Bread and Buddha by Mike Verano

One of the great pleasures of an Off the Vine membership is trying new foods. On more than one occasion I’ve had to either Google something that showed up in our share, or call Tess and humbly ask, “Tell me what that melon-looking thing with the stripes is called again.” However, there have also been times when the item was not a mystery but instead a well-known, but still untried, food substance. Which brings me to tofu, or as it has been known in my culinary dictionary, nofu, as in “No way, no how, I’m eating that!”

That came to an end recently due to two powerful forces; three, if you count my wife Kathy, colliding over the weekend. The first was my new-found love of Indian food. The complexity of this spice extravaganza is so tastebud altering that I have had out-of-body experiences while dining on chicken tikka masala (recipe below). I have even, while under the influence of Indian food, insisted to Kath that I must have been Indian in a previous incarnation and have had the good karma to discover my past life’s home dish. Kath’s response was to Google cumin to see if it has any mind-altering side effects.

The second of the colliding forces was my continued struggles as a cheese maker. Trying to recreate an earlier success, I set about to make paneer, a go-to staple in Indian dining. The recipe (see below) could not be easier, or so I thought. Whether it was my impatience with the boiling process, the use of 2% rather than whole milk, or the curse of, “Never try to make cheese when your NFL team is having it doors blown off in the playoffs,” what I ended up with was not going to stand up to the rigors of what I had in mind. Mostly because it would not stand up and instead remained in a ricotta-like state.

Just as I was cursing my fallen cheese, and my equally fallen Seattle Seahawks, Kath opened the refrigerator, stuck her arm in, and pulled out the pack of tofu that arrived with last month’s share. “Ta-da,” she exclaimed (apparently an ancient Hindi word for “you’re going to eat this”). To which I replied, “Na, (Hindi for “no”) na, oh hell na!”

Realizing that I was already committed to the dish, and that my beloved paneer was now destined to be reincarnated into a cannoli (Indian to Italian, a coincidence or cosmic harmony?). I asked myself “what would the Buddha do in a situation like this?” Would he pout and refuse the tofu? Would he admit to his wife the unspoken fear that once one slides down this slippery curd slope it guarantees that one will return as a Vegan in the next life? No, he would not. The Buddha, if he was as wise as history tells us, would do exactly what his wife wanted, and eat his tofu like a man.

The masala (Hindi for “Even a shoe would taste good covered in this”) turned out exactly as planned; aromatic, with just the right amount of heat and a dizzying array of spices. It was as close to nirvana as one gets while dining. The tofu was cubed and lightly browned in oil by Kath (a psychotherapist herself in this life) as she was sure that I would subconsciously sabotage this dish. Once it was heated through, the Tofu Tikka Masala, or Toku Masala, as it’s now known in our house, was served next to rice with peas, and warmed naan.

While I have to admit that tofu is not a bread-and-butter staple in the Verano household, it went very well with the Indian dish. When one considers the health benefits of tofu, combined with its versatility and convenience, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. So the next time your paneer falls flat, and there’s no chicken, lamb, shrimp, steak or pork within reach, go ahead and grab that pack of tofu and introduce it to the wonder that is Indian cuisine.

Here are two video links to help you venture into the world of Indian cooking.




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