Crispy Tofu 'Paneer'

This spice-coated tofu makes an excellent vegan substitute for paneer. Cooked with peas in a tangy tomato sauce, the tofu can be served as a main or as part of a sharing feast.

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Introduction

Before going vegan, I loved paneer. The good news is that tofu makes a great substitute when cooked in a certain way. I often eat this dish straight up, but you can also add it to the tomato or coconut curry bases on pages 46–7 of SpiceBox for a spin on a paneer curry.

It makes a great side as part of a curry feast.

Serves 4 as a side/2 as a main

Ingredients

For the crispy tofu:
280g good-quality extra-firm tofu (I use Tofoo, which can be found in most supermarkets)
4 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
3 tbsp veg oil
For the spiced onion mix:
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, sliced into half-moons
4 large garlic cloves, grated or crushed
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 green chilli, slit lengthways
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp ground turmeric
125g frozen peas
juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges to serve (optional)
salt
A small bunch of coriander (stalks included), roughly chopped, to garnish

Instructions

Start by preparing the tofu. If it’s in water, drain it and wrap it in kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Gently press down on it to encourage any excess water out. Set aside while you prepare the spiced coating.

Place the cornflour, salt and all the spices in a large bowl and sprinkle in the nutritional yeast, breaking up the flakes with your finger so they form a fine powder. Mix well.

Cut your tofu into 1.5cm cubes and coat them in the cornflour spice mix. Put a large frying pan on a high heat and add the oil. When it’s smoking hot, carefully add the tofu cubes, one by one, so that each piece has a side face down in the oil. Leave to fry on one side for a couple of minutes until it has turned crispy and golden and then turn the pieces over, so they crisp up on another side. Repeat until all sides are crispy and golden. Drain the tofu on a piece of kitchen paper on a plate and set to one side.

Now make the spiced onion mix. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until they turn golden brown. Then add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and turn the heat down low to cook the onion really slowly. When the onion starts to soften – after about 5 minutes – add the garlic, ginger and green chilli, and cook until the onion is completely soft and caramelised (10–15 minutes in total).

Add the tomato purée, sugar and turmeric, and cook for a few minutes – you may need to add a splash of water to stop the mix from burning. When the tomato purée has turned a darker shade of red, add the crispy tofu to the pan. Stir so that it is well coated with the spiced onion mix.

Turn up the heat and add the peas and lemon juice, and cook until the peas have just defrosted – you want to keep them a bit crunchy as it adds a lovely freshness. Remove the pan from the heat and taste for seasoning. Serve topped with chopped coriander and a fresh lemon wedge, if you like.

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