Saturday, January 30, 2010

opportunity knocks


The cupboards are wide open and spice jars are everywhere. It is a marathon Indian cooking evening I am sharing with my brother who is visiting from the Dominican Republic. We decided to go spicy because my husband is not going to be home and therefore I won't have to deal with table-side complaints! I have been waiting for a chance to explore some of the recipes on the web site Manjula's Kitchen featuring Indian Vegetarian cooking. In particular I was eager to try the Saag Paneer, one of my favorite spinach dishes of all time. 
My brother and I chose several recipes from the site to sample and got down to business. We wanted to try a bread recipe and a lentil recipe as well. While we kneaded and stirred and grated ingredients we chattered away, catching up on each other's families. My brother lives in Santiago, Dominican Republic with his wife and three boys. He described his first earthquake, the recent one in Haiti, that rocked his world over 150 hundreds miles away. "The ground shook for at least 45 seconds. It was the most alarming, humbling and profoundly disorienting experience I have ever had," he told me. Nothing was damaged, but for his family it was a potent reminder of the forces beyond one's control.

For our cooking marathon we stuck pretty much to the recipes as written, with some minor changes.
The Bread:

The bread recipe called for a filling of cauliflower, but we decided to swap it with grated pumpkin and zucchini instead.
The simple bread dough consists of whole wheat flower and water. It is rolled out, filled with the stuffing and then rolled again. The technique was easy and fun and the filling variations seem endless.

The Saag Paneer:
The saag paneer or palak paneer recipe was a little more complicated and required several steps. Paneer is an Indian cheese that can be made at home. I had some in my freezer and so we used that.
I defrosted the paneer and cut it into cubes. I am not sure if freezing was such a good idea. The texture seemed perhaps a little too chewy.
The cubes of paneer are pan fried till golden brown before being added to the spinach.

To make the spinach you start with tomatoes and spices that are cooked until reduced by half.
The spinach is then added into the pan. The recipe calls for astaftida which adds an oniony flavor. I did not have any so we added a chopped shallot as substitute. For a finishing touch, a mixture of flour and heavy cream is added. We decided the dish still tasted a little raw so we added some water and let it cook down for an extra 15-20 minutes.

The red lentil recipe I ended up making up myself, starting with a paste of ginger, garlic, sugar and scallions that I hand pounded with mortar and pestle. The lentils are cooked in water with this paste until thick. We stirred into the finished lentils the rest of the vegetable filling leftover from the bread and that worked out very well.
Our feast was a great success. As usual, my house filled up with kids as the food hit the table. Everything looked so colorful on the plate. My brother suggested Kingfisher beer as the beverage of choice. We could not find it at the local supermarket, but I will keep an eye out for it when I next hit the Indian markets of Jackson Heights.

Palak Paneer- from Manjula's Kitchen

Palak Paneer is creamy spinach with paneer (indian home made paneer). This is a very popular with youngsters and served in every indian resturant. The creamy texture of spinach with paneer is a very good combination.
Serves 4.
  • 1 10 oz package of chopped frozen spinach or 4 cups of fresh finely chopped spinach
  • 1/3 lb paneer
  • 2 medium tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder (dhania)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (jeera)
  • Pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tomato thinly sliced to garnish
  1. If using frozen spinach thaw and blend it just for a minute so spinach has a creamy texture but without becoming pasty.
  2. blend the tomatoes and ginger to make puree.
  3. Mix coriander, turmeric, and red chili with tomato puree and set aside.
  4. Mix whole-wheat flour with heavy cream and set aside.
  5. Cube the paneer in about half inch pieces and deep fry them on medium high heat just for few minutes so paneer become very light gold in color, take paneer out on paper towel so extra oil can be absorbed.
  6. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks right away it is ready.
  7. Add hing and cumin seed. After cumin seeds crack, add the tomato puree mixture, and let it cook for a few minutes until the tomato puree is about half in volume.
  8. Add the spinach, and let it cook on low medium heat for about 10 minutes covered.
  9. Add heavy cream mixture and let this cook another four to five minutes.
  10. Add paneer and fold it gently with spinach and let it simmer for a 2-3 minutes. Pot should remain covered until the cooking is finished, otherwise the spinach will splatter.
  11. Transfer the spinach to a serving dish and spread the tomato slices over the top, and cover the dish so tomato slices get tender with the steam from the spinach.
You can replace the heavy cream with 1 1/2 cups of milk.

Gobhi parathas (stuffed cauliflower bread) -from Manjula's Kitchen
Makes 6 parathas.
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup water (Use more as needed)
1/2 teaspoon of salt

  • Filling:

    • 2 cup shredded cauliflower
    • 1/2 teaspoon ajwain
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (Jeera)
    • 1 chopped green chili
    • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (green coriander)
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Also needed:

    • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour for rolling
    • Oil to cook

  1. Mix flour, salt and water together to make a soft dough (if the dough is hard add a little more water). I like mixing the dough by hand.
  2. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a lightly greased surface to make a smooth and pliable dough.
  3. Set the dough aside and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest for at least ten minutes.

  1. Mix all filling ingredients together by hand. After mixing let the filling settle for about 5 minutes. Note: Shred the cauliflower using a shredder (electric or manual). However, do not use a food processor to blend the cauliflower, as the cauliflower will become too moist and hard to work with.
  2. Squeeze the cauliflower mix in order to take out as much water as possible.
Making of paratha

  1. Divide the dough and cauliflower mixture into 6 equal parts.
  2. Roll the dough into 3 inch diameter circles. Put the filling in the center. Seal by pulling the edges of the rolled dough together to make a ball. Proceed to make all six balls.
  3. Each ball needs to settle for two minutes before rolling. Note: If you don’t wait long enough the cauliflower mixture will seep through the edges when rolling the parathas.
  4. Heat the skillet on medium high. Note: An iron skillet works best. To see if the skillet is ready, put a couple of drops of water on it. If the water sizzles right away, the skillet is ready.
  5. To make it easier to roll the balls, first roll them in dry whole-wheat flour.
  6. Lightly press the ball on the sealed side and keep it on the topside when rolling. Roll the ball light handed in to 6 inch circles. To reduce the stickiness on the rolling pin or rolling surface, sprinkle dry whole-wheat flour on both side of the semi-rolled paratha.
  7. Place the paratha over the skillet. You will see the color change and the paratha will bubble in different places.
  8. Then turn the paratha over. Paratha should have golden-brown spots. Wait a few seconds and put 1 teaspoon of oil over paratha and spread the oil on the topside. Flip the paratha and lightly press the puffed areas with a spatula.
  9. Flip again and press with the spatula making sure the paratha is golden-brown on both sides.
  10. Cool the Parathas on a wire rack so they don’t get soggy.
  11. Parathas can be kept outside wrapped in aluminum foil or a cover container for 2 days or they can be refrigerated for 5-6 days (wrapped aluminum foil). To re-heat warm on a skillet or toaster oven.

Wow! Sounds amazing. I hope it all came out as wonderful as it sounds! I have to try that bread!! I think your brother had a good idea when he suggested beer with these dishes. There are scores of interesting beers that pair beautifully with Indian food. Beer is often my libation of choice when dining at local "bring-your-own" Indian establishments.

Indian food is absolutely one of my favorite cuisines. Back in my pre-children days I would spend a whole Sunday afternoon preparing Indian dishes. I would start my day in "Little India" in Manhattan buying the necessary ingredients I could not find locally at the time (this was several years ago before international spices starting popping up in regular supermarket chains). The rest of the day would consist of toasting spices, crushing them with a mortar and pestle, and concocting various renditions of curries and vindaloos. Ahhh, back in the day....

One of my favorite wines to enjoy with Indian cuisine is Vouvray, a white from the Loire Valley in France. I LOVE Vouvray. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, this incredible wine is made in a variety of styles ranging from dry, to sparkling, to sweet. The wines are known for having high acidity. Dry or Sec styles will have more pronounced acidity than the sweeter styles. Vouvray are wonderful when paired alongside rich, hearty dishes.

An off-dry (or slightly sweet) style would be my pick to accompany the spicy flavors of Indian food. This delightful white typically exhibits flavors of nuts, figs and honey. Indian food screams for a wine which is slightly sweet. Definitely avoid high-alcohol wines and very tannic ones as well. These qualities will only serve to exacerbate the heat of the food and will leave your taste buds in shambles. The sweet fruit of Vouvray will soothe the palate mitigating the fiery heat of the food, making it a perfect fit for Indian!

If you are adamant about having red, be sure to choose one that is low in tannins, such as a Pinot Noir or perhaps Beaujolais. Whatever you choose, I'm sure Deb's recipes will be another great hit!

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