Royal Paneer

Using cashew nuts as a thickener is something that I have been hearing about for several years now but never actually tried for myself… until this recipe. They are somewhat of a miracle ingredient in this regard, as they provide not only their thickening properties but also their flavour – and their fat content. The flavour helps to meld the other ingredients together whilst mellowing out anything that would be too strong, and the fats and cashew oils help give the sauce a smooth consistency.

This thickening quality isn’t only a property of cashews. My mother makes a delicious cauliflower and almond soup which uses ground almonds to achieve its velvety texture; I have used peanut butter to make sauces which thicken considerably upon cooking; and walnuts are often used in gravies to give them extra texture. Any raw nut butter will work for thickening sauces as the thickening agent (the starch contained in the nuts) has not been cooked yet. It works just like adding flour or cornstarch to a sauce to thicken it (except the nuts also add fat and flavour). The nuts can be ground in advance and added to the cold sauce (or whisked into the hot sauce and cooked for two minutes), added whole to the sauce at the start and then blended at the end or a small quantity of the sauce can be mixed into a nut butter (to slacken it) before whisking this back into the original sauce and cooking out the nuts.

Fat is necessary for making a good, smooth, sauce. The fats in this recipe come partly from the vegetable oil (to sauté the onion and prevent the butter from burning later on) but mainly from the cashew nuts and the butter. Fats give a smooth mouthfeel to sauces which is unobtainable in almost any other way. People talk a lot about avoiding vegetable oil because it is unhealthy and replacing it with things like coconut oil or nut butter but all they are doing is replacing one fat with another – because you need it for BALANCE. The fat will help cut through acidity from the tomatoes and rawness from the onion – but remember that fats need seasoning. If you add fat, you need to add salt. I’m not saying that you have to put in an artery solidifying quantity of the stuff, just enough to help cut through the fat. People will often look at a recipe and see a tsp of salt and just ignore it because salt has been villainised but really, it is necessary for a healthy diet. Like all things, the answer is moderation. If you are cooking for yourself and not eating ready meals, too much salt is unlikely to be an issue as fresh ingredients do not contain much salt (in most cases). That teaspoon of salt in the recipe suddenly isn’t much when you see that the recipe serves six people so don’t just leave it out. It is there for a reason – it will make the food taste good!

Tomato isn’t always used in royal paneer and I have seen recipes both with and without it. Often the tomato (and sometimes the butter) will be replaced by yoghurt which gives an intense creamy richness to the sauce. It is still highly spiced though so don’t worry about a lack of flavour. The term Shahi comes from the title Shahansha which was given to emperors, kings and other royalty in Iran. It refers to the luxurious texture of the sauce and the richness it contains.

The sauce freezes really easily and can be easily made in a batch in advance and defrosted when needed. Just make sure to re-season when you reheat the sauce.

 

 

 

Royal Paneer (Shahi Paneer)

Base sauce mix:

2 tbsp vegetable oil

50g butter

8 garlic cloves – peeled

1 inch piece of ginger – peeled

1 tbsp cashew nuts

2 bay leaves

2 onions

2 large, ripe tomatoes (or 200g tinned tomatoes)

2 tbsp tomato paste

3 cardamom pods

8 black peppercorns

2 dried chilis

2 cloves

1 cup (250ml) water

2 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

 

To finish the sauce:

1 tsp chilli powder (Kashmiri chilis give the best red colour)

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp fenugreek powder (if you have it)

50g butter

1 tbsp vegetable oil

 

To finish:

450g paneer

Chopped coriander

3 tbsp double cream

 

Instructions:

Grate the ginger and tip it into a large saucepan with the vegetable oil and the butter.

Add the cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, garlic cloves, dried chilis and cashew nuts and fry until the aromatics of the spices are released. Be careful not to burn them!

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Roughly chop the onion and add it to the saucepan. Sautee until the onion becomes translucent.

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Core the tomatoes and roughly chop them.

Add them to the onion along with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for fifteen minutes until the tomatoes have fully broken down.

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Blend the sauce mix and push it through a sieve. It will be thick! You should be left with small bits of spice and tomato skin which can be discarded. The cashew nuts provide the thickness to the sauce which can be intimidating to start with but I guarantee it will strain!

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This is the sort of wastage you will be left with after straining (I would give it an extra push through the sieve after I think that everything that can strain has strained because there is always more).

 

Melt the butter in a large pan along with the vegetable oil and heat until it begins to foam.

Tip in the spices and lightly fry them until aromatic – this will bloom them allowing the spices to release their flavour into the rest of the sauce.

Pour in the strained sauce base and stir until everything is combined.

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Season with a little more salt and sugar to taste! You could also add some extra pepper or chilli if you wanted.

The sauce can now be frozen if you wish.

 

Finishing the dish method one:

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Heat the sauce until it is bubbling, add the paneer and cook for five to ten minutes until the paneer is hot all the way through.

Stir through the cream.

Pour into a serving dish and top with chopped coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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Method 2:

Add a little oil to the base of a non stick frying pan.

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Fry the paneer until it is golden on the base. Flip the pieces and continue to fry until most sides of most pieces are golden.

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Pour over the sauce and heat until the sauce is bubbling.

Stir through the cream.

Pour the curry into a serving dish and top with fresh coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The sauce is incredibly flavourful but not spicy (unless you want it to be) so it is perfect for serving people who don’t like their food too hot. This makes a wonderful accompaniment to any curry as the fats in the sauce will help eliminate spice from other dishes but the paneer also stands up by itself as the main dish should you wish it to be.

If you would like to try a different (also vegetarian) curry, check out my recipe for a classic tofu based one or if you eat meat (or are happy to find your own meat substitute), why not treat yourself to a delicious Thai Curry.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing cultural pastry.

H

 

 

 

Black Pepper Tofu

We have all experienced it. You place the food in your mouth; you like the taste and it isn’t too spicy; you swallow it and take another bite; the heat begins to build… and build … suddenly you are regretting your choices. A deep regret that a glass of water will do nothing to placate. Your mouth is on fire.

The flavour profiles of chilli peppers is one of their most interesting traits.  Some chillies are like an explosion of fire that is rapidly extinguished and then you are fine, some warm slowly to an uncomfortably hot level before reducing to a more manageable experience and then there are the slow burners. These hit you in the back half of your mouth. They start with nothing and rapidly grow in spiciness – the ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) takes almost 30 seconds to start heating your mouth to a level which can lead to excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, crying etc. and this level of heat can hang around for over half an hour!

Capsaicin is the “active ingredient” in chillies – it’s what makes them hot. The capsaicin binds to the receptors in your mucous membranes – this is why it affects the nose as well as the mouth – and stimulates the same response as burning. Exposure to concentrated capsaicin causes irritation to the skin – inflammation and itchiness – which is why capsaicin is used in some forms of pepper spray. The hydrophilic nature of capsaicin means that water will do nothing to alleviate the affects. The best way to get it off your skin is by rubbing with some sort of oil and then washing with large quantities of soap as the soap will emulsify the water and capsaicin allowing it to be rinsed off.

The most interesting hot sauces on the market employ many types of chilli. This gives their flavour a level of complexity that is not present if only a single variety is used, as the heat can come in waves. There is the added benefit that chillies have different flavours apart from their spiciness; some chillies are sweet, some are nutty and some are fruity. Mixing your chilli types in a dish is a great way to personalise it to your palate. The primary flavours in the recipe below are chilli…and black pepper – it is spicy. Pepper – as I have said before – produces a very different heat to that achieved from adding chillies to a dish. The active ingredient, piperine, is far less aggressively hot than capsaicin but gives a far more warming flavour. Of course too much warmth still feels like burning but with a well balanced dish, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The recipe below was originally taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have refined it a little to suit my personal taste but it is relatively true to the original. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Back Pepper Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3

 

 

400g tofu

50g cornflour

½ tsp salt

75g butter

6 medium shallots

3 tbsp finely chopped ginger

6 medium garlic cloves – crushed

4 finely chopped red chillies (you can choose mild chillies to super spicy ones depending on the heat level you wish to achieve)

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

1 ½ tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp black peppercorns

½ tsp pink peppercorns (these can be replaced by black ones if you prefer)

8 spring onions, finely sliced

 

Press the tofu. This involves cutting it into slices and wrapping them in a cloth before placing weight on top to squeeze out the excess liquid. It will help give the tofu a firmer texture.

Combine the salt and cornflour in a large bowl.

Cut the tofu into cubes and toss these in the cornflour/salt mixture to coat.

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Fill a large frying pan with half a centimetre of oil and fry the tofu on all sides until it is crispy.DSC05659

Set the tofu aside and drain the oil out of the pan – I like to filter it into a jar and keep it for deep frying at a later date.

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Finely slice the shallots into half-moons.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies.

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Lightly fry for about ten to fifteen minutes until the garlic is cooked and the shallots are soft.

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Grind up the peppercorns. You can either do this using a normal pepper grinder or using a pestle and mortar (I prefer the latter).DSC05671

Stir the peppercorns and sugar into the soy sauces in a bowl and then add this to the shallots.

Allow to bubble away for two minutes to combine all of the flavours.

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Tip the tofu back in and stir to cover the tofu in sauce.

Continue to cook until the tofu has been sufficiently reheated.

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I forgot to buy spring onions for this but you don’t need to make the same mistake!

Stir through the finely sliced spring onion and serve.

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UPDATE: the spring onion gives a proper burst of colour to the dish

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, you should definitely check out my recipe for ginger tofu or even my teriyaki recipe.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a flaky pastry which will easily outshine the ones you can get from the supermarket.

H

Curry Laksa

If you have been following this blog for some time, you will have picked up on the fact that I love curry. One thing that I have always wanted to do is create my own curry paste but, unfortunately, I have never had the right equipment. Now things have now changed. This recipe doesn’t require any expensive spice grinders that are only going to be used occasionally, it uses a standard food processor, which is a much more worthwhile investment.

Handmade curry paste is very different from the most available ones you can buy. For starters, it is nowhere near as concentrated. This may seem a bit odd but once you make it, you will realise quite how much water is in the paste which is removed before you purchase it. A curry for two people normally has about 60g of curry paste in it. This recipe feeds four but uses over a cup (250ml) of paste. This excess water must be driven off at the start of the cooking process if you want to extract the best flavours from the spices.

The recipe below is specifically for curry laksa. This differs from asam laksa as it lacks tamarind pulp and includes coconut milk. These differences result in a far creamier, much less sour curry that I am a huge fan of. Laksa is a classic example of fusion cuisine done well. It is believed to have been cooked for Chinese merchants by the women they married as they travelled around the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Java and Indonesia). The dish combined the local ingredients, specifically coconut and tamarind, with the noodle dishes that the Chinese merchants bought with them on their travels and from these intermarriages was born the Peranakan culture.

A lot of classic laksa recipes contain both dried and brown shrimp in the curry paste and also use prawns instead of chicken. As someone who doesn’t eat seafood this was rather unfortunate for me, but luckily chicken laksa is relatively popular and isn’t too much of a change from the original sentiment behind the dish. The depth of flavour from the spice combination is phenomenal and I hope you get as much pleasure from this dish as I did.

 

 

 

Curry Laksa with Chicken

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3/4

Cost per serving: around £2

 

 

For the paste:

3-6 red chilis

5 garlic cloves

2 stalks lemon grass

3cm ginger

2 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp turmeric

1tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp cashew nut butter (2 tbsp nuts or swap for peanut butter)

1 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of one lime

1 tsp oil

 

Other Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts

400ml low fat coconut milk (this has a slightly milder flavour than the full fat variety)

600ml chicken stock

4 portions noodles

Beansprouts or some other thin, crunchy vegetables (julienne carrots or mangetout both work too)

3 tsp chilli paste (optional)

6 tofu puffs or slices of fried tofu (optional)

Corriander and sliced spring onion to garnish

 

 

Place the ingredients for the paste into a food processor and blend until almost smooth. Laksa should have a slightly gritty texture so the paste should still have a few fibres left in it.

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Heat the oil in a pan and add the laksa paste. Fry this until it starts to dry out.

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Add a quarter of the coconut milk and cook again until the paste starts to dry and the milk begins to crack. (For more information about cracking the milk, see my post on Thai curries).

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk along with the stock. Stir this together and heat until it begins to boil.

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Once the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat until it is simmering and then add the chicken to poach in the soup for around 15 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking and if you are using tofu puffs, slice them in half along the diagonal and add them to the soup.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain them and rinse with cold water until the noodles are completely cool to stop them from cooking any more.

Once the chicken is ready, blanch the beansprouts and begin to assemble the dish.

Place a portion of noodles in the centre of each bowl and place a couple of pieces of tofu on top.

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Slice the chicken breasts and divvy them up between the bowls laying the chicken down on one side of the noodles

Place the bean sprouts or other vegetables in the centre of the bowl, on the noodles, to give the dish height.

Ladle the soup around the outside of noodles so as not to disturb the vegetables.

Finally, garnish with a small spoon of chilli paste if you like your laksa spicy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe! The soup is full of flavour and can absolutely be enjoyed without any of the other toppings if you want a light lunch or even just a small starter at the beginning of your meal. The wonderful thing about making your own curry paste is that you can adjust the ingredients to your preferences so the laksa will be perfect every time.

If you like curries, you should definitely check out my recipes for Thai coconut curry and also for my lighter, non-coconut curry too. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little sweeter, why not try treating yourself to a beautiful ombre cake? You can even turn it into a unicorn!

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a cake idea that you can prepare for Halloween.

H

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon Curry

Curry powder is a wonderful thing. It makes life a lot easier when you can buy a premixed spice blend to make dinner with but sometimes it just isn’t quite the right ratios for what you are looking for and you have to make it yourself.

Unlike most curry powders, the spice mix I’ve used in this recipe doesn’t contain either pepper or ginger but instead replaces them with tamarind paste giving a slight tang to the curry which goes perfectly with mango chutney. Tamarind paste is one of my favourite ingredients in cooking. It gives sourness to dishes which provides a depth of flavour otherwise lost if you replace the tamarind with lemon or lime juice.

Tamarind grows in pods with a fleshy interior and large flat seeds. The young fruit are very sour and are used in savoury dishes and as a pickling agent owing to the high concentration of tartaric acid in the flesh. As the fruits age and ripen, they become significantly sweeter and start to be used in jam and desserts instead. One of the most eaten dishes which uses tamarind as a primary flavouring is Pad Thai. The sauce uses both tamarind and sugar along with several other seasonings and this mixture of sour and sweet is almost impossible to stop eating.

The recipe below doesn’t use tamarind as a primary ingredient but the addition of it gives the curry sauce a hot and sour flavour which pairs beautifully with a slightly sweeter accompaniment like dahl. The coconut milk gives a creamy, velvety mouth feel to the sauce helping offset the aggressive flavours in the curry without taking away from the taste. Of course depending on how spicy you like your curry, you can add more dried chilli or even fresh chillies during cooking to take your meal from a gentle warming feeling to melt your face off hot. One of the best things about this dish is how quick it is to prepare. The whole thing can be done in about ten minutes. I use a rice cooker at home and I tend to let it finish cooking the rice before I start cooking the salmon for this. The speed of this dish makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner especially if you are getting home late and don’t want to spend ages slaving away over a hot hob.

As always with this kind of meal, you can exchange the salmon for chicken or another choice of meat or fish or even make a tofu or vegetable curry. Just make sure to cook everything first before you add the curry sauce as the sauce cooks very quickly. If you want to cut time even further, you can make up a large batch of curry powder by premixing the spices and just taking a tablespoon as and when you want to make this dish.

Salmon Curry

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Cost per serving: around £2

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp chilli powder (or more if you like it spicy)

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

3 large cloves of garlic – minced

½ tsp salt

200ml coconut milk

2 salmon fillets with the skin removed cut in half width-wise

2 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix the turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt and tamarind in a bowl with 160ml water (2/3 cup).

Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan until it starts to glisten.

Place the salmon fillets into the pan careful not to get splashed by hot oil. Place the fillets with the side that the skin was on upwards.

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Sear the salmon for around four minutes until the underside starts to go golden.

Flip the pieces of salmon and pour in the spice mix. This will bubble a lot so be prepared for a large quantity of steam.

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Let the mixture bubble for about two minutes to cook the spices and then add the coconut milk into the pan and stir this through.

Allow the salmon to cook for another few minutes until it is your desired doneness. This takes around three minutes for softer, flakier fish or five minutes for fish that is a little drier.

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Serve with rice and your choice of sides. I like to have this with dahl and mango chutney.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Salmon is my favourite fish and the more ways I learn how to cook it, the more often I can eat it without getting bored. If you aren’t a fan of curry, my pan seared salmon with lemon cous-cous is also a super quick dish and is probably slightly healthier than this one as it doesn’t have coconut milk in it. It you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, check out how to make yourself a peach galette. It’s a sweet pastry covered which doesn’t require any tins – all you need is a baking tray!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe filled with chocolatey goodness.

H

Thai Curry and Other Coconut Curries

I have always found that Thai curry is one of those foods which is never as good when you make it at home as it is when you go out to eat it. This probably stems from the fact that the Thai curry paste available in most shops is nowhere near as good as the stuff that most restaurants use. It’s also taken me a long time to figure out how to get the coloured oil on top of the curry which gives it the authentic look – and in the process, really helps to meld the flavours together.

The coloured oil is formed when the coconut milk is cracked. This is where the coconut oil starts to split out of the rest of the liquid. It happens when the coconut milk is heated and boiled and as the water is driven off, the balance of oil to water is changed so the milk, which was previously an emulsion of oil in water, now has too high a fat content so the coconut oil starts to leak out. Coconut oil is a colourless liquid however it absorbs both colour and flavour from the curry paste which is why it always has a vibrant shade, far more intense than the rest of the curry.

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Cracking coconut milk for red curry. Top left – curry paste by itself. Top right – immediately after the coconut milk is added. Bottom left – the coconut milk has started reducing and the colour is intensifying. Finally the bottom right image is after the coconut milk has begun to crack. You can clearly see the red oil splitting out of the mixture.

It should be noted that not all Thai curries contain coconut milk. A notable exception is Jungle Curry which is water based. This is a direct result of the lack of coconut trees in the northern parts of Thailand where this curry came from. Unsurprisingly, it was the coconut curries which caught on in the western world. Whether that was because they are naturally creamier in texture or because they are less spicy is unknown but red, green, yellow, massaman and panang curries have all become very popular in England. Unlike their coloured counterparts both massaman and panang curry make use of peanuts giving them a distinctive flavour. Panang is very similar to red curry and can be quite spicy whereas massaman curry is very mild. It is very creamy and nutty and generally contains both peanuts and boiled potato. Despite the lack of spice in it, massaman curry is definitely one of my favourite curries.

One of the best things about curry is that you can make it to your personal preferences. You can swap ingredients in and out until you find the perfect combination for you so you never have to eat the same thing twice. In my recipes, I always use onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. These come canned from my local supermarket and are normally in the Asian section. It is also common to add red/green/yellow peppers to their respective coloured curries. I have also seen mange tout added to green curries as well as green beans. The chicken can also be switched out with beef, pork, tofu, quorn or just left out entirely. Prawns are also popular in curry however if you use them, you want to add them to the curry very last minute so they don’t become overcooked so make the rest of the curry first and add the prawns just before serving.

I hope you enjoy the recipes below.

 

Thai Chicken Curry

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large chicken breast

Curry paste

600ml coconut milk

1 large onion

Water chestnuts

Bamboo shoots

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unflavoured oil

Optional:

2 garlic cloves minced/finely chopped

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Chop the onion. I tend to chop it into eight sections by cutting it in half and then quartering both halves.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan.

Add the curry paste and the garlic/ginger if you are using them.

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Fry for a minute or two to let the flavours come out of the paste.

Add 200ml of the coconut milk. Stir until it is combined with the paste and then boil for five to ten minutes, stirring regularly, until the coconut milk splits. You will know this has happened as you will start to see coloured oil appearing on top of the mix. The coconut milk will have reduced down a lot during this time. Once you start seeing the oil appear, you should continue to boil the mix for another minute to ensure it is split properly.

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Add the chicken and fry until it is sealed and opaque on the outside – about five minutes

Add the onion and fry for another minute or two.

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.

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Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.

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Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.

Serve with rice.

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Thai green curry garnished with a little bit of reserved coconut milk.
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Thai red curry garnished with a little fresh chilli and coconut milk.

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry

This curry is a combination of my basic curry from my last curry post but it is elevated to the next level by the addition of coconut milk instead of stock.

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chicken – off the bone

1 medium sweet potato

Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)

1 onion

400ml coconut milk

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped

1 tbsp unflavoured oil

Peel and cube the sweet potato.

Cut the onion into large chunks – like before, I do this into eight pieces.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Place the oil, garlic and spices into a wok and heat until the aroma starts being released.

Add two tablespoons of coconut milk to stop the spices burning.

Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is sealed and opaque on the outside.

Add the onion and sweet potato and continue to cook until the onion starts going translucent. It’s fine if the sweet potato is still hard at this point.

Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir it through.

Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the spinach now. If you use fresh spinach, add it a little at a time and let it wilt down before adding the next batch otherwise it won’t all fit into the pan! If you are using frozen spinach, just add it all in at once.

Once the spinach has mixed in, bring the curry back to boil and simmer for another five minutes.

Serve immediately with rice.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I said before, the brilliance of curries is that you can tailor them to your tastes. By adding extra vegetables and removing others, you can create an almost unlimited amount of different meals to spice up your life.

I hope this has given you some ideas about different meals you can add to your repertoire – the hard work is already done when you buy your own curry paste.

If you want to make a lower fat curry, check out my basic curry recipe. Again, you can add whatever meat and veg you want to it and it is a water based curry so has far less saturated fat in it that coconut based curries. The base recipe I use is also vegan!

If you enjoy baking, you should also try your hand at my Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart. Crumbly shortcrust pastry layered with luscious raspberry caramel and white chocolate mousse, this is not one to be missed and will stun anyone who eats it (providing you don’t finish it yourself!)

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. These things are actually amazing!

H

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Basic Curry

Tofu is not known for its wonderful flavour. Or texture. Or visual appeal. In fact, most people’s first reaction to the word is some sort of grimace. This probably stems from the fact that, in England, one of the more available forms of tofu is ‘silken tofu’. This has a very gelatinous texture and is incredibly fragile, in fact I have found it almost impossible to cook silken tofu without it all falling apart and becoming some sort of mush – though this is probably just me. Silken tofu is created by curdling soy milk but the liquid is curdled inside the carton in which it proceeds to be sold, whereas standard firm tofu is curdled and then the liquid is strained off before the curds are pressed into a block.
With records dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, tofu has been around for about 2000 years. One of the leading theories is that it used to be made by curdling soy milk using sea water – the impurities in the water acted as the coagulants needed – and some forms of tofu are still produced like this today. The production of tofu spread around eastern Asia and it became a popular meat substitute as it is far cheaper.
There are several different types of tofu ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm. Extra-soft tofu has so much liquid in it that it barely holds its own shape – think of the texture of ricotta cheese. The next firmness is standard silken tofu. This tends to be used in desserts and sauces or smoothies as it can be used as a substitute for dairy and eggs. When blended into sauces or smoothies, it gives them a very creamy texture.
For tofu to be firmer than silken tofu, it must be pressed during production. This involves straining out the soy bean curds and then squeezing them to remove as much liquid as possible. The tofu produced from this has a much harder texture and tends to be what I use for cooking. You can press it at home to drive off even more of the liquid by wrapping the block in a tea towel and placing a heavy object on top – I tend to use either a pan or an encyclopaedia. The tofu can then be cooked in a variety of ways to give it the texture you want. Extra-firm tofu is incredibly dry. It is a little rubbery and is firm enough to be sliced very thinly without the pieces breaking. It is sometimes shredded and used instead of noodles in dishes.
Standard tofu is bland. It has basically no flavour whatsoever. This makes it perfect for absorbing flavours from other things so you can always marinade tofu in soy sauce or flavoured oils after it has been pressed to give it some taste. When I bake tofu before adding it to curries and such, I like to add some salt, pepper and sometimes a little curry powder before I put it in the oven as that way it will have a natural taste. The other way to avoid this lack of flavour is continuing to cook your curry for five or so minutes after the tofu has been added as it gives a chance for the moisture from the curry to soften the tofu a little bit and also infuse the flavours of the sauce into it.
Nowadays tofu is only really used as a meat substitute Europe and America. In eastern Asia, it tends to be viewed as just another ingredient and is often used alongside meats or seafood in dishes. A lot of people, especially in England, are not exposed to well cooked tofu when they are younger resulting in the reactions I mentioned at the beginning. With proper seasoning and cooking and, most importantly, the correct type of tofu, I believe most people would appreciate it far more and use tofu when cooking on a more regular basis.

Basic Curry (Vegan)

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes Serves: 2
Price per portion: £1.30 (for tofu)

Ingredients:
1 block of tofu (400g)
1 large onion
500ml vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour mixed with 3 tsp water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 C).
Drain the tofu and if you have time, press it (this step is optional).

Cut the tofu up into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal slice through it and then cut it to make cubes which are around a centimetre a centimetre and a half long. The tofu will shrink in the oven.

Line a tray with baking parchment or a silicone mat and spread the tofu out on it.

Drizzle over a little oil or if you use a cooking spray, a couple of sprays of that will also work well.

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Season with a little salt and pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes remembering to turn the tofu every 10 minutes.

After the tofu has been cooking for 20 minutes you can start on the curry.

Chop the onion into wedges (I tend to go for eight of them).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or wok and add the onion.

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Once the onion starts going translucent, add the stock, garlic and spices.

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Simmer for 15 minutes while the tofu finishes off in the oven.

Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour mix and let the curry sauce thicken. If it is still

very thin, add some more corn flour but if the sauce has become too thick, add some more stock.

Take the tofu out of the oven and pour it into the curry and stir through.

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Let the curry simmer for another two minutes to so the tofu can absorb some of the flavour and then serve with sticky rice.

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This curry keeps very well so if you are only cooking for yourself, you will have leftovers to eat the next day too. I like to use medium curry powder but if you like a spicy or particularly mild curry, there are different versions available. You can also eat this curry with noodles or bread.

A way to make the curry even cheaper on a budget is just don’t use the tofu! This will also drastically reduce the cooking time and you can replace it with whatever you want. Cubes of carrot work well and you can always throw in water chestnuts and bamboo shoots at the end too to bulk it out. Obviously you can also use meat too but make sure to sear it in the wok before you add the onions and the stock to it.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For another easy meal, check out my One Pot Pasta or if you are looking to do something a little more flamboyant, why not make yourself a Chocolate and Caramel Cake filled with lashings of cream and delicious caramel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a yummy shortcrust tart.

H

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