Nani paneer (paneer with half moons)

onion11The name of this recipe is not a poor translation, but is my way of making the original name of this recipe, paneer do pyaza (or “two onion” paneer) sound more appealing. I’m not sure if I succeeded. 

Monikers aside, this is one of my favorite paneer dishes, something my Nani enjoyed, and which I will always associate with lunches in her house.  Although heavy on the onions, this is not a pungent dish.  Rather, the onions are slowly caramelized and intended to impart a sweetness to the dish, which goes very nicely against the black pepper.  I also love the way these onion skins look in this boat shape.  For those of you who hate chopping onions, the shape of the onions here mean very little chopping, and hopefully, few to no tears.  This recipe is delicious with naan, paratha, or roti.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

For the onion half moons:

1 tsp. canola oil

1 yellow onion, cut into quarters (like so), and then each layer of skin removed.

onions1 tsp. sugar

Pinch of salt

For the paneer:

1 tsp. vegetable/canola oil

2 green cardamom pods

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 green chilli, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 roma tomatoes

1 tsp. coriander powder

1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. red chili powder

1 tsp. black pepper (preferably freshly ground)

100 gms (3 oz.) paneer (preferably home made), cut into cubes

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 2 garlic gloves and 1″ ginger, mashed in a mortar and pestle)

1/4 cup warm water

Handful of coriander leaves (for garnish)

Salt to taste

  1. First, start on the onion half moons. Place a saucepan, with 1 tsp. oil, on low heat.  Chop one yellow onion into quarters and remove the skins.  Place the skins into the pan, along with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let the onions soften on low heat.  Shake the pan occasionally to make sure that the skins don’t burn.  Once the onions are softened and gently charred on the edges, turn off the heat (about 10 minutes).onions2
  2. In the meantime, chop 1/2 a yellow onion and one roma tomato. onions3
  3. In another pan, add 1 tsp. oil. and put the pan on medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, and bay leaf.  When the cumin seeds start sizzling, add the green chilli, half the chopped onion, and the ginger-garlic paste.  Add a pinch of salt and cook the onions for about two minutes, until softened. onions6
  4. Add the chopped tomato, along with the spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, black pepper and garam masala).  Stir everything well.  When the mixture starts getting dry, add 1/4 cup warm water and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the spices are well blended.   onions7
  5. Add in the caramelized onions and mix everything together. 
  6. Cut the paneer into cubes and gently fold them into the onion and tomato gravy.  Mix everything well.onion9
  7. Garnish with coriander leaves.

onion10Serve and enjoy!

Paneer from scratch

It’s hard not to love paneer–the Indian ricotta–unless you’re vegan of course, in which case you have my eternal gratitude for making the world a better place.  While paneer is readily available in most Indian groceries, it comes frozen and loses some of its texture by the time it gets to you. By contrast, homemade paneer is remarkably soft, silky, and fresh. I’m a huge fan. It’s also very easy and quick to make, requiring just a couple of ingredients: a muslin cheese cloth, some white vinegar (or lemon juice) and whole milk (preferably organic). The photos for this are not going to be very pretty, but the results will be! This recipe makes about 200 grams of paneer (about 7 oz).  What you don’t use, you can wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

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Prep time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 cheese cloth

A large strainer

½ gallon whole milk (preferably organic)

1/3 cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

A pinch of salt

Heat the milk on high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir occasionally to make sure that the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom. In the meantime, fold your cheese cloth in half and place on top of a strainer.

paneer2

When the milk starts bubbling and rising up, turn the heat down to low.

Add the lemon juice, pinch of salt, and stir once or twice.  Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. You’ll see curdles or chunks forming as the whey and cheese separate.

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Strain everything into the cheese cloth, letting the whey drain out, preferably in a pot under the strainer (There are many uses for leftover whey and its packed full of nutrients, so you could keep it, if you want.   Here are some ideas: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/06/16-ways-to-use-your-whey.html).

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Squeeze out any excess water. Place a heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, on top of the cheese cloth and let sit. Leave this to sit for another 10-15 minutes.

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Gently squeeze out any water from the cheese cloth and gently flip over the brick of paneer.  Its ready to use!

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Easy Peasy Creamy Dal

I’m excited to write my first post by request.

“I can’t get dal quite right,” my friend Nandini said one recent afternoon, as we shared a lunch of veggie burgers and salad.   My eyes widened.  I think I mumbled something about the magic of the pressure cooker. She said something about its scary whistle.

It has taken me years to get dal right—that deceptively simple staple in every north Indian household. I wholeheartedly agree that pressure cookers are kind of scary. But after having bought one and using it regularly, I can tell you that it is totally worth it and only a little scary, and that too, only in the beginning.  Don’t let this baby intimidate you. You get used to the whistling sound pretty quickly, and then it stops being quite so alarming. Pressure cookers, in my humble view, are one of the best kitchen gadgets a person can own. Mine is similar to this one, which has an easy button that you slide down to click it open or closed, with two settings (1 and 2—I always use 1, the lower setting). Also, as I have learned from many-a- Top-Chef episode, pressure cookers are fantastic for braising meats, so definitely a worthwhile investment. Best of all, the pressure cooker enables your dal to be ready in a mere thirty minutes total, including prep time. It takes 5 minutes to chop up your ingredients and another 5 to sauté them, put the lid on and let your dal cook for twenty minutes and voila!

After years of frustration , I promise that you will not be able to replicate the creaminess of a pressurized dal using an ordinary pot. The pressure simply breaks down the lentils so that the entire mixture is smooth and the dal and water have literally become one. There are few things better in life than some steaming rice soaking up creamy dal, with a side of lemon or mango pickle. Heaven.

PS—The secret of my dal recipe is the squeeze of lemon at the end. Lemon with Indian food is a must; it really brings out the flavors. This will make a great soup for lunch, or served on top of rice makes a truly complete meal.

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Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 dried red chili

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 medium yellow/red onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 1” fresh ginger and about 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped)

1 roma tomato, chopped

1 cup red lentils

1 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1 tsp. red chili powder (optional)

8 cups of warm water

1 tsp. salt

Squeeze of lemon

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in the pressure cooker on medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl it in the pot and add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add in the chopped onion (The onions will start to brown the bottom of the pressure cooker – don’t worry – this will be deglazed once you pour in the warm water.)
  2. Add a pinch of salt to the onions and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic, ginger, and chopped tomato. Saute for another minute.
  3. Add in the red lentils and water and gently stir everything together.
  4. Add the turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and red chili powder, if using. Mix everything together.
  5. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Your stove should be on medium heat and you should use the lower pressure cooker setting. If you don’t have multiple settings on your pressure cooker, just time the whistles.  Once the whistle goes off, cook the dal for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid, squeeze in some lemon. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve!