Thousands of miles away, when you cook food which you ate back home – on family picnics, long drives, with friends, at birthdays parties & weddings, there is a certain sense of overwhelm which grasps me.Does it happens to you too? – tastes which remind you of good times spent.One such memory is eating at dhabas in and around Delhi.Dhaba is indian equivalent of a diner, very popular amongst drivers and long distance travellers for quick & inexpensive food.If you ask me the best places to eat in Delhi, I will recommend most of the dhabas on the outskirts of the city and some in Old & central areas.
The typical setting of a dhaba is not fancy,very basic, you might or might not get cutlery or tissue paper, but you are sure to find food made with love and bursting with authentic flavors.Mostly you would be eating on reusable stainless steel plates, you may get mineral water,there might be mosquitos during summers and monsoons [grin],AC is out of question,if it’s a popular place – you ll get chairs else enjoy seating on a cot & don’t shy away from humming old hindi film songs playing on the radio…the food is glorious,the atmosphere – intoxicating! When my dad used to work outside Delhi, most of our summer vacations were spent on road trips. I remember that we used to plan our visits such that we can have dinner at our favorite dhabas which dotted the interconnecting highways.As I write this, my mouth is already watering at the thought of food served – dal makhani [ lentils], palak paneer [ spinach & cheese curry], kadhai chicken served along with hot& fluffy butter dunked tandoori rotis [flatbreads] straight out the the clay oven, jeera [cumin] rice & a BIG glass of lassi or chaas [ salty buttermilk] during summers or masala chai during winters.Here you don’t kill yourself over worrying about calories or hygiene, its the zesty experience which matters!! The recipe in this post is one which you will find at almost every dhaba in north india – trust me the very mention still stirs the emotions of best family times 🙂
“Kadhai” is an indian wok.It is one of the most indispensable utensil in an Indian kitchen..be it for making quick stir fry, curries, shallow or deep-frying or simmering stews.Its shallow & less heavy as compared to dutch ovens and something I just can’t imagine my without.A dish which is made start to finish in a “kadhai” gets its name from there & is Indian answer to a stir fry. However, you do not compulsorily need a kadhai to make this recipe 🙂 The point to keep in mind is that since it’s a quick cooking method, you can make a kadhai with almost anything under the sun.The recipe is very simple, you can prepare & store the kadhai sauce in advance & add whatever you wish to it- from chicken to cauliflower to fish to vegetable medley .Today I chose paneer [Indian Cottage Cheese] which is the most popular of all kadhai preparations in northen India. A typical addition to any kadhai is lots of bell peppers – of all colors, choose any you like.The dish is bursting with indian flavors, mostly made semi dry, is really one of the most colorful curries around & is really simple to whip up.
Although kadhai tastes awesome with naan bread, tandoori roti or even rice, in my home we are used to eating it with tawa parathas or skillet cooked flatbreads.Since childhood , I have known parathas in this triangle shape right from dinner plate to lunch box.Infact my granny was very particular about how neat a triangle you are able to roll out.I hope my pictures of the steps will help you in that regard 🙂 This triangle paratha has layers , is soft & flaky coz its brushed with oil/ghee inside – I can have few of these straight from the skillet on its own- Love the aroma of steam which escapes when you bite the layers. You can add chopped chillies, herbs, spices etc to make your own variations.
[ You can replace the paneer with any boneless meat or vegetable of choice]
- 1 lb / 1.5 kg Paneer, cubed or cut in strips [ Indian Cottage Cheese available in all indian stores, recommended brand “Nanak”]
- 1 tbsp canola/corn/vegetable oil
- 1 medium-sized each of red & green bell peppers, seeded, cut in strips or diced
- 1/2 cup onions, thick sliced [ optional]
- Salt to taste [ if required]
- Fresh chopped Cilantro for garnish
- Fresh lime juice
- 1/3 cup mustard/canola/corn//vegetable olive oil
- 3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, grated
- 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 3-4 fresh tomatoes [ any variety which is slightly sour, chopped fine to yield 1 cup]
- 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds, coarsely ground with mortar pestle or in coffee grinder
- 7 dry red chillies, coarsely ground with mortar pestle or in coffee grinder [ adjust to taste]
- 3 green chillies, finely chopped
- 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp brown sugar [ adjust to taste,do not skip]
- 2 tsp kasuri methi,crushed with hand [ dried fenugreek leaves,do not skip, makes all the difference in the taste, available in all indian stores under ” Peacock” brand]
- 2 tsp salt
- In a kadhai or any heavy bottomed cooking pot, heat the oil on high heat.Once the oil is smoking, reduce the heat to medium.If using mustard oil, it is important to cook it to smoky point at the start of cooking to do away with the raw smell.
- Add the chopped onions and cook on medium heat till golden brown in color.
- Next,add the grated garlic & ginger and saute for about 2 minutes till you smell the aroma.Next add the chopped tomatoes,coarsely ground coriander & red chillies,green chillies, turmeric and cook on medium heat till you see oil separating at the sides of the pot.About 5-8 minutes.
- At this point add the kasuri methi, garam masala, salt & brown sugar,stir well cook for 5 minutes more on medium heat.
- Above is the basic kadhai sauce, if you want to store it for later use, let it come to room temperature and refrigerate for using within 3-4 days or freeze up to a month.
- Making Kadhai Paneer :- For the stir fry, on high heat 1 tbsp oil in a kadhai or a cooking pot.Add the diced bell peppers & onion slices [ if using] to the oil and saute for 3-4 minutes.This saute time depends on how tender you like the veggies.Next, add the paneer and saute for another 1 minute till paneer sarts to become light brown.Be careful while stirring after you have added paneer because it softens quickly & crumbles easily in heat. Add the sauce and mix well.Check the seasoning and let simmer for 2-3 minutes till everything is heated well.
- Remove from heat,squirt some fresh lime juice & sprinkle chopped cilantro.Serve warm with flatbreads & a salad.