WHATEVER our plans had been for this Deepavali, keeping it low-key is now the order of the day.
That is not to say that we have to forgo annual traditions unique to each family, but the need to avoid overindulgence in these trying times may get us to rethink our festive menus.
And while Deepavali celebrations in Malaysia generally centre on a non-vegetarian theme, meatless dishes are increasingly in demand with more people jumping on the vegetarian bandwagon.
As a pescatarian, I find the versatile tofu a perfect alternative to meat dishes, whether it is a simple stir-fry, a spicy sambal or a traditional curry.
So what better way to inspire healthier choices on this occasion than to whip up a spicy-hot tofu peratal that also pays tribute to my Sri Lankan roots.
What I like most about this recipe is the ease with which it can be done, even when knee-deep in other festive chores.
The key ingredient is the Sri Lanka-style home-made masala.
Of course, store-bought masala can do the job, but preparing it from scratch while breathing in the aroma of roasted spices stirs up a lot of satisfaction. It also brings back fond memories of my late grandmother, who would frown upon shortcuts.
To save time, the masala can be prepared days in advance.
Then, there is the type of tofu to consider.
I have opted for off-the-shelf fried tofu because of its firm density.
If this is not available, white tofu can be used but it should be deep-fried before cooking the curry.
It is advisable to marinate the tofu pieces well so that they are not bland when eaten.
Alternatively, this dish can be cooked with paneer by also deep-frying it beforehand.
TOFU PERATAL SRI LANKA STYLE
Ingredients for masala
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp uncooked rice (any variety)
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 or 2 cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves
Marinade for tofu
6 pieces fried tofu (cut each piece into
triangles of eight)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
Ingredients for curry
2 or 3 tbsp coconut oil
2 cardamom pods
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 sprigs curry leaves
3 green chillies or 2 cili padi
1 onion, sliced (preferably red onion)
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 to 3 tsp red chilli powder (depending on spice tolerance)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 stalk lemongrass
1 pandan leaf
Santan from half of a coconut (around 1½ cups)
1 or 2 tsp salt
2 sprigs coriander leaves
Heat a pan and add in the ingredients for the masala.
Slowly roast the ingredients until the
spices turn fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop. Also ensure that the rice turns slightly brown.
Leave roasted ingredients to cool on a plate and later grind them to a smoothish powder before setting aside.
Marinate the fried tofu with turmeric powder, coriander powder, Kashmiri chilli powder and salt for around 30 minutes.
Heat coconut oil in a wok and add in the cinnamon and cardamom pods.
This is followed by the curry leaves, chillies and sliced onions. Saute for a few minutes until onions become slightly soft.
Throw in ginger-garlic paste and keep sauteing for a minute.
Now it’s time to add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder and ground masala. Make sure to use all the masala.
Pour in ½ cup of water to ensure that the red chilli powder and masala do not get burned.
Saute until the masala is roasted well and the aromas fill the kitchen.
The marinated tofu then goes in followed by lemongrass and pandan leaf.
Mix well to combine everything while being careful to not crush the tofu pieces. Let it all cook for a minute.
Pour in the santan and then add ½ to 1 cup of water, depending on the gravy consistency you want. Add salt to taste.
Cover the pan and lower the flame to let the dish simmer for around 15 to 20 minutes in order to develop the flavours.
Finally, dish out the tofu peratal and garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve with rice or for a true Sri Lankan experience, pair the dish with idiyappam.
Wishing all Malaysians a fulfilling, safe and happy Deepavali!