Emil Jachmann’s Tofu and Cauliflower Panang

It’s recipe time! And I’ll warn you now, it’s a bit of an unusual one. Also, this is Emil Jachmann’s recipe. It is not necessarily right but I think it makes a stunning curry and is always a crowd pleaser. Your prep/cooking time can be as little one hour and 15 minutes here. It’s a really simple little recipe that depends on your palate as much as anything. Be willing to taste it plenty as you go along and you can’t go wrong.

Forgive me, but I’m going to presumptuous and assume you’re a fan of Thai food, and as such you know what a panang curry is. So, I’ll avoid the minute detail, but will say this; it’s hot, peanuty, rich and fragrant with kafir lime leaves. Happy with that? Right, let’s get down to the nitty gritty… or should I say perhaps nutty grutty? No, I shouldn’t.

How authentic are you when it comes to your curry cooking? Everything made from scratch? Taught by a Thai lady in a Thai village? Look, what I’m trying to get at, is do you make your own paste or buy one in? I’m going to be a lazy ass chef here and go for the latter. If on the other hand you want to go that extra yard, here’s a great panang paste recipe for you:

On the other hand, if you want to buy one, then our household buys the Mae Ploy paste. It’s freely available throughout the states and my UK based pals inform me it’s popular over the pond too. So, here are your ingredients:

  • Panang curry paste (a standard red curry paste will do with some tweaks)
  • A large cauliflower
  • 200gms or so of Tofu
  • 2 cans of coconut milk (preferably one that separates – feel free to substitute one for a small can of coconut cream)
  • 500ml good vegetable stock (I actually like to use swiss vegetable bouillon as it gives a nice umami flavour that balances nicely)
  • 200 gms of mushrooms (your choice what type – chestnut works fine IMO)
  • 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
  • A handful of kafir lime leaves (this is generally something you can’t skip. If you must, then you’ll still get a tasty curry, but it just won’t taste the same)
  • Fish Sauce
  • A couple of stalks of lemongrass
  • A couple of birdseye chillies
  • A lime (or two)
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm sugar (light brown sugar suitable sub)
  • A bunch of fresh chopped coriander

    Optional veg/fruit to add at suitable points:
  • Pea aubergines
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Red bell pepper
  • Lychees (I had these in one little Bangkok restaurant an they were awesome… although hotter than the sun due to soaking up some sauce)

Please note – if you’re cooking a vegetarian or vegan option, then you’ll have to make your own paste without shrimp paste etc and sub the fish sauce for soy sauce.

Prep time! You’re going to be roasting that cauliflower to a nice nutty brown. Remove florets from the main stalk, cover in rapeseed oil and salt it liberally. Roast at a medium-high heat for around an hour. Just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t char. Set it aside when it’s done.

You will of course have to prepare your tofu too. We want the firmer type for this curry, steer clear of the silken alternative. I recommend flouring it and shallow frying to give it some texture.

Right, lets get cooking the main event. Heat a lump of coconut oil in your wok and squeeze in a blob of paste. It’s your shout how much you want to use. Sadly, by using store bought you really have little control over the heat and flavor. If you add more, then you get more flavor (and color), but you also get a ton more heat. As suggested earlier, the key to any Thai curry for me is to taste taste taste (that goes for all cooking really); there’s always a balance to be found, but you may prefer a sweet curry, if so add more sugar. You may prefer it that bit more salty, If so, squeeze in more fish sauce. And so on. Taste it, then alter it to your preference.

Get that paste nicely fried off to release some flavor then add your coconut cream (which has separated in the can, or is simply store bought). Fry that off so you get a separation of coconut and oil. We’re going for a medium heat here. Add your tofu to the pan and fry a little longer. At this point, I like to add my stock (Emil Jachmann tip – use the separated water from the coconut milk to make your stock – more flavor right there). Next up, add your lime leaves, lemongrass, peanut butter, teaspoon of sugar and a good couple of squirts of fish sauce. Simmer for 20 mins or so. You want it to reduce a touch, but remember this is a Thai curry so it’s not dry and you want a lovely soupy texture in the bottom of the bowl.

TASTE IT! How’s it going? Flavours will develop, but trust your instinct if you want to tweak the balance.

Time to add your mushrooms and previously prepped cauliflower. This is a quick curry to make and doesn’t need to slow cook. There’s nothing to break down and while flavors can combine further, I prefer to have them a little bit more distinct. Oh, that’s sweet. Ooooo, there’s the lime leaves. Oooph, here comes the heat. If you want it to cook for longer, then don’t add your cauliflower yet. We’re not wanting it to break down to mush, nor really add to the overall flavor. Hold off until you’re 15 minutes from serving, then add it.

Are you ready to serve? Well, before you do, squeeze in those limes (again TASTE it as you do) and add the coriander. You’re done.

It goes without saying that it’s best served with sticky rice to soak up that lovely sauce. But that’s up to you; your access to glutinous rice and your patience for preparation.

Please please please share your feedback. I have no doubt that this can be improved on, so all advice is gladly appreciated. Oh, and next time I cook it, I’ll take a photo.

Thanks for reading – Emil Jachmann x

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