As a whole, Indian desserts rely primarily on two ingredients: milk and butter (and sugar, but that’s a given, right?). In most cases, it’s easy to find a suitable replacement for both of these (coconut oil, anyone?), but not all desi desserts are created equal. Ras malai, a rich concoction of cheese, cream and cardamom, is traditionally made by boiling balls of paneer (cottage cheese) in a sugary syrup until chewy and then soaking them in a cardamom-spiced cream sauce. Decadent – yes. Delicious – obviously. Vegan – not so much.
The challenge in veganizing ras malai is recreating the sweet chewiness of the boiled paneer. There are several ingredients that can act as suitable stand-ins for one of those elements, but both gets a little tricky. Not to fear, tofu to the rescue.
Not only is tofu cost-efficient, readily-available and heart-healthy, but it’s got plenty of satiating protein to boot! That should help keep those New Year’s resolutions on track, right?
For the ras (sweetened tofu):
- 1 box firm or extra-firm tofu
- Approximately 1 c. water
- Sugar, to taste (I used 50 drops of stevia + 3 packets of Splenda)
For the malai (cream sauce):
- 1.5 c. coconut milk (or equivalent from a fresh coconut)
- Roughly 1/2 c. sugar or equivalent
- 1/4 – 1/2 t. ground cardamom (yield from approximately 12-15 pods)
- Drain the tofu and press as much water out as possible. Cut into cube-shaped slices (as pictured). Place the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze.
- When you’re ready to make the ras malai, defrost the frozen tofu (preferably in the fridge overnight) and boil it in the syrup over very low heat until most of it has been absorbed. If you use a sugar alternative that doesn’t thicken in water, you should be able to get away with just “marinating” in the sweetened water.
- While the tofu is boiling (or soaking), prepare the malai by mixing the coconut milk with the sugar and reducing it to 1.5 c. Once it’s reduced add in the cardamom and stir.
- Place the tofu cubes (ras) in the coconut milk syrup (malai) and chill for at least a few hours – the longer the better.
- To serve, place 1-2 ras in a bowl with a little bit of the coconut syrup. If you want, garnish it with a little saffron.