite Indian restaurant or take-out, be it the how-hot-dare-you curry served at the local corner chippie, or shiny high-class restaurants down town, curry houses buried deep in the suburbs, late night locations a stone’d throw from the night clubs, or simply the best home-made. In fact, one of my favourite places from long ago was “Ashas” in Preston, a curry house we often visited in the wee hours after everything had closed on a Saturday night.
The first time I made this, Gakudo honestly thought we had served chicken in the zendo for oryoki! Honestly not. It was tofu. But I have to admit on that occasion it was rather convincing. The plan is, after all, to make vegetarian food as good and tasty as non-vegetarian. This time it managed to come close. A fusion of Zen-style, Indian-style and a wee bit of good old, ahem, England.
2 medium aubergines (eggplants)
1 teaspoon sea salt
500 g (2½ cups) firm plain tofu
1 red onion (150 g)
3 medium cloves garlic
20 g (2 tablespoons) fresh ginger
3 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro)
3 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon tandoori masala or hot curry powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric or 2½ cm (1 inch) fresh turmeric root
Cayenne or ground chillies, to taste (optional)
400 ml (1½ cups) coconut milk
400 ml (1½ cups) natural yogurt
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar
20 g (2 tablespoons) palm sugar or dark brown sugar
70 g (4 tablespoons) tomato paste
50 g (¼ cup) creamed coconut
50 g (¼ cup) raisins
- Slice the aubergines into large fingers. Put them in a bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and leave to rest while continuing with the next steps.
- Gently press any excess water from the tofu between flattened palms – without crumbling it – and cut into 2 cm (1″) diamond shapes. Set in a colander to drip-dry.
- Peel and cut the red onion into wedges.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Peel and fine mince the ginger.
- If using fresh turmeric, scrape the peel off with the edge of a teaspoon and grate.
- Cut the fresh coriander leaves and stems into thin slivers. Set aside.
- To make the Tandoori sauce, set a stew-pot on a medium flame. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the onions until caramelized. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry until the garlic becomes fragrant and golden. Sprinkle in the tandoori masala or curry powder, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric and cayenne, and stir-fry for thirty seconds. Next, put in the coconut milk, natural yogurt, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, sugar, tomato paste, creamed coconut and raisins. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Meanwhile, in a non-stick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a medium flame. Add the tofu and stir-fry until pale gold on the edges. Turn off the flame and put the tofu into the Tandoori sauce.
- Simmer over a low-medium flame for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir now and then to prevent the tofu from sticking. Season to taste, adding the other tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar if needed.
- Rinse the salt from the aubergines, drain well and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
- Heat 1–2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium flame and put in the aubergines, adding more oil as needed, and sauté until the white flesh softens and starts to develop dark, caramelized flecks. Set aside when done. (Alternatively, toss the aubergines in some olive oil, scatter them on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes at 210 °C (410 °F), or until they are tender on the inside. Remember to do this before making the sauce so they are done at the same time.)
- When the sauce has thickened or reduced by about a quarter, add the cooked aubergines and simmer for a minute to reheat.
- Garnish with fresh coriander.
Serve alongside Apricot Rice and chutney. If you prefer a dairy-free version, use 800 ml (3 cups) coconut milk and skip the yogurt. However, it may need a little more lemon to balance out the sweetness.
TIP: The Tandoori sauce works well with any kind of vegetables. Try it with cooked potatoes, green beans and cauliflower.