Tofu & Chickpea Casserole, with Harissa, Deglet Nour Dates, Sour and Sweet Cherries, Romano Peppers, and Black Olives…

This is a veggie version of this lamb recipe which is excellent. I made it just before my recent reversion to vegetarianism, and I still have a few portions left in the freezer. Trust me, veggie or not, they won’t be wasted.

Despite my aversion to tofu in the past – I find the natural texture repellent – I’m impressed with this. It has a slightly chewy texture, the flabby slipperiness that so revolts me is entirely absent.

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Ingredients:-

1 pack Cauldron Foods Original Tofu, drained, marinated, and deep fried. Click through for details. Tofu is widely available these days – I get mine at Sainsbury’s

3 medium carrots halved lengthways and sliced on the diagonal

Swede, similar quantity, cut about the same size

4 or 6, depending on size, Echalion shallots, chopped. If you can only get very small one, use cooking onions, about 4

1 Romano pepper (the long, red, and pointed kind, sometimes labelled Romano, sometimes not – superior to bell peppers), deseeded and cut into postage-stamp sized pieces

160g (drained weight), Black olives in brine (pitted), rinsed. I use the Crespo brand – widely available

24 Organic Deglet Nour dates cut into three (into two for small ones). I’ve tried those from Tesco. They’re not stoned. And, though the website claims they’re Deglet Nour, the packaging doesn’t.

50g Sour and sweet dried cherries chopped

3 Kallo organic veg stock cubes

1 tablespoon Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder

1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon celery salt

1 tablespoon Harissa spice mix (the dry mix apparently keeps better than paste; keep it tightly sealed, in glass, in the dark, as all spices should be). This is my own version; it works better.

2 rounded teaspoons dried oregano

15-20g dried Ceps, soaked as per directions, and finely chopped**

2 cans Napolina Chick Peas, rinsed and drained

A knob of clarified butter and a splash of olive oil

Black pepper and Maldon Sea Salt, to taste. Note that although the amount of Cayenne pepper in the Harissa is tiny, half a teaspoon in total, it makes its presence felt!

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**When soft, strain through a sieve into a small bowl, and press with the back of a spoon to remove as much of the gritty liquid as possible. Then wet a coffee filter paper (I don’t drink filter, aka drip, coffee but the filters are useful in the kitchen), and pour the liquid through it to remove the grit. Add to the pot with the chopped ceps.

All my recipes are made in a 3-litre stainless steel casserole. This is quite  light, so it’s spoonie-friendly, but has a heavy base, which makes it cook-friendly too. Importantly, as we spoonies can be clumsy sods, there are no long handles to get snagged, which makes it safe in use. The short double handles make it easy to move when full too. I also have a 2-litre version, but it’s the bigger one that gets most use.

NB: Stock cubes and Marigold might seem like a lot, but unlike the lamb in the original recipe the tofu contributes nothing in the way of flavour or mouth feel.

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Method:-

Heat the oil and butter and sweat off the shallots gently, over a low heat, until soft but not coloured. Add the carrots and swede, the stock cubes, Marigold, the ceps and their liquid, oregano, soy sauce and celery salt, plus enough boiling water to just cover, bring to the boil, put on the lid, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the veg are almost soft.

Add the dates, olives, red pepper, cherries and Harissa, add more boiling water to just cover again, and cook until the carrots are soft (carrots take longer than anything else, so are a good benchmark).

Then add the tofu and the chickpeas, top up the pot with more boiling water (this should take you to within an inch of the top), carefully stir in the tofu and chickpeas (some of the tofu pieces will inevitably break – nothing you can do about it, it’s fragile stuff). and leave, still at a simmer, for 15-20 minutes, to let them heat through gently.

When hot, remove from the heat and allow to cool to a safe temperature, taste and adjust the seasoning, and leave to go cold.

Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to snuggle up and get to know each other, then reheat and serve the following day.

I had a bowl of this last night – it’s pretty damn good. Not as good as the lamb, let’s face it, tofu just isn’t the same as meat, but it has a good texture (marinating and deep frying it has removed the congealed snot texture), and it’s tasty, too, and it was the first tofu-based meal that hasn’t made me want to cut out the middle man and pour it straight down the toilet!

Since I made this, I’ve bought a bottle of Knorr Touch of Taste concentrated vegetable stock. I think it might work better than the Marigold as, being a liquid, it’s easier to control. It tastes different too. I’ve used the chicken and beef versions for years, and they’ve been excellent. And if you need reassurance, Nigella swears by ToT! 😉

Purely because it’s two-stage process – the tofu has to be marinated and deep-fried first – it gets 4 Spoonie spoons. However, as the tofu can be processed weeks or even months in advance, and frozen, and neither stage is particularly demanding, think of it as two 2-spoon operations.

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