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Meatless Monday: Spicy Indian tofu curry

Do something different for dinner with tofu curry. Get adventurous with authentic Indian spices like garam masala and Asafetida, and learn to swap the curry powder for a homemade curry paste.

By Blue Kitchen / January 7, 2013

Explore new flavors and spices with this vegan curry dish. Serve it as a main course, or just one dish in an Indian feast.

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Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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One is something we’ve actually been doing for a while – eating less meat. The other is getting into cooking more Indian food at home. This simple, spicy, big-flavored tofu curry let me do both.

The recipe is adapted from "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes" (2012) by Anupy Singla. Published by the Agate Surrey imprint, the cookbook contains background on Indian cuisine and helpful tips on spices, spice blends and shortcuts. A former TV news journalist, Anupy has turned full time to sharing Indian cuisine with the world. Her first cookbook, "The Indian Slow Cooker," has been the No. 1 best selling Indian cookbook on Amazon since its release in 2010.

A vegan, Anupy cooks with oils rather than ghee, the clarified butter used by many Indian home cooks and professional chefs. There arguments for the health benefits of each approach, but she likes the lighter flavor and lower saturated fat content she gets cooking with oils. She also cooks with spices. Lots of them. She points out that spices don’t always equal heat; sometimes they just produce big flavors.

Sometimes, though, as with this tofu curry, the heat is plentiful. And this was even with me toning it down for our Western palates. It was also wonderfully authentic. One reason is that, as you look over the ingredients, you’ll note that while curry is in the name, curry powder isn’t on the list. Like most Indian cooks, Anupy never uses curry powder. In India, the term curry is generally used to to refer to a dish that has broth or a sauce, as opposed to dry dishes. Those sauces vary from dish to dish and family to family.

Curry powder, it turns out, was created by Brits to mimic the tastes and smells of cuisines they’d sampled while visiting or living in India. That said, prepared curry powders have become quite popular and are now found in kitchens around the world (including ours, I must admit). By following Anupy’s lead and leaving the curry powder in the pantry for this dish, I ended up with big, bold flavors that didn’t taste kind of Indian or Indian-inspired, but Indian.

Tofu curry
Makes about 2 cups

1 12-to-14-ounce package extra firm tofu

 3 teaspoons garam masala, divided (see Kitchen Notes)

4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered

1 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 medium tomato, quartered

2 Serrano chiles, stemmed and halved

1 cup plain yogurt (see Kitchen Notes)

1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon asafetida (see Kitchen Notes)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 2-inch cinnamon stick

2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

2 whole cloves

1/2 cup water

cooked rice

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