Biting into a piece is paneer is a creamy, rich and chewy experience. But it’s an experience that can be hard to come by – you can’t just pick up a block of paneer from your local grocery store (unless you live in Flushing, Queens and Patel Brothers is your local grocery store – in which case, I’m a little jealous). I usually pick up two blocks from the Indian grocery store – one to use then and one to freeze for later. But sometimes, despite good planning, my stockpile is empty.
Tofu is a good “substitute” for paneer. I use the word “substitute” lightly because, tofu doesn’t give you the same taste (obviously – what tastes like fried cheese but isn’t?! If you know, please tell me). Biting into a piece of pan fried tofu is a nutty, savoury-sweet chewy and slightly crispy experience. So yes, not paneer but still quite yummy and satisfying. And tofu soaks up Indian spices and sauces and takes on their taste.
So, here’s my riff on Kadai Paneer, a traditional Indian dish of paneer and bellpeppers, using tofu instead. While I can’t say we don’t miss the paneer when eating Kadai Tofu even the slightest bit, I can say that we each have a huge second helping and don’t sit around feeling sorry for our paneer-less state.
Kadai Tofu: Tofu with a Rainbow of Bellpeppers
If you can find them, I recommend using a red, yellow and green pepper. The red and yellow peppers are sweet and the green slightly bitter, which makes for a great crispy combination together. And if you happen to have paneer, then by all means feel free to substitute it for the tofu.
1 yellow onion, diced
In a wide, deep skillet heat about a tablespoon of cooking oil in medium heat then add the onions, garlic, ginger and green chilis. Cook for about 3-5 minutes stirring frequently so the onions don’t brown until they become glassy. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes wilt. Add the bellpeppers and cook partially covered for about 10 minutes until the bellpeppers soften. In a separate skillet, heat about a teaspoon of cooking oil and pan fry the tofu in batches (don’t crowd the pan) until browned on the top. Flip each piece and brown the other side. Add tofu to the onion-tomato mixture. Stir in all of the spices and mix well. Continue cooking uncovered on medium low heat for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in milk. If you use yogurt, whisk the yogurt until smooth before adding. This adds a little creaminess and acidity to the dish. Shower with chopped cilantro.