Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beat This Palak Paneer, Auntyji!

This one’s for the Aunty ji who frowned at me one day in the Lajpat Nagar Mother Dairy booth when she saw me pick a slab of readymade paneer. I think she even muttered something like – “Aaj kal ke bachche mehnat toh karna hee nahin chahte.” (English connotation: Today’s generation is a bunch of lazy asses.)

Well, Aunty ji, this “aaj kal ki ladki” is now all grown up and also has some time on her hand. Not to mention living in a country where she has to travel 12 clicks to reach to the closest place which sells paneer.

I guess this is inspiration enough to satiate my paneer buds, and make this Indian cheese at home from scratch. No, it did not taste like Styrofoam. And yes, Aunty ji, to do you proud I even got the correct "pressing weight : to time" ratio the key to making spongy paneer! I even have proof, incase you were thinking I am all faff! Here, have a look!
mosaicff761f2bb846b8476aee01d4019d332a76d6efe8The versatility of paneer baffles even the best of home cooks! But I stuck to the traditional Palak Paneer (paneer cooked in spinach) which not quite surprisingly is a substitute for meat in many vegetarian North Indian / Punjabi homes. On its own, paneer gives a cook a whole lot of possibilities of flavors to play with. But sometimes you don’t really need a recipe, you should just have the basics right. Like garlic or ginger, with a blend of spices.

Palak Paneer is a dish which mirrors the nutrition value of the curdled milk and bumps up in the health quotient with fresh spinach thrown in. Here is how I made my traditional Palak Paneer, just to do Aunty ji proud.

Ingredients for Palak Paneer are:

300 grams homemade paneer, cut into cubes
400 grams fresh spinach, cleaned, washed and puréed with a couple of green chilies
1 medium size red onion, finely chopped
5-6 cloves fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 ripe red tomato, puréed
2 small cardamoms and 2 cloves, crushed
3-4 green chilies, slit lengthwise
1 teaspoon julienned ginger
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
A pinch of kasoori methi
2 tablespoons desi ghee
1 tablespoon heavy cream
A pinch of sugar

Heat the ghee in a pan and add the cumin seeds and crushed cardamoms and cloves. Sauté for a few seconds and add the chopped onions. Fry the onions till they turn golden brown, but not brown!IMG_7588IMG_7586IMG_7590 This is when you add the minced garlic. Cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes and add the puréed spinach. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on low-medium heat, covered if you are getting drenched by squirts of spinach.
IMG_7592Now add the puréed tomato, turmeric and red chili powder. Cover and cook again for 5-7 minutes.
IMG_7593 IMG_7594 Let the spinach-tomato and spices cook till they lose their rawness. Season with sugar (optional) and salt. Gently release the cubes of paneer into the spinach gravy. You will also see the spinach gravy changing color to a lighter green than its original dark, rich green.
IMG_7595 IMG_7596 Mix gently so as not to break the pieces of paneer.
IMG_7597Add kasoori methi crushed between the palms of your hand. Cook for a couple of minutes more and turn the heat off. Drizzle a spoonful of heavy cream and garnish with julienned ginger and slit green chilies.

Serve piping hot with roti, naan or plain Basmati rice. Unless Aunty ji is making her famous jeera rice!
IMG_7598 IMG_7601 IMG_7599

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Corny Story

The first time P and I had bhutta (or fire roasted corn on the cob) together was about a week into being married.
bengali wedding dollIt was the monsoon season in India then. We were a newly married couple who in this time and age had chosen the path of “arranged marriage”. We were still adjusting to the idea of living with each other, often totally puzzled by each other’s presence.

That evening, we had had a difference of opinion. A slight tiff which made me all teary-eyed. And the lump in my throat grew bigger when I saw P walk out of the main door to deal with the crisis his own way! But I held back on my tears.

Half an hour later I called on his phone, only to hear it ringing in the bedroom. I was hoping it wasn't a deliberate move by my new husband.

I kept sitting on one of the rattan chairs in the balcony. The balmy air of a Delhi evening in the month of August mixed with the smell of fresh rain somewhere filled the twilight air. Sometimes whiffs of the Rajnigandha flowers from one of the vases inside would caress my senses, reminding me of the wedding day floral garland I was decked up in. This I tell you was the tear jerker! I slammed the door to shut out all memories of my wedding.

I did not hear my new husband return. It was only when I felt my hands pressed against the warmth of a corn on the cob that I smelt his signature cologne mixed with the earthy smell of bhutta. Heaven.

He knew I liked a little squeeze of lemon mixed with salt and one green chili with my bhutta. It was all there. The evening just got complete with the most adorable and heartwarming smile P could ever give me. bhuttaThrough my muffled sobs and opening my mouth to bite into the nicely roasted bhutta all at the same time, I heard him say, “Naa-o, bhutta khujte giye deri hoye gaelo.” (I got late looking for the (perfect) corn on the cob.)

Nothing has changed since then. I still am addicted to corn. He still forgets his mobile phone at home. We still fight. I still use tears as a very potent weapon. He still has the most adorable smile.

And the ingredients of our bhutta-eating experience have remained the same too. Lebu-Lonka-Noon-aar-Bhutta! (Lime-Green Chilies-Salt-and-Corn on the cob.)

Its the beginning of the corn season here. Today was my turn to return his bhutta favor, and my broiler seemed to be agreeing to my plan just right! Except that there were no embers flying from the pieces of charcoal the bhutta wala fans. Or smoke getting into our eyes. But looked like some sparks were still left…
IMG_7566 IMG_7570IMG_7569 IMG_7567 What’s your corny story…errrr recipe?

I am sending my “corny story” to Of Chalks and Chopsticks, a monthly food fiction event hosted by Aqua, BongMom, and Sra.

Flaky Lachcha Parathas

I belong to the group of people who cannot make their rotis rise up to the occasion. In India, it was other people who I depended on to get my nourishment of rotis/phulkas.
new phulkaHere, I have an electric cooking range, so my hope of flame-fluffed phulkas are dashed anyway. Thus, I am forced never to make rotis, because the stove’s surface just chars the roti and makes is quite inedible. And I am like a three-times in a day roti eater.

My source of wheat protein is now dependent on naan from restaurants, pita bread from supermarkets or parathas at home.

Last evening, a one such parathas-at-home day, I experimented with making lachcha parathas. I knew the basics, but brushed up on the nuances with this video from YouTube. However, I did not use an egg as shown in this video or that pinch of sugar.

Ingredients for Lachcha Paratha are:

One and a half cups of atta (for about five parathas)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
A pinch of salt

Knead a dough with enough water, keep covered for about 30 minutes. Divide the dough into equal portions, each should be about the size of a juicy lime!

Roll out flatbreads or rotis, dust with flour and drizzle some oil on the surface. (I have an uncanny knack of confusing people, please follow the video for better understanding!)

Start pleating the roti as shown in the video, then spiral the strand to make a coil-like shape. IMG_7542Keep covered in the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour.
IMG_7543Dust flour and roll our flat parathas with each section of the dough.
IMG_7547 IMG_7544Heat a griddle, pan or tava and cook the parathas on each side, about a couple of minutes turning regularly.
IMG_7548 IMG_7554IMG_7552 Drizzle some oil or ghee and brown the sides. I like my parathas a little crispy. Crush the parathas gently with your hands to enhance the layers and serve. You can actually see the swirls!
IMG_7555IMG_7556 These Lachcha Parathas are great with curries and gravies.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Home, My Easel

Apart from food, the only other thing that I like to chronicle is my home. Here I am sharing some images from the nooks and corners of my rooms of inspiration. IMG_7508 IMG_7501 IMG_7513 IMG_7507 IMG_7524 IMG_7342 IMG_6229 IMG_6250IMG_6258IMG_6241 IMG_6231 IMG_6035[8] IMG_6037 IMG_6344 IMG_6352 IMG_6658IMG_7506 IMG_7517IMG_7100 IMG_7503IMG_7502 IMG_7514 IMG_6318IMG_7334IMG_6202IMG_5271 These are the spaces which P and I love to come home to on a long and tiring day! And our home always welcomes us with arms wide open…