“This is myyyyyy version of sticky tofu!” said my cousin Murali, brandishing a wooden spoon excitedly and channelling Kylie Kwong. Heart surgeon by day, cuisine clinician by night, his eyes light up equally brightly for a new way to bake bread as they do for a pioneering technique for salvaging failing heart muscle.
A pleasant side effect of starting my food blog was that it has prompted people in my life to share recipes or volunteer to teach me how to make things. As far as food blogger occupational perks go, this is a good one. From this has come great things like my cousin Chai’s Ivy Gourd and Coconut Stir Fry and my mum’s Green Mango Rice.
So on a recent whirlwind trip to India, I managed to squeeze in an eight-and-a-half minute cooking lesson with another cousin in the enormous granite kitchen that I have known since before I was tall enough to see over the counter-tops. While Indian pickle and soy sauce mingled in the air and tofu sizzled in the pan, I tried to attribute measures to Murali’s “Little bit ” of this and “Put some” of that.
I have waxed lyrical here about the confusing, delightful and piquant experience that is Aachar (Indian pickle). Here, the gravy of it is in cahoots with soy and tomato sauces. Together they form a sticky, flavourful coating over plump cubes of tofu and whatever vegetables are chosen to assist in the operation. I have added my own touches such as fresh ginger, garlic and chilli. I assure you, they are not a make-or-break so not having them shouldn’t stop you from trying this dish. The vegetables are interchangeable, amounts are approximate and depend on taste. Snow peas, broccoli and just about anything else you like should work well. Unlike heart surgery, this dish is anything but an exact science.
Sticky Tofu Achari
2 tsp Olive Oil
A few drops Sesame Oil (optional)
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
2 cm ginger, finely grated
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 1/2 tsp uncooked urad dhal (white lentils)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
250g firm Tofu, cubed in 1-2 cm pieces
1/3 cup Tomato Sauce (I used sauce with no added sugar)
1 tbsp Lime Pickle Gravy
1 tbsp Soy Sauce, then more to taste
1/ tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vinegar, then more to taste
8-10 spears of Baby Corn, fresh or tinned, sliced into 1cm pieces
Small red capsicum, chopped
1 1/2 cups Mushrooms (button, king or oyster), chopped
Heat the oils in a large wok, then add mustard seeds and dhal. Once the seeds have popped and dhal has slightly browned, turn the heat down to medium. Add ginger, garlic and chilli, and fry for a minute or so. Add asofoetida and turmeric and stir, then add tofu and toss until coated. If using fresh baby corn, add this at the same time. Cover and lower heat, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add cinnamon, pickle gravy and sauces, and about 1/4 cup water. Stir, cover and cook. Check every 2 minutes or so, adding a little more water if needed, until the corn is cooked through. Add the other vegetables, including the baby corn if you are using the tinned version. Add a little water if needed, stir, cover and leave to cook for 2-4 minutes.
Add the vinegar and stir through. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if needed.
Serve with rice or flatbreads, or toss through some noodles.