Years ago I came across this delicious curry and rice combination on an old episode of Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs series. Child, the grand dame of American cooking, was hosting Madhur Jaffrey– a chef who, I think, can easily be described as the grand dame of Indian cooking, at least in the western world.
In the episode, Jaffrey cooked a south Indian shrimp curry and dill rice. The spices, herbs, and flavors she added sounded perfectly harmonious yet vibrantly explosive. I just had to try a vegan version.
I changed up the recipe for the curry quite a bit to make it healthier and leaner, but Jaffrey deserves the credit because had she not made this curry, I never would have created mine. I used a few Mexican peppers to add fire and smoke to my recipe, including two anchos and a couple of arbol chilies. Adjust the spice to your taste because this sauce is quite fiery.
Jaffrey’s dill rice was more easily veganized so I didn’t have to tweak it much except to replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. This is my favorite rice recipe and one I’ve made in my kitchen over and over for years now.
Dill is an herb that’s easily found in supermarkets here in the United States, yet it also tends to be rather underused. It has one of the strongest personalities among herbs but that personality is so pleasant that it’s hard not to love it once you’ve tried it. If you never have, this is the perfect recipe to begin with.
In India, dill is considered a leafy vegetable rather than an herb. My mom would often pick a bunch of “shepu,” as dill is known in Marathi, from the women who sold vegetables out of straw baskets along neighborhood streets in Bombay. She’d cook it up with a few simple spices into a delicious bhaji that I’ll share with you some other day.
I hope everyone’s looking forward to the weekend, wet or dry. And ooh, I need to buy a ticket for that record half-billion Megamillion jackpot on my way home from work tonight!
Tofu “Shrimp” Curry
1 block of soft tofu. Swaddle it in paper napkins and leave in a colander with a heavy weight on it– like a steel saucepan– for about an hour for the water to drain out of it. Cut it into slices, about 1/2-inch thick.
Marinate the tofu in a mixture of:
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
After 30 minutes, bake the tofu in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until it’s golden brown on top and quite chewy. If you cut the tofu in big slices, cut it into smaller cubes before adding it to the curry.
For the sauce:
1 1-inch ball of tamarind, soaked in 1/2 cup of warm water for about half an hour. Squeeze the solids to extract the tamarind pulp and strain if it’s too lumpy. Reserve the pulp.
2 ancho chillies. Remove the stem and seeds. (Cut down to one ancho for a less smoky version, or substitute this with a mild paprika if you’d rather)
2 arbol chillies.
1/4 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 large onion or 2 small ones, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp jaggery (can use regular or brown sugar instead)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped
Soak the deseeded anchos in water for about 30 minutes.
Toast the fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a dry skillet set over medium heat, about 2 minutes or until the spices start to get fragrant and the coriander seeds turn a couple of shades darker. Don’t walk away because you do not want the fenugreek– or anything else– to burn.
Remove the spices from the skillet and set aside to cool.
Toast the soaked anchos and the arbol chilies in the skillet until they start to change color. Flip over and toast the other side. Altogether this won’t take more than 2 minutes.
Add the anchos, arbol, toasted spices, onion, garlic and cashew nuts to a blender. Add enough water to make a thick, smooth paste. I like to make mine really smooth because I love the velvety texture of the finished curry.
Heat the oil in a saucepan.
Add the mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves.
Toast for a few seconds, and then add the blended chili and onion paste.
Cook over medium heat, stiirring constantly, until the mixture turns a few shades darker and the water has evaporated.
Add the tamarind pulp along with 1 cup water. If the curry is too thick, add more water.
Add salt, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the sauce simmers. Let it cook for 15 minutes without covering it.
Add the tofu cubes and let the sauce simmer for another five minutes.
Add the coconut milk and jaggery. Mix well and warm through. Turn off the heat and garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve hot with Dill Rice (recipe below).
2 cups long-grain rice like basmati. Soak the rice for about 30 minutes, then put in a colander to strain. Set aside.
2 2/3 cups of water or vegetable stock
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 small dry red chillies
1 1-inch stick of cinnamon
4 pods of green cardamom
1 large or two small bay leaves
1 packed cup of chopped dill
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
Add the red chillies, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves
When the spices start to turn color, add the rice and saute for a minute or until the rice turns opaque.
Add the water and then the dill and salt to taste. Stir to mix and bring it to a boil.
Put on the lid, turn the heat down to low, and let the rice cook 20 minutes. Leave it standing undisturbed for another 10 minutes before serving.
Fluff the rice gently with a fork to separate the grains before serving.