I love Indian food.
With it's rich, spicy flavors and warm, inviting aromas, Indian food is one of my favorite comfort foods. Whenever I eat it, I feel as if I am wrapped in a soothing sari of love.
But I have never attempted to make it at home. I think having an Indian buffet right around the corner for eight years was the main reason, although having the tiniest kitchen known to man didn't help, either. So, now that I have moved and have some elbow room, I thought I should give it a whirl.
Indian cuisine varies from region to region, however, there are several ingredients common to most Indian food. Chick peas, lentils, and potatoes seasoned with warm spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and chilies tend to cross over into all of the regions resulting in a beautifully fragrant array of deliciousness.
One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer, a wonderfully smooth combination of spinach and paneer, or Indian farmer's cheese. As you know, I'm a true midwesterner with a passion for the cheese. But for some folks, dairy is a no-no. I look at this as an opportunity to play in the kitchen. Since Indian food is primarily vegetarian, why not make it vegan as well.
Here is what I like to call Nearly Palak Paneer, a spicy (and dairy free) riff on that traditional spinach and cheese dish.
Nearly Palak Paneer
1 16oz package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and mostly drained)
2 red peppers
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic
2" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp galangal
2 Tbl garam masala
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy milk
For the tofu
16 oz firm tofu
2 Tbl soy sauce
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350. Slice tofu in half through the middle and place between several sheet of paper towel. Press to release as much liquid as possible. While the tofu drains, whisk together soy sauce, turmeric, and cinnamon. After about ten minutes, remove tofu from paper towels and cut into 1 inch cubes. Toss in soy mixture and place on a baking sheet. Pop in the oven for 35 minutes, turning about half way through. Tofu should be firm to the touch, but not browned.
In a food processor, place thawed spinach, garlic, and one red pepper coarsely chopped. Blend until smooth. You may need to add a bit of water to help encourage things. Set aside.
In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat and cook onions until translucent (about ten minutes). Dice the remaining pepper and add to onions. REMEMBER TO SEASON AS YOU GO WITH SALT! Once the peppers start to soften, add ginger and jalapeños. Cook for two minutes. Add turmeric, galagal, curry powder, and cinnamon, and stir well to combine. Cook for two minutes until spices are fragrant and fully incorporated. Add pureed spinach mixture and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and reduced to a simmer for about five minutes. Stir in soy milk. Add tofu and garam masala. Stir well to combine spices, and cook for two more minutes.
Serve with naan or over rice.
*Tofu can be prepared up to three days in advance. Simply cool, wrap in plastic, and store in your refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.