Roasted Tofu Salad Recipe

A bowl of roasted tofu salad
(Since a couple of people asked for the recipe of this after I tweeted it yesterday, and I got tired of repeating the same in chat windows and comment boxes, and figured I might as well post it here.)

A couple of days ago, I tried to experiment with tofu. I’ve eaten it several times before in restaurants, but never cooked with it, and have always eyed the fairly inexpensive blocks sitting on supermarket shelves with some trepidation. But having seen enough cooking shows where tofu is used, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

I didn’t, however, have any oriental ingredients in the house, it being ages since I last cooked stir fry. So while I would have liked to come up with some kind of sweet and spicy dark soy glaze, perhaps some celery and cashews, that implementation would have to wait until next time. I did have my faithful stock of everyday ingredients though, and I craved smoky, charred flavours that day. Instead of stir-frying it I decided to oven-roast it.

First, I heated some extra virgin olive oil in an oven-proof skillet, and added in a couple of cloves of sliced garlic, as well as a dried red chilli for heat (you can use chilli flakes or powder later, but I like the garlic and chilli to infuse the oil a little). When they started to colour, in went one medium sliced onion, which I slowly browned.

Meanwhile, I cubed a pack of fresh mushrooms, a medium sized carrot and a zucchini of roughly the same size. These went into the pan when the onions were not-quite brown (they’ll be finished off in the oven) and tossed about (I think that here you can add in pretty-much anything that might roast well: red bell peppers spring to mind, eggplant might work too).

Now for the tofu: it’s fairly delicate — at least the one I got was — but a steady, light hand and a sharp knife will yield few uneven pieces. I cubed these to around the same size as the other vegetables, and a couple of minutes later they went into the pan with everything else. I didn’t stir or toss vigorously now, because I wanted to keep the tofu chunks as whole as possible. Some breaking and crumbling will occur, so just go with it. later you’ll be blessed with tiny charred nuggets of goodness every now and then.

Then I seasoned it with salt, pepper, dry Italian herbs, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I tried to mix as best I could without destroying the tofu, and then took it off the heat and put it under a low grill

This gave me time to prepare the salad it was going into. I would have like to have something peppery in the house like rocket (arugula), but all I had was romaine lettuce, so that would have to do. I also had a can each of chick peas and sweet corn kernels. Since this was a hearty full-meal salad, I added those into the salad bowl too along with the chopped lettuce. I didn’t have tomatoes in the house, but one of those would be nice too (or something sweet and tart like green apple). For crunch and more flavour I tossed in some walnuts too.

(Now, I know this may sound like too many ingredients and flavours, but I like my meals complex. Feel free to omit anything you don’t like, or scale back accordingly.)

Every seven minutes or so, I checked on the tofu. It was grilling nicely, the edges going a nice brown colour. As they roast they get easier to handle, so I gently stirred them around to expose unroasted areas, then put them back under the grill. Since I was doing the salad meanwhile, time went by quickly, and by the time I thought the tofu was done around 25 minutes had passed under the grill. You can ramp up the heat and see what happens if you’re in a hurry.

The final step is to just place everything in a bowl. You can put the cold salad ingredients at the bottom and spoon the roasted tofu and veggies on top, but I jut put everything together. I don’t like heavy dressings, so just another splash of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil on top for me.

And there you have it. I liked the way it turned out, and I’m definitely going to try tofu at home again. I also proved to myself that it’s versatile enough that you don’t need to use it only in oriental dishes. I’m vaguely curious as to what saag-tofu tastes like now!

A bowl of roasted tofu salad


Don’t Call it a Piña Colada

Further adventures in processed food in this, the fourth and much delayed strip of the second Comic Konga! Click on the image to see the full strip.

The drawing is all over the place in this. I’m just a bit out of it this week, I suppose, running around doing real life stuff. One more left; have the script, should draw it asap.


Hyperfast Food: The New Indian Eating Experience

Modern Indians have never heard of slow food.

In the great 20th century drive for ever more urgent instant gratification, India developed demands of food and its providers that would stump even the cleverest American fast food giant. We want any dish off a menu of 200 items, and we want it here within five minutes. An Indian waiter will very reluctantly inform you that a special dish will take fifteen minutes to arrive, with good reason: most people will both complain about the time as they place the order, and then precisely five minutes later they’ll yell at the waiter for their food being ‘late’.

We also want it to taste like it was slowly cooked over a coal fire for two hours, and we will not settle for anything less. The second most common outburst from the Indian restaurant patron is that the plate of baingan bharta that has just arrived does not — horror of horrors! — taste exactly like the baingan bharta he’s had in every restaurant across the country for the past forty years.


A Time Paradox

The problem here is that very few of the dishes that are now considered ‘Indian’ — I’m talking here about daal, saag paneer, naans, biryani and yes, even baingan bharta — can be made in five minutes. A good biryani takes about two to three hours from the time you chop the first onion. The longer and slower you cook the saag, the nicer it will taste (There’s even a legend of a Kashmiri variety which is cooked for three days!), and let’s not even get into the time required if you decide to make your own paneer. Naans and chapattis are perhaps less time consuming but no less labour intensive. No wonder there’s a thriving market in ready-made chapattis.

Daal and rice only takes ten minutes,” I’m often told by aunts and elders. They fail to account for the hour you need to spend sorting and cleaning both the rice and the lentils; the other hour it must soak in water; the hour it takes to slowly cook the lentils until they’re a rich, soft consistency; the fifteen minutes it takes to wash the rice thoroughly of its extra starch. No, all they see is the ten minutes in the pressure cooker to turn the rice — by now wholly devoid of any nutrition by the repeated washing and soaking — into a stiff, uniformally gloopy cake. They see the five minutes it takes to make a tadka for the daal; oil in the pan, crackling cumin, some curry leaves and tomatoes, garlic and then the already cooked lentils. Fifteen minutes, and that’s if you let the daal simmer for a bit before serving to get it all smooth and comforting.

These same elders blanch when I mention the thirty minutes it takes to make a good risotto*, or the same time it takes me to put together a hearty salad (I’m very particular about cleaning the leaves, and prepare the dressing fresh every time). “Why don’t you just make daal and rice?” they coo. They also spend most of their day in the kitchen, or spend any time out of it planning or shopping for the next meal. The last time I made daal and rice was two years ago. I enjoy it, but it isn’t my One True God.

* (Yes, I know it takes around 16-18 minutes for the rice to cook. But I never bother with horrible flavour cube stocks, opting instead to slowly cook the onions and vegetables, chuck in the rice and cook it with water. Cooking the vegetables with the rice results in something equally tasty.)

Throughput Errors

When the food does arrive, it’s a frenzied race to see who can finish the most food within ten minutes. Mountains of rice are piled onto steel plates the size of hubcaps, and then drowned in seas of daal or curries. Stacks of chappattis, tubs of sabzi, and gallons of water in tall glasses to wash them down — usually while they’re chewing. “Oh, but only a little dessert please,” they say, “I’m dieting.”

Yeah, right.

There’s a reason most foods in the modern Indian canon are soft; why daal is cooked until it’s paste; why rice is washed and washed and washed until it can be pressed between fingers and literally used to glue envelopes shut; why spinach is pureed and paneer is butter soft. In order to meet the ten minute gorging requirement, the food can’t have any texture or bite; it has to go down smooth, and it has to go down quick.

Why spend most of those ten minutes chewing when you can be shovelling another pound of rice down your throat? My brother and I cause some irritation to all our hosts when I spend fifteen and he spends twenty minutes finishing his meal (not counting a second helping, which we rarely find the energy and space to take on).

Once, I tried to make some french beans with my grandmother. We sauteed some onions and garlic, added in the chopped beans and stir-fried them, adding a little grated coconut when I was happy; the beans were cooked but still crunchy and fresh. Ten minutes later I returned to find that my grandmother had doused them in two cups of water and boiled them until they were a sick, mossy green-brown.

Menu Musings

I’m not kidding about the 200 item menus, by the way. The average (vegetarian) South Bombay eatery has:

1. South Indian Snacks: Dosas, Uthappas, Idlis, Medu Vadas, and probably Upma and Sheera. Dosas and Uthappas alone take up a whole column. Thirty varieties are common, from the simplest Sada Dosa to the most elaborate Ghee Paper Mysore Masala Onion Rava Dosa. “Steam Idli, Fry Idli, Tomato Uthappa, Onion Uthappa — wondu soft pongal!” a satirical ad used to say back when I was a kid.

2. Chaat: Bombay street food. Bhel puri and Sev puri, pav bhaji in all its varieties (sada, khada, cheese, jain, special, etc). Fifty or so dishes.

3. Sandwiches: another twenty types, from cheese toast to club sandwiches. The club sandwich itself is an Indian institution. Double decker; on the upper level, layers of cucumber, tomato, beetroot and red onion, with spicy green coriander and coconut chutney lubricating the buttered slices. On the lower, a tomato ‘omelet’ (really a pancake made of chick-pea flour and tomato). The stranger ones on offer might be Russian sandwich: alterantely a mayonnaise vegetable filling, or marinated sweet and candied fruits with jam. Note that even pizza (but not as we know it, Jim) may also be listed here.

4. North Indian Food: the stuff anyone in the west will most likely identify as Indian food. Sabzis, bhajis and curries, rice and pulav and biryani. A hundred dishes and more.

5. Chinese: Do not for a moment think that this is actual Chinese food. It’s basically Indian food with soy sauce and lots of chillies. So you have fried rice, gobi manchurian (battered, deep fried caulifower florets in a lethally spicy sauce), noodles, chopsuey and the uniquely Indian Triple Schezwan (fried rice noodles cauliflower/vegetable nuggets in an even spicier, red sauce). While most people either opt for manchurian rice or a Triple, there will still be two dozen types of each thing (rice, noodle, ‘gravy item’).

6. Juices and Milkshakes: Here’s one of the few places the variety in a menus actually helps. The ridiculous variety of seasonal and year-round fruits available in India ensures that you can come to a restaurant every day and not have the same drink twice in a couple of months.

7. Dessert: From gulab jamun to gajar halwa, all the way up to my favourite, fruit salad with jelly and ice-cream. At least twenty things.

Perhaps this kind of restaurant is only prevalent in South Mumbai where ten million people from twenty five same-same-but-different cultures come down every day to work, and have as many same-same-but-different tastes. But I have seen this template growing, at least on the inter-state highways where, no doubt, people from Mumbai fully expect to find the same dining experience as they do every day in Fort. And all delivered to the table in five minutes, of course.

Thali Terrorism

The New Indian Eating Experience, is, rather fittingly, epitomised in a restaurant that shares its name with an express train. Rajdhani has no menu; it doesn’t need one. It only serves thali, a staple Indian restaurant item consisting of a few sabzis, rotis, rice and dal in a big plate, with either limited or unlimited refill options.

Now, I like thali; I like the variety and the satisfying nature of it. Chefs go all fancy and set up a degustation menu (a.k.a. a Tasting Meal) but this is the same thing, only without the pretension. Rajdhani, however, takes thali to a whole new level of crazy.

I entered the overly lit, overly yellow restaurant which seemed to have more waiters than patrons, after a late movie. At such a time I would rather have had some fruit juice or a light sandwich, but alas I was in the minority and the rest of the group were starving for some real Indian food. We were seated and a foot-and-a-half wide steel plate was placed before me, filled with a dozen little steel bowls. Then the madness began. No less than six servers came around, bearing everything from two types of daal (semi-sweet and spicy), three types of sabzi, three types of sweet, three types of roti… er, I’m struggling to remember everything.

Five minutes in I was left staring at the already gargantuan meal. I had’t even taken two bites when the procession of servers began again. Throughout the meal I was keenly aware of a tie-wearing server captain’s eyes boring into me and everyone else at the table, scrutinising each’s plates and snapping his fingers at servers to come and top up any of the seventeen things on our plates if they ran low. I spent more time saying ‘no’ to servers than I did actually eating. I never took any seconds other than rotis, and that, despite the supposed vigilance of the captain, took ten minutes to arrive when I asked for some, and meanwhile I had to shoo away several people bearing more sabzi and daal.

It was perhaps the most uncomfortable meal of my life. I just wanted to be left alone to eat in peace! Needless to say, my views are firmly in the minority, and Rajdhani enjoys a steady stream of clientele, all of whom are in and out within fifteen minutes.

Digestive Tract

I’m not sure what triggered this Indian obsession with hyperfast food. Perhaps because earlier we never had so much to eat, and therefore meals could be completed in ten minutes. Now that there’s more to eat we’re simply binging on it in the same time. Perhaps the food itself was of a simple nature — fruits and raw foods are considered the healthiest diet in ayurveda — that it didn’t require an hour to prepare and eat.

But let’s turn this argument on it’s head: the food now is so prepared, so over-the-top, that in any ordinary day you’d require a lot of down-time between meals simply to process all that junk you’ve taken in. And so the daal gets softer, the rice pastier, and the halwa richer, because after a thali you’d better have time for a quick lie-down, my friend.

You’re going to need it.


stop monkeying around!!

ooka ooka ooka -- it's a picture of Monkey Brand Black Tooth Powder!Ah, my childhood. A place filled with paper airplanes, paper airplanes, paper airplanes…. okay, I was obsessed, I admit it.

But somewhere before we all assembled in my grandmother’s balcony to pelt the neighbouring compounds with our aeronautically exquisite creations (gnats, darts, flat gliders, helicopters, plain vanilla concordes) we had to brush our teeth.

Children need to do that, else they will get no sweets.

Adults need to do that, else they will get no Sweeties.

Brushing your teeth in India is a tradition that is far, far older than when Proctor and Gamble decided to open a branch in the colonies. Indians, being slightly off in the head, would get up every day at the crack of dawn to chew on loose bits of the azadiracta indica tree, which we call neem. Azadiractin, by the by, is one of the most potent natural anti-microbial agents known to man.


Even post-paste there are people who still chew on the stuff, and while civilized folk will ooh and aah about their minty fresh gels and “herbal” based toothpastes, nothing says “Hello, Gorgeous, you’re teeth are clean!” like washing a black powder from your gums.

Yes, it is a black powder.

No, it doesn’t stain.

Yes, it’s minty fresh.

No, I don’t think it contains monkeys.

I don’t think


Culture Massage

If it’s 12 pm, it must be time for the talk shows.

Lebanese daily talk shows are, as one would expect, very indicative of their culture. They always have more than one female host, the maximum (including guest hosts) can go anywhere up to the dozen mark for a two hour thing. Subjects are usually restricted to make-up, Make Up, fashion (where the studio is, apparently, contractually obligated to have one of the hosts model everything), nutrition (low fat, she said LOW FAT!) and ornamental plant decoration. The chef usually prepares something bizarre that could only be made in Lebanon. One of them (and this I kid you not) somehow finds a way to make almost all his dishes bone-white. Not clear or of a whitish, roux quality — I’m talking chalk soup.

Egyptian talk shows chuck the cooking and fashion tips and nutrition entirely, and just invite over one of the hundreds of greying socio-political literati that Egypt has birthed post WW2. They come over, talk incessantly for two hours without cracking a sweat or a smile, and the host tries not to fall asleep (I’m sure what the guys are saying must be pretty interesting on the whole, but hosts are just like that). This sort of show is what the Lebanese have in the late night 9-12 slot, when all their people are back at home, snug in their leather couches, and feel the need to get right chuffed about culture and current affairs.

Emarati and Kuwaiti shows tend to be similar to Lebanese shows, except there’s always only one host (female), the chef pops up throughout the thing and cooks (if you’re Kuwaiti) something Western European involving Filo Pastry and (if you’re Emarati) Big Pieces of Meat.

Emarati shows also tend to call in doctors and ‘specialists’ from the numerous ‘specialist’ hospitals that litter this country, and with them thise fine men and women of science bring charts, diagrams and the latest, hi-res digital snaps of a foul looking pox, or fungal tooth rot or other green decaying stuff on the flesh.

The hostess nods, smiles her well-practiced, top teeth only smile and informs everyone that after the break some delicious Big Pieces of Meat will be cooked.

Cut to Commercial.



I’ve decided to stop wearing my glasses so often. The other day I took them off and noticed that even half an hour later things were a bit more out of focus than they should be; I can only surmise that wearing my glasses too often has caused some kind of diminished unassisted vision, and I’ll be damned if this continues.

Step one is getting rid of them. Sure, I haven’t changed the lenses since 2000, and the frame itself is in pieces that have been masking-taped together. I want to stick to my promise of only ever having one pair of glasses in my lifetime; I’m too damn young and too damn Not Stupid to go on the quick ride to coke-bottle eyes, which if three months of actively wearing my glasses outside indicates, will be where I would be in a year or two’s time.

‘They’ (don’t you just love a good ‘They’?) say that not wearing your glasses is going to diminish your vision, and the only way to keep your number steady is to keep them on. Well that hasn’t happened to me, quite the opposite, in fact (and since their my eyes I suppose I’m the de facto expert).

Oh sure, I can see pretty fine, and function in most all ways important; about the only time I imagine I’d need to put my glasses is when driving, and since I don’t even know how, well, moot point. For a few years, anyway. Thankfully I don’t need them to read.

Believe it or not, there is a freakish upside to the whole deal, one which I had quite forgotten about. Walking around everything starts to get this impressionistic smear effect, including people, and just looking at the pretty colour-forms is interesting enough.

Upside two is even more arbitrary, but nonetheless noteworthy to a male: All the women start to look good.

Over the past few months I have been struck by the sheer lack of even halfway-attractive women in Dubai. This problem too has been attributed to my spectacle-wearing affliction of the past few months. Without my glasses I can barely discern their physiognomies at twenty paces anyway, so imagination fills in the gaps and someone I probably would consider second only to the ugliest spawn of hell is transformed into someone I wouldn’t mind waking up next to for the rest of my life.

Sure. Dubai is full of beautiful women. Your eyes just need to be a bit off.


Nil. Unsurprisingly.

Thought up one of those ‘mad and beautiful ideas’ that Alan Moore seems to have every second minute. Not a half bad idea for a continuing, open-ended comic series. Certainly something worth looking into.

Did some mental decision-making on the Great Hyperbook Project. Still don’t have a name I’m happy with, but now I have decided that the world will have a progress-oriented history, that it doesn’t just remain in misty magic land forever, but does indeed have indsutrial and beyond phases. Also decided that it would feature all sorts of things beyond encylopaedic entries; this major shift was mostly due to the ‘thesis’ page at the back of the first issue of Alan Moore’s Promethea, and my frequent reading of Warren Ellis’s Newsmine, Die Puny Humans. I figure I might as well flex all of my nonexistent talents when I can. The Hyperbook seems the better for it. Now if only I ever get around to doing it (I’m halfway against even starting, as even in the long term I doubt i”m going to make any money — no matter how measly — off it).

Resident Evil (movie) — I suppose people will find it strange that I consider this to be one of the best English movies I have ever seen. It’s arguably one of the best shot and lit; not quite as good as the average Hindi movie (Let’s face it, they don’t have any cinematographers even approaching the quality of Santosh Sivan, Anil Mehta and Johnny Lal), but superbly executed visuals without a single shot that looks like it wasn’t planned and viewed from a Graphic Designer’s POV. And the movie itself was great, the soundtrack was, at last, something very different but still very good, and Milla Jovovich can do as she pleases with me, any day of the week.

Star Trek, “Shore Leave” — Mildly surprised that one of my favourite Star Trek episodes was written by Theodore Sturgeon. I’m dismayed that that doesn’t happen too often these days (‘That’ being a well-known SF writer actually scripting a major SF TV show episode).

Recurring Thought Proccess of the Day:
The Conduit. The Conduit. The Conduit. Mmmmm….