For those who hate regular tofu, this Burmese Chickpea Tofu can be a nutty, creamy, soy-free alternative. Vegan + Gluten-Free!
As you probably know (coz I’ve said this a hundred times on this blog), though I’m of Indian descent, several generations of my paternal family, right up to my father were born and raised in Burma and migrated to India post WWII. And I grew up listening to all sorts of magical stories about their homeland until my grandmother died when I was 13 and took all the unspoken stories with her. Over the years, all I have left are just fragments of what I’ve heard, but every now and then, I discover more pieces that help me understand what their life was like, in another country, in another time.
Even though I had naught but recounted tales to tie me to this foreign land, I cannot help but strangely feel tied to it. I still keep my grandmother’s Burma alive in my kitchen 17 years after her passing, and I know that I will keep it going till I breathe my last. But sadly, I was too young when she passed, for her to have had the time to pass down all her culinary knowledge, so what she did not manage to teach me, what she would have wanted to teach me, I try to learn elsewhere.
It was a few months ago, while looking for new Burmese recipes to try, that I discovered this Burmese Chickpea Tofu in salad form from a travelogue– and it reminded me of my grandmother talking about large yellow blocks of chickpea (a description that made no sense to a 12 year old me) that was sliced and used in salads, soups and stir-fries. The second I laid eyes on the image of a huge block of cheese-like substance on the post, another piece of the puzzle connected and I was thrilled!
There is so much controversy around soy-based products and the adverse effects its phytoestrogen has over the female body, and prevention is better than cure, so when in doubt, I stay away, just to be safe. I’ve been trying to dial down on the tofu, but a vegan who does not eat tofu travels a rather lonely road, and I desperately needed another protein source for company. Everyone knows I am a complete and total sucker for all things chickpea, so this was truly a godsend, or perhaps it was just my grandmother’s spirit hacking Google search results and guiding me towards nice things I did not know I needed. Either explanation sounds fine by me!
Traditionally, Burmese Chickpea Tofu is made with split chickpeas (channa dal), that’s soaked, ground to a fine paste, sieved to remove lumps and then cooked until firm, then set. Here’s a video, if you’re interested, that catalogs the entire process. It’s quite elaborate and quite interesting. The overnight soaking eliminated the phytic acid in the lentil, making it more healthier to consume, giving you the complete benefit of the bean. Learn more about why you should always soak your lentils before cooking.
But, if you saw the video, you’ll know how time consuming it is, so this right here, is kind of a short-cut using chickpea flour instead – and to compensate for that, I’ve added garlic powder in the recipe (hopefully, it’ll combat some of that flatulence that seems to normally haunt lentil eaters!). And oh, please do not skip the turmeric powder, it gives the tofu such a brilliant golden hue (and an anti-oxidant boost) that makes it absolutely striking in salad bowls!
Even though I discovered it a few months ago, it’s taken this long to finally make it to the blog – because *ahem*, I had two failed attempts. So, from my mistakes to your fool-proof success, here’s something you should know: when you cook the chickpea batter, make sure you cook for the full 8-10 minutes. Keep stirring until the matte liquid turns thick and glossy, kinda like cake batter, if you will that falls down in translucent ribbons. You want all the water absorbed or evaporated, there should be little to no bubbling and when you stir, the lines should keep their shape for a while before melding back to smoothness.
And here’s a test you can do to check if done: While you’re cooking the batter, keep a small stainless steel plate in the freezer. Once you think the batter is thick enough, drop a small amount of batter (about 1/4 tsp) on the cool plate and return to the freezer. Take it out before a minute is out, and you should see a firm blob. Break it apart and it should come off in two soft, but firm pieces, and not gooey at all.
Once this stage is reached, remove from heat, and you’re good to go! Remove from heat any sooner and I guarantee you that all you’ll get is a watery, goopy mess. I’ve made that goop twice and trust me, it is not pretty!
So how is this, you ask? It’s a little squiggly, slightly softer than extra-firm tofu, but it’s creamy, tastes nutty and I love the touch of garlic, because well, I love garlic. While people swear that you can just snack on these cubes (technically they’re twice cooked, so you’re good to go at it), I think I’ll enjoy it more either as a salad (with a delicious dressing) or at least in a curry.
So what are you waiting for? Make yourself a slab of this Burmese Chickpea Tofu while I work on a flavorful Burmese Tofu Thoke (salad) recipe for the next post – and trust me, it is going to be all sorts of deliciousness that you’ve yet to experience! I am oh-so-excited about finally having found a tofu that I can truly enjoy!
And while you’re waiting for my recipe, here’s something you can try: Slice the tofu in thin strips or small-ish cubes and pa fry them with a smidgen of oil till the skin turns golden-brown and crisp. Remove from heat and enjoy while still hot! The exterior is super-crisp but the interior turns absolutely molten, much like a french-fry! You can also deep-fry them, but let’s not go there until absolutely necessary! 🙂