When some of your best friends are vegetarian, knowing the ropes of meatless cooking is vital. There are certainly dishes I refuse to try (Tofurkey will never be on this blog), but for the most part I have a profound respect for the versatility of vegetarian meals. Main courses often rely on the flavor of the meat, so when that’s taken out of the equation you have to become quite creative. Indian and Mediterranean cuisines are wonderful examples, and I often turn to these flavor profiles when preparing meatless entrees. I encountered such an occasion when my friend Tim and I hung out the other night. I went Indian and chose to make Indian Mattar Tofu.
In Japanese, tōfu literally means “fermented bean.” It is essentially coagulated soy milk that has been pressed into white blocks.* Despite how unnappetizing that might sound, understanding how to work with tofu can open up a whole new realm of possibilities. It is most often used in Asian cooking (which can be inferred from its etymology), where it is used in soups, stir frys, fillings, etc. Considering it has very little flavor on its own, tofu is mostly used as a vessel for other flavors used in the dish. Marinades and sauces are quite useful for flavoring this “meat”.
I myself was a veggie for 2 years (crazy, right!?), so I am well aware of tofu’s unpredictability in cooking. Thus I use it more as a substitute in recipes with flavors and techniques that I already understand so as to avoid total frustration (case in point: tofu baked in a peanut sauce = worst idea I’ve ever had). Indian cuisine is one of my favorite ways to cook veggie, particulary because of the amazing flavors and colors its traditional spices lend. I had made Indian Mattar Paneer several times before, and tofu is the perfect substitute for paneer! The appearance of this dish was practically identical, and the taste spot on. Frying the tofu gave it the same crispy edge, and the deep spices of the dish were remarkable. To learn how to make this veggie delight, click HERE.
Tofu is essentially a baseline for flavors and ingredients – musically, this reminds me of basso continuo, or a figured bass. This is a notational style that was especially prominent in the Baroque period for the harpsichord. A basso continuo part consists of a dictated bass line in the staff, with accidentals and numbers beneath the staff indicating the chord structures that should be played above – a “recipe” for a melody, if you will. These chords and melodies are either prepared ahead of time, or improvised during the performance. It is these interpretations that bring out an innate richness in the composition, even though at first glance it may appear “bland.” The works of Arcangelo Corelli are a wonderful example of this inherent beauty, particularly his violin sonatas. I’ve included below a recording of his Violin Sonata Op.5, No.12 in D minor “Follia” by violinist Andrew Manze and harpsichordist Richard Egarr, with a performance is anything but bland – enjoy!