Cooking Together

‘Cooking Together’: Matar Tofu

By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff 

A festive red, white and green entrée for holidays 

Peas and tofu in tomato sauce with Indian spices

A traditional Punjabi entrée of Matar Paneer, prepared with a home-made cheese called paneer, is modified here replacing cheese with tofu for a vegan version.  

Tofu is easy to find in any market, whereas paneer is usually available only at Indian grocery stores. (Making paneer at home is a fun project, but it takes planning and time to prepare.) Tofu is also less caloric and a healthier option for those who avoid animal fat. If you have a large crowd to feed, this elegant tofu dish is also budget-friendly. 

The process of making this dish involves two steps; making a spiced sauce and pan frying the tofu cubes. The two tasks can be done separately and ahead of time. And the entrée can be assembled with peas, right before it is ready to serve. 

Ingredients:

          For the first step of making the sauce:

          2 pounds ripe fresh tomatoes (or canned tomato chunks with their liquid) 

          3 tablespoons olive, safflower or sunflower seed oil
          ½ cup finely chopped onion
          2 cloves of garlic, minced

          1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root 

          1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder
          2 teaspoons garam masala (freshly made following the instruction below)
          1 teaspoon or more salt to taste

          ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more to make a spicier dish)

         For Garam Masala:

         2 tablespoons of cardamom seeds 

         4 to 5 sticks of cinnamon each about 1” long 

         10 to 12 whole cloves 

         For the second step, and to assemble the entrée: 

         3 cups of firm tofu pieces, cut into sugar-cube-sized cubes (about ½ “x ½” size)

         2 tablespoons of oil to pan fry tofu cubes

         5 cups of tomato sauce (made from ingredients above) 

         2 teaspoons of garam masala (made with the list of ingredients above)

         1½ cups frozen and thawed peas (or same amount of freshly skinned peas)

         1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish 

First, make the tomato sauce.  If using fresh tomatoes, boil them in a pot of water for a few minutes until their skins split. Transfer them to a bowl of cold water. When tomatoes cool, remove their skins. Chop the tomatoes into chunks and set aside. (If the tomatoes are canned, you do not need to boil and peel them). Next, put 3 tablespoons of oil in a sauce pot and fry the onion for a few minutes until they are soft. Then add the garlic. Stir fry them together for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, ginger and turmeric.  Cook the tomatoes at low heat for 15 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, make the spice mix called garam masala as instructed below. 

The garam masala (spice mix) can be made with a number of whole spices by first roasting them for a minute and then grinding them together. Depending on your recipe, a garam masala is made with just three sweet spices as done here, or with as many as seven, eight or more.  For this recipe, make the spice mix by roasting cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and cloves for a couple of minutes on a well-heated, dry griddle.  When the spices start to emit an aroma, transfer them to a plate immediately, so that they don’t burn.  Place them in a mortar (or a jar of a spice grinder) and grind them to a powder. Keep the spices in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. For this recipe, you will need only a small amount of the mix. You can store the rest of the mix in a pantry for a month. 

In the tomato sauce:  Mix in 1½ teaspoons of garam masala. Add salt and cayenne to taste. Cook for 15 minutes with a moderate heat until the mixture forms a smooth and thick, but pourable sauce. This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Next, fry the tofu cubes. First cut the tofu slab into cubes and spread them on towels for 10 minutes to absorb some water.  Spread a tablespoon of oil in a pan and spread drained tofu cubes in a single layer. (You may need to do this task in a few small batches). Cook over a medium heat until the sides touching the oil change color, but are not browned. Flip the cubes to cook the other side. The idea is to fry the cubes briefly, so when cooked with the sauce they keep their shape. Set the tofu aside onto a plate. 

Assemble and serve:  Right before ready to serve, heat the sauce and add tofu. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes.  Then add the peas and cook at low heat for a few minutes.  Season to taste, top with cilantro and serve with rice or Indian bread or Pita bread. 

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Recipe © Shanta Nimbark  Sacharoff, 2021

Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Co-op., Green Apple Book Store, Rainbow Grocery Co-op, and at local bookstores. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and teaches cooking classes. You can view Shanta’s recipe videos by clicking Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff’s YouTube videos. 

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