if you didn’t know, Soya chunks, aka vegetable textured protein, is a very popular vegetarian alternative highly celebrated by pure vegetarians as this form of substitute protein has no egg as does its equivalent Quorn.
Soya chunks play a large part in our Bengali diet and are often incorporated into many vegetable dishes to bulk up the meal. By no means it does not taste anything like fish or meat but it can be used in ways where it adds some textural value to a dish.
My girls always call it “chewy chewy”. As little kids they couldn’t describe the curry that they wanted and so they will tell me to make “chewy chewy”. My eldest is nearly 28 years of age, and still all three call it chewy chewy!
There are many ways of cooking Soya chunks, I’ve done a simple bhuna today. It’s not been cooked in its usual manner in a thin sauce/jhol with other bulky vegetables.
I’ve also steered away from the usual process of preparing Soya chunks by pre-frying the soaked chunks as my slow cooking process gives the soya chunks enough time to absorb the spices and flavours in the sauce.
The verdict is in the eating and it certainly went down well, as it always does!
So here is how I cooked it today.
2 cups of Soya chunks
two large onions finally diced
four cloves of garlic
4 green chilies
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
two bay leaves
2 of dried red chilies
1 large tomato finely chopped
1 tablespoon of salt
2 tablespoons of East End Kashmiri Basar powder ( there is a mild mix and hot one) if you use the hot you won’t need chilli powder. If you have the mild mix then chilli powder is a personal choice).
1 tsp of cumin powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1 tsp of Kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp of chili powder or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
¼ cup of pasata or 4 tbsp tomato puree
2 tablespoons of Kasuri methi crushed
Fresh baby leaf washed spinach (optional)
Handful of fresh chopped coriander fir garnish.
Firstly, take soya chunks, place in a microwaveable bowl with a tsp of salt and cover with water, add a cover and cook for approximately four minutes stirring once halfway until the soya chunks are soft fluffy and spongy.
Carefully remove, drain and rinse in a few changes of cold water, squeeze out the excess water and set aside.
In a pan add your cooking oil. Once it is heated add a bay leaf and dry chilies.
Fry this until the colour slightly changes and then add your onions and continue to fry on med/low.
Whilst your onions fry, either mince or blend your garlic, chilies and ginger.
Now add the fresh chopped tomato, salt, garlic and ginger paste to your onions.
Continue to fry this until the raw ginger smell dissipates.
Add half a cup of water, stir, cover and cook on low till onions become mushy.
Now add your powdered spices, mix this in well and cook for a few more minutes until you can see the oil is separating.
You can add a few splashes of water to loosen your spice mix and to ensure that they are well cooked out. Each time ensure that the oil separates rises to the surface which is your indication that the spices have cooked through and the water content has evaporated out releasing the natural oils in the spices.
At this stage you add the tomato purée, stir this in and then your soya chunks. Mix in well and continue to cook this now covered for a good five minutes. Continue to stir intermittently.
Now add half a cup of water mix in well again and continue to cook on a low heat covered for a further five minutes till the oil separates.
At this stage we add the dried methi, another half cup of water and we slow cook the Soya until the oil is separating.
Don’t worry about overcooking the soya as it is very forgiving and does well with being cooked slowly in order for all the lovely spices to penetrate deep into the chunks. Its bland and needs this repeated process to develop the intensity in the sauce.
When there is no further liquid, and oil has surfaced, add your fresh spinach and cook this on a medium-high heat as the spinach will release some water which you need to cook out otherwise it’ll seep out on your plate when you dish up.
Once you have cooked out any remaining water, you check this by making a well in the middle of the pan and if there is no thin running sauce your dish is at this stage cooked. If you find that there is some loose thin sauce continue to cook until it evaporates and the oil is separating. Your dish is now cooked.
Garnish with fresh chopped coriander.
Serve with naan, fluffy puri or hot rice and enjoy.
If you like you can add a cup of peas with the yogurt instead of spinach.
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