Chickpea Flour Cubes in a Spicy Madras Sauce

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Chickpea Flour Cubes in a Spicy Madras Sauce

For now, I'm following an essentially dairy-free diet. That's not really a drastic change for me as I've been a strict vegetarian for over 20 years now and dairy has't made up a significant portion of my daily meals for quite some time now. It's unlikely I would follow a strict vegan diet, but for digestive reasons, this seems to be the right approach for me personally for the time being.

The thing is, some of my favorites happen to be not so dairy-free. Like cheese! That's the sad part. The fun part is finding alternatives that closely mimic my favorites, while still focusing on real and nourishing food. So far, I've been quite satisfied with vegan versions of some classics such as coleslaw and Caesar salad. It's a refreshing challenge and my taste buds and body are certainly content.

When it comes to cheese, paneer is a particular weakness of mine, if you could call it that. A succulent soft and mild cheese with a high melting point, it is perfectly suited to curries as it takes on the flavors of the dish it stars in, and adds a unique chewy texture. And then I found a recipe for "chickpea tofu" from Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen. Without soy and containing only chickpea flour, some spices, and my own addition — nutritional flakes for a bit of a cheesy flavor — these cubes are not only easy to make, but delicious as a snack. I had to restrain myself from snacking too much, otherwise there wouldn't have been enough left over for this tomato-based curry that I also adapted from Richa's book.

chickpea flour cubes

This dish reminded me of very much of mattar paneer, one of my all time favorite North Indian classics featuring cubes of paneer simmered in a spicy tomato gravy with green peas. As an analogy to my habit of ordering mushroom dishes on those occasions when I happen to dine out to test the prowess of the chef, likewise I seem to judge the quality of Indian restaurants from the paneer dishes offered up and am always finding new ways to make it in my own kitchen.

chickpea flour cubes in a spicy gravy

Here chickpea flour cubes instead of paneer cheese are smothered in a smooth, rich and fiery tomato gravy with green peas. The heat builds with each luscious bite. The cubes turned out to be a fantastic alternative to paneer too. They held their shape nicely, adding a nice chewy texture to the curry and some legume goodness too. This just might be one of my new favorites.

Chickpea Flour Cubes in a Spicy Madras SauceChickpea Flour Cubes in a Spicy Madras Sauce
Recipe by
Adapted from Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook
Cuisine: Indian
Published on September 1, 2015

An elegant, rich and spicy tomato and green pea curry with tender creamy pieces of chickpea "cheese" made from chickpea flour and spices

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Chickpea flour cubes:
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 2/3 teaspoon sea salt
Spice blend:
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 dried whole red chilies, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • handful of dried curry leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 to 2 green or red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 small red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon coconut or brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water, or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Begin by making the chickpea flour cubes. Grease a 9 × 5 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and whisk until the mixture is smooth.

  • Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes until it begins to evenly thicken. Cook for another few minutes over medium-low heat, stirring until a bit stiff and thick.

  • Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Turn out onto a cutting board and pat off any liquid with a kitchen towel. Cut into 1-inch cubes and return to the refrigerator until needed.

  • Make the spice blend by toasting the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns and dried red chilies in a dry unoiled saucepan or frying pan over medium-low heat. Stir or toss often for a few minutes, until the seeds start to darken a few shades. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool, then transfer to a spice grinder or small blender and add the cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric and paprika. Grind to a powder and set aside until needed.

  • Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in the onion and curry leaves and sauté for 5 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and sauté for another few minutes.

  • Transfer the onion mixture to a blender and add the tomatoes and spice blend. Process until smooth. Add a bit of water if necessary. Return the mixture back to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and is well roasted.

  • Stir in the chickpea cubes, peas, red pepper, salt, sugar, water and fenugreek leaves if using. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and a bit more water if the sauce is too thick, and simmer, covered, for another few minutes. Stir in the fresh cilantro and serve hot, alongside a bed of fresh cooked rice or savory flatbreads.

  • Notes: You can use a block of paneer cheese cut into cubes instead of the chickpea flour cubes in this recipe, or even cubes of tofu if soy isn't an issue for you. Blending the onion mixture and the tomatoes makes for a luxuriously thick restaurant-quality sauce with all the stamps of superior home cooking. The chickpea cubes can be made up a day or two ahead of time as they keep well for a few days in a sealed container in the fridge.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

chickpea flour cubes with spicy madras gravy

I'm sharing this recipe with Jacqueline's weekly Meat Free Mondays event. I'm also sharing with My Legume Love Affair, a monthly event celebrating the goodness of legumes, started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook, now administered by me and kindly hosted this month by Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen.

You may also enjoy:
Classic Mattar Paneer
Butter Paneer Masala
Aloo Mattar
Aloo Gobi

On the top of the reading stack: And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov


Mark said...

Do you think canned tomatoes would work as well?

Lisa Turner said...

I was lucky to have some freshly grown from my garden, so they were full of flavor. Especially if you make this dish once the harvest ends, for sure canned tomatoes might be a better option when it gets expensive for fresh produce or in a pinch. Delicious either way I am sure.

Joanne said...

So cool! chickpea tofu is on my list of kitchen adventures to try. Looks like it was a success for you!

janet @ the taste space said...

Looks fabulous, Lisa... and welcome to the vegan side! When I started blogging, I never thought I'd become vegan but that's the marvel of the internet and being exposed to new ideas. :)