Brunch · Indian Curry/Stew

Palak (Saag) Paneer – Spinach & Indian Cheese

Sinfully Spicy- Palak (Saag Paneer),Spinach With Indian Cheese001I think that one of the best palak paneer that I have eaten ever is the one prepared with home grown spinach from my grandma’s house. One from the vegetable patch which sprung to life with all sorts of greens under the winter sun. It was so thoughtful how our maali (gardener) was instructed to allocate square patches to vegetables.The cilantro, dill and mint which were used so very frequently throughout the day were sown first, followed by tubers and other root vegetables.To wade away the pests, every now and then badi mummy would keep a lighted incense amongst the large coarse leaves of the eggplant area.And it worked.Last few rows were the leafy greens & other delicate creepers, just so that you go towards them only when you need to.

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There were the few aromatic methi (fenugreek greens) with its distinctive bitter sweet smell and the laal chaulai having smooth & shiny leaves.Then appeared the tender garlic & onion scapes which were plucked every now & then to accompany the lunch.As compared to these spinach rows were many and more sought after. During winters, spinach became a sudden favorite in the house, it was added to lentils, tossed in salads, made into fritters with evening chai or simply stir fried with garlic & potatoes.

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The juicy, fleshy short stems reminding you how simple yet nourishing mother earth’s bounty can be. The mellow, soft taste of the organic leaves hardly needed a dash of lime juice and salt to become a perfect salad alongside dal – rice.Having eaten homegrown for so many years, that fresh taste is something hard to match with anything I cook from stores.

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I was always the child who ate her vegetables. I cannot eat meat for more than two days in a week. I love vegetables and if I don’t eat them for a while,my body starts missing them. On days, when I cook rich & heavy foods for the husband which I am not much in a mood for, I treat myself to palak paneer. Slow cooked spinach gives the dish a beautiful green color and creamy homemade paneer add the perfect richness.This recipe uses very less spices & no cream/butter so that the delicate taste of spinach is not overpowered by them.

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Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 8 oz organic spinach
  • 2 – 2.5 cups water
  • 1-2 cloves
  • 4 tbsp mustard oil (or any neutral oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1/4  tsp fennel seeds, finely crushed
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 fat garlic clove,minced
  • 3/4 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 2-4 Thai green chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • pinch of turmeric
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1.5″ fresh ginger shoot, grated
  • 1/2 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, optional but recommended)
  • 6 oz paneer, cut into cubes (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream to finish off (optional)

Notes – 

  1. Use extra firm tofu in place of paneer and skip cream to make it a vegan recipe.
  2. You can lightly fry the paneer cubes in 1-2 tsp of oil before adding to the curry if you want.

Method

Add cloves to water and bring to a boil.Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the spinach leaves. Roughly chop the leaves if they are too big. Since I use baby spinach, the stems are tender, however you can pick the stems out if they are too hard.Once the water is boiling,turn off the heat & immediately add spinach to it.Let the leaves soak for 2-3 minutes and then drain. Reserve the liquid and transfer the spinach to food processor.Put in the cloves too. Pulse. I do not like to make a smooth puree however you can blend the spinach to desired texture. If needed, the reserved can be used liquid while blending.Set the blended spinach aside.

Heat up oil on high in a kadai or medium heavy bottomed pot.Once the oil is smoky, reduce the heat to medium & wait for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped onions to it along with fennel & cumin seeds (in that order) and sauté till the onions start to lightly brown.Next add the garlic, chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, green chillies, turmeric & cinnamon to the pot and keep on cooking on medium low heat till you see oil separating on the sides of the pot. This may take 8-10 minutes. Add the spinach, ginger, and salt to the pot and mix well. Also add 1/3 cup of reserved liquid. Let the spinach cook on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes and then reduce the heat to low. Let cook on low heat for least 20 minutes. The spinach will bubble a lot during cooking (you can put a lid) and you will need to stir it in between to avoid sticking to bottom. Also the spinach will change color to dull green and you will start seeing glisten on the sides of the pot. At this point, add the paneer cubes and kasuri methi (if using) to the pot along with reserved liquid (quantity depending on how runny you want the dish). Also add the sugar. Cover and let cook on medium low for another 8-10 minutes till the paneer softens.

Let sit for 1-2 hours before serving. When ready to serve, add the cream, reheat and serve alongside hot flatbreads, steamed rice & salad.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by.

Appetizers/Snacks · Brunch · Salads/Soup

Warm Chickpea Chaat (Indian Salad)

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Last weekend was eventful.We celebrated our little munchkin’s first birthday. I made her a smash cake and we also got an adult cake. Her reaction towards both the cakes was the same – she cried. I think the flickering candle frightened her. It’s so funny that they react completely different to how you think they might.

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Sinfully Spicy- Tamarind(imli Chutney) Chaat

Taking advantage of fading winters, I made this warm chaat this weekend. The weather out here is not yet hot for a crisp cold salad & a bit too warm for soups, this chaat drizzled with imli (tamarind) chutney & tossed with fresh mint leaves perfectly fitted the onset of spring mood.We are huge fan of  textures and multiple flavors in food and that is what this chaat is full of.

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In India, chaat is a savory preparation which can be categorized as street food. There are few base ingredients which essentially form part of chaat– chopped onions or grated radish/cucumber for crunch,chaat masala (tangy spice powder) for the pungency & heat, tamarind chutney adds that saucy, tart layer while the green chutney & cilantro (or any herb)add the much needed freshness.The yogurt adds the acidity as well as cools down the palate.These are usually the toppings without which a bowl of chaat is incomplete. However, you can pick or drop any as per your taste.Chaat could be layering of fried dough or diced up fruits cut up and mixed together.If you are looking for really heavy options then kachoris (stuffed fried breads) or aloo(potato) tikki are your choices.

Sinfully Spicy - Mint

I like how healthy and filling this recipe turned out. You can also use black chickpeas(kala chana) or mung sprouts in this recipe and it works fine. It can be served as a perfect appetizer as well as a side dish. All the prep work like boiling chickpeas, potatoes, making the chutney, chopping toppings etc can be done a day before and then its just tossing everything together. Sinfully Spicy- Warm Chickpea Chaat/Indian Salad 003

I soak raw chickpeas overnight and then pressure cook them in enough water with little salt and a tsp of oil. Drain the chickpeas and reserve liquid for use as stock.

Ingredients (Serve 2)

  • 1 cup boiled chickpeas (or use canned)
  • 1 medium potato, boiled, peeled & diced into bite size pieces
  • 2 tsp oil, any neutral oil of choice
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • generous pinch of hing (asofetida)
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or to taste)

Other ingredients/toppings

  • Chopped onions – about 1/3 cup
  • Chopped tomatoes/ Grape tomatoes
  • 2 Thai green chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • Black Salt/Kala Namak ( to taste)
  • Chaat Masala (to taste) (available online or at indian grocery stores)
  • Imli/Tamarind Chutney – 2 tbsp or to taste (recipe below)
  • Roasted Cumin Powder- to taste
  • Red Chilli Powder – to taste

You can add cucumber, grated radish, pomegranate seeds, sev, crushed papris etc to add more texture and crunch.

Method 

In a pan, heat up the oil. Add the cumin seeds and once they sizzle add the hing. Once you smell the aroma, add the chickpeas & potatoes. Also add the garam masala, cumin powder and salt. Toss around for 3-5 minutes till the chickpeas look shiny.Remove from heat & add the lemon juice. Mix well.

Transfer to a large enough bowl and add the listed toppings as per taste. Toss well and serve immediately.

Imli/Tamarind Chutney

I soak raw tamarind in warm water for 4-5 hours and then mash it until pulp is separated.Sieve the pulp into a bowl and discard the seeds and thick fibers. You can also use store bought but just keep in mind that its very salty & slightly acidic so adjust seasonings accordingly. 

Ingredients (Makes about 1.5 cups)

  • 1/2 cup thick,tamarind pulp(store bought or homemade)
  • 3/4 cup – 1 cup jaggery powder/granulated sugar (adjust quantity to your sweetness)
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch of hing (asafoetida)
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to tolerance)
  • 1/2 tsp roasted cumin seed powder
  • 1/2 tsp kala namak/black salt [available in indian stores, else replace with normal salt, adjust to taste]
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • salt to taste
  • Up to 1/2 cup water ( you may or may not need it, usually not needed when using sugar instead of jaggery)

Method

In a small sauce pan, heat the oil.Once heated add the cumin seeds, as soon as the cumin starts to crackle, add all the ingredients listed above to the pan except water.Simmer the  for atleast 20 minutes till it starts to thicken. You can adjust water once the chutney has simmered. It will thicken more on cooling. Remove from heat, let cool, transfer to a container.

Let cool completely. This can sit for unto 3 weeks in a refrigerator.

Enjoy and Thanks for stopping by!

How To

How to Make Paneer (Fresh Indian Cheese)

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Okay this is long due. This post is in my drafts for more than two years. I was trying a lot of ways all this time but something wasn’t right with the texture & taste of paneer I made at home.As simple as it sounds but just splitting the milk,tying up & weighing it down was not as easy as it looked. Sometimes the curds didn’t pull together or the taste was off, on few days I was left with dryish, crumbly blob.

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Once you get a hang of it, making paneer could be the easiest thing you do in your kitchen. The steps are simple and there are just a few things you need to keep in mind and viola you are a cheese maker! I am sharing a recipe which I have developed to suit our tastes.Its moist, creamy and mildly chewy.The cubes hold up their shape when added to curries or grilled on high heat.

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Paneer/Panir is something you cannot imagine north indian cuisine without.From curries to flatbreads to desserts, there is hardly any course where paneer is not served if you sit down for meals.Back in India, freshest paneer is easily available at every nook and corner of the neighborhood having unmatched quality.This mild tasting cheese could be one few of the best indian things you can put into your mouth. It is a popular substitute for vegetarians in India and if you ask me,sometimes I choose paneer dishes over chicken or meat.

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There are many ways of splitting the milk which differ from recipe to recipe. I personally don’t  like to use lemon juice because no matter how much I wash the curds, I still taste the citrus note. If you are in India, sour indian style curds (khatta dahi) works great but I was not able to find it here & yogurt is not as good a substitute. I have known few recipes using  buttermilk but again indian mattha/chaas is made from dahi so it was not a choice for me.

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This recipe can be halved,doubled or tripled. Please use this recipe as a basic guideline to make paneer. The timings mentioned in the recipe will differ on stove settings and milk/cream quality.

Ingredients (Makes about 8oz block of paneer)

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar (this quantity of vinegar can go up to 1/3 cup)

Other things that you will need :-

  • A heavy bottomed pot to boil the milk& cream
  • A wooden spoon or plastic spatula to stir the milk while boiling
  • Cheesecloth/muslin (large enough so that it can be tied up)
  • Soup Strainer/Colander
  • A bowl to collect the whey (which is extremely nutritious and can be used to knead doughs or as stock).
  • Few rubber bands or string to tie the cheesecloth

Method

Line the strainer with double layer of cheesecloth/muslin. Set it over the bowl to catch the whey such that there is gap between the bottom of strainer and the bowl. Keep rubber bands or string nearby. I recommend setting this up near your sink so that once you have strained the curds you can hang the cheesecloth on the tap.

Add milk to the pot. Let the milk warm up on medium heat for about 5-6 minutes. Once the milk is warm, add the heavy cream to the pot and bring the whole mixture to a boil. This will take 12-15 minutes on medium heat, you will need to intermittently stir the mixture so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep a close eye because the milk can boil very quickly.

Once the milk has boiled, put off the heat. Wait for 3-5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the boiled milk. Immediately you will see that the milk starts to coagulate and a greenish liquid separating (this is whey). This green liquid will be clear, if it’s still whitish, you might need to add more vinegar. Add vinegar 1 tbsp at a time till you see clear green liquid.

Pour the curdled milk over the strainer lined with cheesecloth. The whey will collect in the bowl. Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth and fasten with the help of rubber band/string. Hang this for maximum 5-7 minutes so that the liquid drains away. Stop as soon as the water stops dripping in a continuous string. At this point use you hands to squeeze the cheesecloth bundle a little bit.Don’t apply too much pressure. 

Place the cheesecloth on a plate and keep another plate on top of it to flatten down to a block. Next keep a heavy weight on top of it. I fill up my 3 quart stainless tea kettle with water and use it to weigh down. You could use tomato/bean cans. Keep the curds weighed down for at least 30-45 minutes at room temperature. Drain the liquid that has collected in the plate and unwrap the cheesecloth to take out the block.

Carefully, keep he paneer block in refrigerator for at least 24 hours before cutting through,though I find that it much better if I wait up to 36 hours to cut a piece.

Store paneer refrigerated for 4-5 days. It could be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Few other tips & suggestions-

  1. Be sure not to add the vinegar when the milk is boiling and do not heat the milk once you have added it, else the curds will become rubbery. (see recipe for when to add vinegar)
  2. Do not let too much water drain from the curdled milk once you have tied it up in the cheese cloth else your paneer will be dry and the curds will never pull together to form a block.
  3. It is better to cut paneer when the block is cold. Use a sharp knife. 
  4. I recommend storing the paneer block in little bit of water (like we store fresh mozzarella) in the refrigerator. Cut out pieces as you need.
  5. You could skip addition of heavy cream in this recipe but it does make a difference in the softness.

Happy Cheese making & Thanks for stopping by!

Brunch · Indian Curry/Stew

Chicken With Yogurt & Whole Spices – Sabut Masale ka Murgh

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A very homestyle, rustic kind of chicken dish where you just need to throw everything together and let it be on its own for some time.The soggy whole spices steeped beforehand in warm water burst open their flavors over slow heat. The dark chicken meat soaks up all of it and gives in,releasing its juices to the sauce and requiring very little care as it cooks.

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If you try to lift up the lid to peek in, a strong aroma wafts out, filling up your senses. Once the steam clears you would see little bubbles in the sauce with holes in the centre and reddish glisten all around from fat of the chicken. You know its going to be good.

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Except whole peppercorns, almost all the spices (including the red chillies which become sweetish) melt away in the gravy.Even though you might be intimidated by the long list of spices but the addition of yogurt perfectly offsets the heat level, not making the sauce too spicy, rather savory.

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I made this dish quite a number of times for few weeks. This is what happens when we like something. We keep on cooking and eating it till we are at the brink of getting bored. Then we nestle the recipe for a while and start our quest for another spice blend, another curry, different flavors.

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Sabut (Khade) Masale ka Murgh- Chicken with Whole Spices & Yogurt

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 1 lb  chicken thighs, cut into 2″ pieces (use dark meat)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 3-4 tbsp mustard oil
  • 3/4 cup onions, thinly sliced
  • tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
  • 1/3 cup water (or more/less depending on the desired consistency)
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped Cilantro for garnish

In a small bowl, steep the spices below in 1/3 cup warm water for 30 minutes –

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds 
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 black cardamom
  • small twig of mace
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon
  • 6-7 dry whole red chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2″ shoot of fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (optional,this primarily lends a beautiful color)

Method

Marinate the chicken in yogurt,turmeric and 1/4 tsp salt for about 2-3 hours, refrigerated.

Once ready to cook, take out the chicken from the fridge and let sit on the kitchen counter. In a large pot, heat up the mustard oil on high till you see its slightly smoky. Reduce the heat to medium and wait for 2 minutes. Add the sliced onions to the pot, also add the tejpatta and cook till onions are lightly browned.This will take around 5-8 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and add the marinated chicken to the pot.Using the cooking spoon, slowly toss the chicken pieces to combine with the browned onions. Let cook for 5-6 minutes.Do not rush else the yogurt will curdle.

Raise the heat to medium and add the soaked spices (along with liquid) to the pot and mix well with the chicken. Let cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add salt to taste to the pot. Next, close the lid, reduce stove to low and let the chicken simmer for 30 minutes. There is no need to stir continuously, you can check 1-2 times in between than the chicken is not sticking to the bottom.

After 30 minutes,check the seasoning and the doneness of the chicken. Raise the stove to medium heat, add 1/3 cup water and let simmer for another 10 minutes.

Let rest for at least 2-3 hours before serving.

When ready to serve, reheat, garnish with chopped cilantro & serve.

Enjoy & Thanks for Stopping by!