Vegetarian Nihari (Spicy Tofu Recipe)

Vegetarian Nihari (Spicy Tofu Recipe) Recipe

One of my most favorite Indian dishes is nihari. It's a goat (or any other meat) stew dish. It's spicy, flavorful and the meat is extremely tender. I love dipping naans (flat Indian bread) in the sauce. But I always end up feeling so bad when I see my husband Lulu, who is a vegetarian, staring at me. So this time, I also made a tofu version using the same gravy sauce.

I chose medium-firm tofu and Japanese eggplants and deep-fried them. The texture is perfect once they are soaked in the spicy sauce. I also added broccoli for a balanced meal. The advantage of the veggie version is it's just as tasty, much healthier (I omitted the bhaghar, a typical final layer of red oil in a lot of Indian dishes) and it cooks a lot faster than the meat version.


Yields: 8 servings

1 (12-ounce) package medium-firm tofu
8 tablespoons canola oil, as needed
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 Japanese eggplants, 1-½" thick sliced
1 head broccoli florets
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (see tips)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon nihari curry seasoning (see tips)
1 tablespoon plain whole yogurt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, to taste
1 (14-ounce) can low sodium vegetable broth, as needed
1 jalapeño green pepper (optional), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped


Prepping the broccoli: Blanch for 3-4 minutes in boiling water then transfer into an ice bath. Drain thoroughly, and pat dry on a paper towel. Do not overcook, as the broccoli will continue to cook with the tofu later.

Making nihari sauce:

In a wok, heat 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the eggplant slices. Ensure that the eggplant pieces are coated in oil. Toss and cook until soft and tender. Transfer to a platter. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the flour with ½ cup of water. Stir well. Set aside.

In the same wok, add another tablespoon of oil. Add the ginger garlic paste, fresh ginger and slices of green chile (if used). This will help bring a nice fragrance to the dish. As soon as it's golden, add the nihari seasoning, garam masala and the sliced onions. Once the onions are fragrant, add the yogurt. Stir well and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add the vegetable broth. Bring to a full boil. Add the flour mixture (previously stirred one more  time) and stir constantly as the broth will thicken very quickly. You could add more flour if you like a thicker consistency (I didn't) or more vegetable broth (or water) if you want to thin it. Lower the heat to a simmer (while preparing the tofu) for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt.

Preparing the tofu:

Drain the liquid from the package of the tofu. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel. Cut the piece of tofu in half, lengthwise. Cut each block into ½-inch slices.

In a small, deep pan, heat the remaining canola oil for about 2-3 minutes. You should have about a 1-inch deep layer of oil. The key to good fried tofu is to get little bubbles when the tofu is in contact with the oil. Don't overheat the oil; otherwise the tofu will get too golden and chewy. Just stick to the slightly jumping bubbles.

Place the tofu one piece at a time in the hot oil; make sure the tofu pieces don't touch each other. Place up to 4 pieces per batch. Deep fry in batches for about 2 minutes per batch until golden on all sides. The tofu will start to pop. Lower the heat to medium-low for even cooking and to prevent them from browning too fast. Flip each piece and cook about a minute longer. Delicately pick up each tofu piece using a spider skimmer (I used wooden chopsticks) with as little oil as possible and immediately dip the tofu into the nihari sauce. The tofu will absorb the sauce instantly. Repeat until all the tofu pieces are in the sauce.

Assembly time:

Re-heat the nihari sauce in the wok one more time. Add the eggplants and broccoli. Sauté the wok so all the ingredients are well incorporated in the sauce. Add a tablespoon of cilantro.

Garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Serve warm with naans or rotis (Indian flat bread), along with white radish cut into long sticks and lemon wedges on the side.

Bon appétit!


Indian cuisine always calls for ginger garlic paste. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife, then finely chop it. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a small jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.

I used Shan brand nihari masala mix; be careful it's fiery hot and spicy. You can find it in most Indian markets. It's made of fennel seeds, cumin seeds, ginger powder, black cardamom seeds, green cardamom seeds, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, coriander seeds, star anise, mace and bay leaf.

One tip to get a perfect consistency for the sauce is to "over" thicken the broth prior to adding the vegetables. When you add the vegetables, they will release their own liquid and will balance the texture of the sauce.

You can find medium-firm tofu in Asian markets such as Ranch 99. The texture is very delicate, so handle with care while frying the tofu, so it will fall apart.

You can find these ingredients in most Indian stores.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on June 2, 2011.


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