Monday, January 20, 2014

Tofu and Vegetable Korma

Sometimes a restaurant can be an inspiration, especially when a visit to the grocery store further reinforces it!


I made a concoction based on Vegetable Korma last night. Inspiration came from two sources. The first was dinner at a new (for us) Indian restaurant in town on Saturday night. The second was a jar of Korma simmer sauce that I happened to see during my travels shopping at Target yesterday afternoon.
There was also a glimmer of something else - epiphany, adventure, daring, or just an excuse but Ghee was also involved. See, I have wanted to try Ghee for a long time but never had an excuse. Ghee is clarified butter and has an extremely hot smoke point so you can use it for frying or cooking without the usual issues where it burns before it can heat the food.

There are few things less tasty that burned butter tainting your food. Of course, in the past I have tried to combat that by putting half butter and half olive oil or vegetable oil in the pan to increase the allowable temperatrure. In any event, Ghee is used a lot for Ethiopian cooking. After finding this at Trader Joe's I found out that it also has an indefinite shelf life, had good bacteria that you find in things like Yogurt, and is perhaps healthy. I didn't need all those reasons but it does add to my "pat myself on the back moment".

But I digress. Let's talk about the Indian food Friday night when we adventured to a new restaurant in our city. I did not take pictures but I plan on going again so I will post a separate article at a later date. We have been eating Indian food for years, being selective of the dishes we really favor. Our favorite for years has been Paneer Makahani, cubes of homemade Indian cheese that are simmered in a delicate sauce with cream, tomatoes and subtle Indian spices. Often you can't find it on a menu but you can usually find Chicken Makahani or Butter Chicken and you can often just ask to substitute the meat with the cheese. That is how we originally discovered a treasure of this dish locally.

We had been eating the Chicken version for years at a local restaurant but after having Paneer Makahani in Toronto at a fabulous gem called 309 Dhaba Indian Excellence, I asked our original Indian local restaurant to make it for us. I can't continue with out plugging Dhaba - if you go to Toronto it's worth the dining experience while you are there. I dream about it.

So for years Paneer Makahani at our original local restaurant has been a go to dish. So much so, it became an annual tradition on Christmas Eve. But over time, the quality and the consistency has been less that stellar. Sometimes the food is awesome, and other times it's mediocre. Indian food is too pricey typically to roll the dice. So we haven't had it in a very long time. This past Saturday night we decided to adventure to Moti Mahal in Royal Oak to see if we could find a local substitute. Their menu was a little different than what we are familiar with but the waitstaff were patient and helped us to find some items to start with. We had the Butter Chicken with Paneer (they spell it Poneer) instead and we also tried the Pasanda that already featured cubes of Paneer but had your choice of meats. I picked shrimp. Orders came with Basmati rice included but Naan was extra but well worth it. The Paneer Makahani was a little different than our usual taste of it but very much enjoyed. It was less creamy but sweeter and both kids (who are super picky) enjoyed it. My Shrimp Pasanda had the cubes of cheese but was a little spicier. My plan next time is to try the Korma or the Kashmir.

Which bring me back to dinner last night and the Korma I made. I found that bottle of simmer sauce and decided since I had to wait to try Korma at Moti Mahal maybe I could try something at home. I started with firm tofu from Trader Joe's, using both halves of the pack of sprouted extra firm tofu. I let it drain for a bit with a Pyrex dish on top to get rid of some of the excess water and then diced it into cubes (similar to Paneer - no coicidence there) and sauteed in the Ghee. I was patient, stirred them to get them a little golden brown.

I then took those out of the pan and started sauteeing some vegetables. First I used some cauliflower, carrots and yellow peppers, adding some crushed garlic and shallots once they got going. To this I added some sliced white mushrooms. Once this was really cooking, left firm but definitely sauteed, I switched them from the non stick frying pan to a pot that has a fitted lid, and added the tofu back in.

I used the whole jar of the simmer sauce but found that my quantity of ingredients really made for a sparse sauce so I added a can of cream of coconut to the pan and then simmered for about 20 minutes so the flavors could really meld. I checked it frequently, stirring gently but  often with a wooden spoon.

The verdict? Delicious! I served it with some instant saffron rice (totally unncessary, regular basmati will do next time) and the consistency of the tofu made this is a wonderful dish along with the fresh vegetables. I will definitely make this again. In fact, it's leftover lunch today!

As it wasn't a real recipe, I will do my best with estimates here:

Tofu and Vegetable Korma


1 package of extra firm tofu, drained and diced
2 Tablespoons of Ghee, divided into two (1 Tbsp. each)
Assorted vegetables (carrots in disks, cauliflower florets and sliced yellow pepper), approxamitely 1 cup in total
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms
1 teaspoon of shallots, packed in water
1 teaspoon  of crushed garlic, packed in water
1 jar of Patak's Taste of India Korma simmer sauce
1 can of cream of coconut or coconut milk



Drain and dice tofu, and place in heated non stick pan with a tablespoon of Ghee. Toss frequently on medium heat until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan and add another tablespoon of Ghee. Add firmer vegetables to saute, then add garlic, shallots and mushrooms.

Place vegetables and tofu in a new pot with a lid. Add simmer sauce and coconut cream (or milk) to pan. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Serve with Rice.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Roasted Chickpeas with Thai Peanut Butter Sauce

Crunchy Goodness with a Little Bit of Sweet Heat

I recently tried roasted chickpeas for the first time, courtesy of a wonderful lady we all fondly call "Aunt Sally". While at a Christmas ornament swap, I tasted all three of the flavored snacks. Aunt Sally had made a wonderful ranch/parmesan and this sticky honey that caramelized the crunchy tidbits. There was a third flavor that I can't recall right now but they were all very addictive. I kept thinking about how I was going to make some myself.

Today was the perfect day to start my first experiment. We are all awaiting the blizzard to end all blizzards based on everything in the media and I had to go to the store for some staples today anyways. Soup had sounded appealing and with two different kinds on simmering all day on the stove (Chicken and Walkabout) there was plenty of time to do other things in the kitchen.

I started with two cans of chickpeas, draining them and then letting them dry. I stuck them in a roaster pan, lined with paper towels and then covered them with a couple of more sheets and let them sit for about an hour. I then moved them around with the paper towel and rubbed them dry again before placing them in a glass Pyrex dish. Some of the outer coatings, shells, came off which probably helped the coating to stick when I covered them.

While they were drying, I combined natural peanut butter, Thai red chili paste, brown sugar, and some cayenne pepper in a saucepan, tasting it to get it to the right level of hot and sweet. In the end, I used about 1/2 cup of peanut butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the paste, and a 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. It made enough sauce for 4 cans of chickpeas in all reality. Since chickpeas are really cheap next time I will make more.

I added about two tablespoons of good olive oil to the Pryex containing the chickpeas.I tossed them to make sure they all got a dose of the oil and then placed them in the oven at 425 degrees for a few minutes to get them hot before I covered them with the sauce. I figured because the peanut butter was thick, to really coat them they had to be warm. I then stirred in the  peanut butter sauce while it was hot, and set the timer for 15 minutes.

After fifteen minutes at 425, I tossed them again to that they were evenly coated, and let them roast for another fifteen minutes. In total they spent about 5 minutes in the oven without the sauce, and then a half hour with the peanut butter. I tossed them once more as they cooled. The sauce was thickly coating each bean and it took about fifteen minutes or so before I transferred them to a Pyrex bowl for safe keeping. They were just the right combination of hot and spicy but sweet. Good stuff.

Crunchy Chickpeas with Thai Peanut Butter Recipe

2 cans of chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans, drained and dried
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup of natural peanut butter (I used creamy)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Place dried chickpeas in a pyrex pan or lined cookie sheet and toss with olive oil. Place in preheated oven at 425 degrees for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, combine ingredients for the sauce in a pan and stir until combined. Toss the warm chickpeas with the sauce and roast for 15 minutes. Toss and roast another 15 minutes, for a total of 30 with the sauce.

Remove from oven and toss before allowing to cool. Transfer to a dish for eating!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First Book Review for 2014! The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

An extensive first person perspective on the slave trade.

This story is a journey that the reader takes along with Aminata Diallo beginning in a small village in Africa and all the way to England as she provides her account for the abolitionists' movement. It is a long journey with a desire in mind to always return home and regain her freedom. How do you return to your home when it isn't even marked on a map?

Aminita is uprooted from all she knows at the age of 11 and forced into slavery. We are with her as she is on the ship traveling to an unknown destination and are witness to the many trials in her life. Through all of it, Aminita is a clever survivor who makes the best of every situation to continue to lift herself. Although life as a slave is a horrific fate, she does not let it define her and uses every opportunity to learn and grow, with whatever resources are availed to her. Finding freedom becomes more than simply being free from slavery.

This is a well written book and I found myself able to identify with the lead character even if her life was completely different than anything I have experienced. The settings are descriptive and the characters are well developed. This was a good one that I highly recommend.

Book Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

I squeezed one more in for 2013. . . 

Sarah Nickerson is a successful business woman, juggling a demanding career along with raising three small children. Life revolves around balancing all of it - working 80+ hours a week while trying to provide for her family - and doing it all in an expedient manner.

The world changes in blink of an eye when Sarah has a car accident that causes brain damage to the right side of her brain, which causes a condition called Left Neglect. Sarah can see what's on the right of her but anything to the left no longer exists, impacting her motor function, vision, and cognitive skills.

Sarah must focus on using her strength and the balancing act that she has implemented so well to find a new way to make things work. While Sarah fully expects to just recover within a matter of days, she has to face a new reality and a means to define a new life for herself with new identities and roles.

The story itself is so fascinating although in some ways it was difficult to read because this could truly happen and it is a horrific possibility. While Left Neglect is probably a very rare condition, the image that the author depicts of Sarah's life before the accident is something that most working women who balance a myriad of responsibilities can identify with. While some may see Sarah as a superwoman I also could empathize with her not being truly able to do everything as well as she wanted to and having to cut corners with her family and relationship with her husband.

The author writes this book in an honest and frank way, from the perspective of Sarah who narrates her own story, that really flows well. Sarah is pretty honest about her feelings throughout the book in a very direct way that was fun to read.