Fusing the elements of Zen-style cooking with familiar recipes is something I love to do. 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 place. From the how-hot-dare-you-eat-it curry served at the corner chippie, to the glitzy high-class establishments downtown, or simply home-made. One of my favourite places from long ago was “Ashas” in Preston, a place we often visited in the small hours after everything had closed on a Saturday night. (It might even still be there…)
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 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.
The sauce works great with any other vegetables. Try it with boiled and drained cauliflower, string beans, and chickpeas.
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 smoked paprika powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric or 2½ cm (1 inch) fresh turmeric root
Cayenne or ground chillies, to taste
400 ml (1¾ cups) coconut milk
200 ml (¾ cup) soy milk
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 curry sauce, set a stew-pot on a medium flame. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the onions until caramelized. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric, and stir-fry until the garlic becomes fragrant and golden. Sprinkle in the tandoori masala or curry powder, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne, and stir-fry for thirty seconds. Next, put in the coconut milk, soy milk, 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.
- Continue to simmer the sauce 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.
- Stir in the smoked paprika
- Season to taste.
- Rinse the aubergines, drain well and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
- 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 ready at the same time. (Alternatively, 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.)
- 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.