Monday, July 13, 2015

Tofu (or Paneer) Tikka Salad

On our way to drive a dear friend to the airport, we stopped for dinner at a popular Atlanta restaurant called Chai Pani which serves an eclectic selection of Indian street food. Restaurant menus are prime inspiration for the aspiring home cook and that day, I came away wanting to replicate the grilled paneer salad that we enjoyed there. The menu describes it as organic spring mix with pickled beets, red onions, cucumber & tomatoes topped with grilled house-made paneer (Indian farmer’s cheese). Served with cumin-lime dressing.

This evening, I made my own version of this salad for a quick weekday dinner.

The first component: The greens or the salad base. I find that eating fresh greens is all a matter of convenience- if the greens are prepped and chopped and sitting in a transparent box in the fridge where you can see them, they get eaten quickly. But if a head of lettuce is hidden in a bag in the crisper, it is likely to languish there and end up in the compost heap.

The game-changer has been to prep the greens as soon as I get home from the store, before the greens get a chance to be shoved into the bottom drawer. I shred the lettuce or chop it into bite size pieces, then rinse it thoroughly in cold water and use a salad spinner to dry it as much as possible. Then I line a large plastic box with either paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, and put in the chopped greens. I'll often top the greens with other salad components, like shredded carrots and strips of bell peppers. Then the lid goes on tight and the box of greens is ready- it lasts for several days in the fridge and I can pull out handfuls at a time to make all kinds of salads.

The second component: The grilled tikka. Tofu or paneer would work equally well here- in my home, paneer tends to be something we make when we have company and tofu is more of an everyday ingredient. This morning, I made a quick marinade similar to this one, whisking yogurt, besan, tandoori masala, ginger garlic paste and salt together. I drained the tofu, patted it dry, cut it into cubes, mixed them into the marinade, and refrigerated it for the day. Right before dinner, I heated a non stick pan with a bit of oil and pan-fried the marinated tofu until it was golden brown and crispy. Of course, a real grill or broiler would work great for this step as well.

The third component: The dressing. We got some mint in the last veggie box. I pulsed together chopped cilantro and mint to a paste, then stirred in yogurt, cumin powder, salt and lemon juice to make a quick sauce.

The final component: Thinly sliced onions marinated with lemon juice and a bit of salt. The lemon juice quickly pickles the onions and takes the harsh raw edge off.

Finally, just assemble the salad: a bed of the salad mix, topped with warm tofu cubes, a garnish of onions and a generous dollop of dressing. We loved every bite. I can't wait to make this for all my family and friends- it has all the makings of a crowd-pleaser.

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Summer 2015's reading has been extremely rewarding so far....

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. A beautiful, articulate and thought-provoking book on aging, elder care and preserving a person's quality of life at the end of their life instead of simply prolonging it at all costs.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg. Another very vivid and thoughtfully written book that took me deep into Afghan culture and into the lives of Afghan women.

Burnt toast makes you sing good : a memoir of food and love from an American Midwest family by Kathleen Flinn. This one is more light-hearted than the first two books. Flinn was raised as the youngest child of parents who were broke more often than not but who adored each other and embraced all sorts of whacky adventures. The book is full of her vivid, happy memories of family life.

I read some wonderful graphic novels:

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi. Through bold and graceful black and white sketches, Satrapi narrates the story of growing up as a precocious child of liberal parents in Tehran as it was rocked by the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq.

In American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang brings together three seemingly unrelated story lines into a funny and creative story, fable and memoir all rolled in one. I am astonished at the talent of these artists. You can read graphic novels so quickly, but each and every panel is drawn so painstakingly and is a work of art in itself.

Right now, I'm reading Think Like a Freak (Freakonomics #3) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner and it promises to be interesting.