Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tandoor-ish Tofu

If you ever find yourself tempted to immerse yourself in the magnificent world of food studies, prepare yourself for an inexhaustible journey into the nature of “authenticity.” Seriously, people can't get enough of it. Who eats what and why and for how long and since when – these are the questions we ask to chip away relentlessly at someone's personal or cultural identity until we either figure out why they do what they do, or, more realistically, until we just start asking different questions. These are issues I love to explore, but ones that have rendered me incapable of just sitting down for “ethnic” food without deconstructing every menu item, every ingredient. I find this to be particularly the case with Indian food (though it applies just as much to “Italian,” “Mexican,” or – god help you - “American”). The bottom line is that there is no national cuisine of India, but an amalgamation of regional specialties. Even what is arguably the most “Indian” dish around – curry – is borne straight out of the womb of colonialism.

Despite my hyper-analytical brain and pseudo-scholarly cynicism, I still found myself yesterday taking stock of the ingredients I had on hand and deciding they spelled I-N-D-I-A-N. And hey, if an American-borne white girl can't marinate some Chinese-invented fermented soy in a mix of flavors that she calls Indian, then, shoot, we might as well take the curry away from the Brits.

Tandoor-ish Tofu

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained

¼ cup plain yogurt

1 tsp tomato paste

1 jalapeno, finely diced

1 tsp cider vinegar

1 inch grated ginger

pinch of brown sugar

1 clove of smashed garlic

2 tsp-ish of garam masala powder, or an audacious mix of cumin, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, black pepper... combined with a mortar and pestle

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the tofu into strips, cubes, or steaks. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl, whisking together and adjusting the seasoning (I emphasized the cumin, just because I thought it was “safe”). Pour the marinade over the tofu in a small baking dish and marinate for twenty minutes or so. Bake for about ten minutes, or until the tofu is slightly browned, turn, and bake until the other side is browned. Serves 4-6.

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