Sometimes the simpler the food the more rewarding for your taste buds. Visons of many a beautiful vegetarian tables with paneer, lentils and pickles seems to stay with me. The memories range from restaurants to friends houses after school, to street side travel shacks and many more…..but they are always vivid and connect me to a rich past.
Growing up our family were big meat eaters…it would not be “food” without lamb or chicken 🙂 However, every now and then we would have a vegetarian day where Paneer would be the showcase.
When I first moved to the US, store bought paneer (cheese) was not an option so making the paneer at home was the only way. Don’t get me wrong, homemade cheese is the best but sometimes a working girl needs a premade handy version so dinner can be cooked at moments notice.
The local Asian stores now have the most amazing Paneer available so I keep a block in the fridge or freezer for quick dinner situations.
This is a curry, which as always is spicy, tangy, rich, gentle, soft and ever so delicious.
I have paired it with butter rice, lentils and pickles. Naan or roti would be perfect with the platter.
Kashmiri cuisine traces back to centuries of tradition, spices and methods of cooking. While predominantly a meat centric cuisine, the vegetarian dishes hold their own and are unparalleled. History has documented well known saints of Kashmir to have been vegetarian for spiritual reasons.
The cuisine has evolved over the centuries absorbing influences from settlements and migrations. The flavors and spices of Kashmiri cuisine include dry ginger, fennel, cloves, cinnamon and saffron to name a few.
This particular dish is my version, not very common but most people are familiar with Kashmiri Dum Aloo ( potatoes). “Dum” is a technique that is essentially slow sealed cooking. The cooking vessels can be sealed by using a flour dough between the pot and the lid and placed on hot coals which are also added on the top on the lid. Of course this can also be accomplished in the oven ( just giving you alternatives in case you want to make this while camping :)). I used a even simpler route and used a heavy cast iron pot with strong sealed lid and used low heat on my stove.
A little about the spices I have used.
Cloves: Dried flower buds that contain antiseptic properties and help in preserving food
Fennel Powder: Ground fennel commonly used to flavor sauces and stocks
Dry Ginger Powder: Fresh ginger is dried and then ground and has a distinct flavor aside from its healing properties
Garam Masala: A mix of dry roasted spices that varies from household to household
Asafoetida: a spice derived from the plant Ferula assa-foetida – a very distinct flavor and a pinch is all you need.
Turmeric powder: Dried and ground root like ginger. Add the beautiful orange color.
The sweetness of the onions, the mellowness of the yoghurt, the liveliness of the spices and the fragrance of the saffron…are all a dance on your tastebuds. My love for saffron and wholes spice come from growing up in a cross culture cuisine of North India where the cuisines are decidedly different as you move through the states.
This vegetarian cheese(Paneer) dish actually comes from flavors that are used in meat dishes. You can use homemade cheese which is softer and preferred. I used the block I bought from the local Asian store which is firmer.
Here is what you need:
A block of Paneer ( cheese) cut in cubes ( about 3 cups). Marinated for an hour in a smooth blend of the following:
1/2 cup yogurt
1 tsp turmeric
1tsp red chili or paprika ( paprika will give some color)
1/2 onion crushed
4 cloves of garlic crushed
1 tsp cumin pwd
2 tbsp ghee or oil
2 large onions sliced
2 inch cinnamon stick
4 green cardamons
1 black cardamon
4 whole peppercorns
1 tsp turmeric pwd
1 -2 green chillies
1 tablespoon coriander pwd
2 tsp fresh garlic ginger paste
a pinch of saffron soaked in warm water
Putting it together:
Let the cheese marinate for an hour. Use a mortar and pestle to crush cinnamon, cardamons, cloves, peppercorns.
Add ghee to a heavy bottomed pan and add the crushed spices. Add the onions and fry everything until soft and browned. Add garlic ginger paste, green chili, turmeric and coriander. Add the marinated paneer and let it all cook until the oil separates on the sides. Add saffron water and turn off the heat in a minute or two.
This dish is truly a comfort food for me. Immersed in the spices, flavors and memories of the beautiful valley of Kashmir. The spices are what makes it different from many other cuisines and similar cheese and tomato dishes so do pay special attention to the seasoning. The cottage cheese is best if made at home, cut in about 2 inch chunks and pan fried until just about brown on each side. The pieces are soaked in warm water right out of the pan and this is what will make the cheese (panner) soft on the inside.
Here is what you need:
About 5 ripe chopped tomatoes
2 tsp of garlic paste
8 green cardamoms
2 pieces of cinnamon stick ( 2 inches each)
4 black cardamom
2 tsp of tumeric
2 tsp of dry ginger powder ( sonth)
2 tsp of onion paste ( fried onions and that then ground in a processor)
2 tsp red chilis soaked in a cup of hot water
for the red color you can use dry cockscomb flowers poweder or annato seed oil ( or you can skip this)
2 tsp dry mint
1 tsp black cumin ( zeera)
In a pan add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook down until a puree is formed. Add garlic, cardamoms, cinnamon, tumeric, ginger, onion paste, chili water and 4 cup of water and let it cook until it gets a sauce like consistency and smells fantastic.
This is when you would add the cockscomb flower powder and then the cheese. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add dry mint and black zeera and cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve with rice.
A tip for the leftover sauce: Add boiled eggs the next day to enjoy the leftover sauce.
A chunk of home made or store bought cheese ( paneer) cut in 1 inch pieces
1 tbsp mustard oil
1/2 tsp each mustard seeds, onion seeds and fennel seeds, cumin seeds
a pinch of hing ( asafetida)
10 pieces of curry leaves
1 tsp tumeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 cup peas
1 cup diced green/red pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the seeds. Once the seeds have popped, add the curry leaves and hing. Saute for 30 secs on medium heat and add tumeric and coriander. Add the cheese pieces and fry until coated with all the spices and they turn a little brown. Add pepper and peas ( i used frozen). Let everything cook covered for about 5 – 10 mins. The dish should be dry as in the picture. Garnish with mint and lime juice. Serve with bread or rice. I served it with the Karela roti I have in the earlier posts