This is a vividly flavoured, Indian-inspired dish that you can make as spicy or mild as you like. It should have a touch of chilli, though, because the almost-raw tomatoes will cool the palate.
Use white onion to make this – not brown onion. White onions have a sweeter, milder flavour, which is important because they’re cooked just briefly, so they stay a little crisp.
Buy blocks of medium-firm bean curd and pan-fry the slices carefully, using a metal spatula to turn the pieces over so they don’t fall apart.
Take care not to overcook the mustard seeds or they will be bitter; they need about 10 seconds in the hot oil. And the tomatoes should also be cooked briefly, just to heat them through, but not so they soften too much.
If you can't find the curry leaves, leave them out, then, just before you serve the dish, garnish the ingredients with fresh coriander sprigs.
Prepare the topping ingredients, so they’re ready to cook as soon as you finish pan-frying the bean curd. Halve the onion, then slice it about 3mm (⅛in) thick and put the pieces in a bowl. Thinly slice the garlic and add it to the bowl with the onion. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Cut the bird’s-eye chillies into thin rings, shaking out and removing the seeds as you go. Pluck the curry leaves from the stalks.
Put the flour in a flat bowl and add the chilli powder, turmeric and ½ tsp of salt. Mix thoroughly. Lay the blocks of bean curd on a double layer of paper towels and blot up the surface moisture. Cut each block of bean curd into four slices.
Pour cooking oil to a depth of about 5mm (¼in) in a skillet (preferably black cast iron) and heat it to 170 degrees Celsius (340 degrees Fahrenheit). While the oil is heating, dredge each slice of bean curd in the seasoned flour mixture, then shake off the excess.
Lay the pieces of bean curd in the hot oil and pan-fry until the bottom turns golden-brown (you may need to cook them in batches, if your skillet isn’t large enough). Carefully flip the pieces over and pan-fry the other side, then remove from the skillet. Drain the bean curd on paper towels and set aside while preparing the topping.
Place a wok over a high flame and add 10ml (2tsp) of cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt. Stir-fry for about 90 seconds, or until the onion just starts to soften but is still crisp. Put the ingredients into a bowl.
Place the wok (no need to wash it) over a high flame and add 10ml (2tsp) of oil. When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves and cook until they darken slightly and become fragrant, but do not let them burn. Add the chillies and stir briefly, then mix in the mustard seeds and cook for 10 seconds. Immediately add the tomatoes and sprinkle with ¾ tsp of salt. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring often, just to slightly warm the tomatoes, then add the onion/garlic mixture. Stir-fry over a high flame for about 30 seconds, to blend the flavours, then turn off the flame.
Lay the bean curd pieces on a dish then spoon the tomato/onion mixture over the top and serve immediately.