Curry powder, it turns out, was created by Brits to mimic the tastes and smells of cuisines they’d sampled while visiting or living in India. That said, prepared curry powders have become quite popular and are now found in kitchens around the world (including ours, I must admit). By following Anupy’s lead and leaving the curry powder in the pantry for this dish, I ended up with big, bold flavors that didn’t taste kind of Indian or Indian-inspired, but Indian.
Makes about 2 cups
1 12-to-14-ounce package extra firm tofu
3 teaspoons garam masala, divided (see Kitchen Notes)
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium tomato, quartered
2 Serrano chiles, stemmed and halved
1 cup plain yogurt (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon asafetida (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup water
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Prepare the tofu. Cut the tofu block crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, then cut those into bite-sized pieces; I cut mine into thirds. Gently lay them in a single layer on a plate covered with a double layer of paper towels. Gently press another double layer of paper towels on top of the tofu (you’ll notice I use the word gently a lot in discussing handling the tofu – it’s fragile). This will remove a lot of the moisture in the tofu and make it easier to sauté. Let the tofu drain for at least 15 minutes.
Season the tofu pieces on both sides with 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame for at least 90 seconds. Sauté the tofu in batches – overcrowding the pan will make it difficult to handle without breaking – gently turning with a spatula and a wooden spoon occasionally until browned on the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.