Marrying together ingredients from different global cuisines makes for a great kitchen adventure. A hint of Mexican chipotle chili in a Moroccan chickpea stew. A spoonful of miso paste instead of cheese in an Italian basil pesto. A burst of Indian cardamom and mango in a luscious cupcake. What’s not to love?
Cooking globally is easier than ever in our world, and no one stands to benefit from all those exotic ingredients in the supermarket aisles as much as we vegans do. Forced as we are to make our way in a largely omnivorous world, we develop that creative cooking
muscle faster than most. And we’re adventurous: we embrace new cuisines and cultures with verve and gusto and the thrilling belief that no food is not worth trying, so long as it doesn’t involve an innocent animal.
Exotic ingredients also give us a great opportunity to breathe life into an old, even boring, staple like tofu.
I have never been a huge fan of tofu, but I recognize its relative importance in a plant-based diet because of its rich protein content and versatility. Over the years I’ve found ways to make tofu more interesting by cooking it up with ingredients that transform it into something vividly and spectacularly different. I marinate it with ginger and garlic and lemon for use in Indian curries. I whip it up with fresh, leafy coriander for a spicy quiche. I crumble it with spice and stuff it within the folds of a flaky paratha, an Indian flatbread.
But one of the easiest and most delicious ways I love to cook and eat tofu is as a golden fritter, or a pakora.
If you’re been to an Indian restaurant, you’ve no doubt had a pakora. It’s usually a vegetable coated with a batter of chickpea or garbanzo bean flour and deep-fried into melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Pakoras — also called bhujias– appear on Indian dinner tables during festivities or just as a snack on a rainy day with a hot cup of tea. They make great finger foods.
I usually use plain old tofu to make my pakoras, but I recently came across an herbed version of tofu that already had all the water pressed out. I used it, and the result was gorgeous, so I’d recommend looking for it. If you can’t find it, feel free to use the plain variety.
Tofu Pakoras (Makes 24 pakoras)
- 1 package seasoned tofu (I used Twin Oaks — they even have an Indian Masala Tofu, which would be perfect for this, although I only found the Italian Herb variety at my local grocery store). If you can’t find seasoned tofu, use 1 package water-packed firm tofu. Drain as much water out of it as possible by placing it flat in a sieve, covering it with a paper towel, and then placing a weight on it, such as a dish. Let stand for about an hour even two, until most of the water’s out.
- 1 cup garbanzo bean flour, or besan
- ¼ cup brown rice flour
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, whole
- 1 tsp cayenne or, if you don’t want a spicy pakora, paprika
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
- A pinch of baking soda
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp canola or other flavorless vegetable oil
- Slice the tofu brick into three layers by making two horizontal cuts. Halve and then quarter each layer into squares, and then cut each square diagonally into a triangle.
- Mix all the remaining ingredients except the oil in a bowl, using a wisk.
- Add enough water to make a batter that’s quite thick but runny enough to coat the tofu triangles. Try to whisk the batter as smooth as possible.
- Heat a cast-iron or non-stick skillet and brush the bottom with oil.
- Dip the tofu triangles in the batter, make sure they are coated on all sides, and then place in the hot skillet without overcrowding. There should be at least half an inch between the pakoras.
- Flip when the underside is crisp and golden-brown. Cook the other side until golden.
- Serve hot with a chutney or some tamari.