Monday, June 14, 2010

Random Weeknight Coconut Tofu Curry

By now it's pretty much an open secret that coconut milk and I are madly in love - we've been carrying on for awhile now, and the time has come for me to shout it from the rooftops. The funny thing is that this passion came as a bit of a surprise: as a child, I only ever encountered coconut in sweets, and never liked it. It invariably lay at the center of the last, forlorn chocolate in a Valentine's box, I didn't care for German chocolate cake, and when coconut made an appearance in a mainstream candy bar like an Almond Joy, it only spoiled my joy.

But what a difference a new cuisine can make: the first time I tasted a Thai coconut curry, I basically went out of my mind. From there on, I went on to get all swoony over Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Carribbean dishes, and eventually determined that maybe I could make some of this stuff myself. Many cookbooks and web searches later, coconut milk is a  cupboard staple, and while I still don't care for its flavor in sweets (of course, I'm not that crazy about sweets anyway), I adore and lust after it in savory, spicy dishes.

The recipe below is another curry that started out wanting to be something else, but wound up being massaged to suit the contents of my cupboard. I was running low on vegetables, and I think the inclusion of something green and crunchy (broccoli seems perfect) would only make it better. Even so, I don't mind saying that this was yummy-sound-inducingly good, and the fried tofu was probably the best I've ever made, which is sayin' summat. But it's the sauce that makes it special; it may seem a bit time-consuming, but most of that time is spent hanging out in the kitchen listening to music or posting nonsense on Facebook while it simmers. And anyway, trust me: it's totally worth it.

When it comes to coconut milk, I generally use the "lite" variety, sometimes the full-strength, and occasionally, when I want to pull out all the stops, the high test coconut cream, which can make a person gain five pounds just by looking at the unopened can. But so what? Coconut milk adds that ineffably rich, creamy, tropically exotic deliciousness to a recipe that never fails to make your guests (and even your jaded, experimented-upon family) say "mmmmmmm." And that's exactly what you want them to say, isn't it?

Random Weeknight Coconut Tofu Curry
The Curry
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. yellow curry paste
~ 1 tsp. each: dried lemongrass, coriander, hot sauce (I use Sriracha)
~ 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh coriander, including stems
~ 1 15 oz. can of lite coconut milk
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. each: curry powder, sugar
~ 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
~ 2 tsp. cornstarch

~ Place ingredients from the garlic through the fresh coriander in a food processor, then process to a semi-smooth paste.
~ Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and fry the spice paste on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently – it should cook slowly, without burning.
~ Add the coconut milk, broth, curry powder, salt, and sugar, then simmer gently for 30 minutes.
~ In a small bowl, mix the lime juice and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
~ Stir into the curry mixture, combine thoroughly, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until slightly thickened.
~ Remove from heat and set aside.

The Vegetables and Tofu
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 3 medium size carrots, cut into matchsticks (about 2 cups)
~ 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 4 large scallions, sliced
~ 3 cups chopped, fresh basil leaves
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
~ 1/3 cup cornstarch
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder
~ Extra oil for frying

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tbsp. of oil, then stir fry the carrots and mushrooms for 5 minutes over medium-high heat.
~ Add the scallions and basil and cook another minute or two. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the pan.
~ In a large zip-loc bag or bowl with a top, combine the cornstarch, salt and curry powder. Add the tofu cubes and toss thoroughly to coat.
~ Pour a few more tablespoons of oil into your skillet and heat it up to medium-high again. Shake off any excess coating, and place the cubes carefully in the hot oil; allow them to cook a few minutes before gently flipping them. (You might need to do this in more than one batch.)
~ When all the cubes are golden brown, remove them from the pan and let them drain a few minutes on paper towels or - even better - an old brown paper grocery bag.

~ Heat up the curry for a few minutes, then add the cooked vegetables and fried tofu. Once everything is heated through, ladle the curry on top of rice or noodles (short grain brown rice is my favorite), maybe with an extra squeeze of lime juice and/or some chopped peanuts.


  1. I love the tofu and coconut milk combo! im drooling over this!

  2. Sounds amazing!! I Love coconut milk too, and use any excuse to use coconut in something that I can find!