Tag Archives: Paneer

Muttar Paneer and Tony Horton

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Muttar Paneer and Tony Horton

I’m well into the second week of P90X.  I am beginning to walk like the hunchback (or is it hump back?  I have a hunched hump) of Notre Dame when nobody is watching, dang that Tony Horton.  I try to straighten up and look buff whenever I think I’ll encounter other people.  I’m still laughing, joking and talking but it covers over some serious muscle pain.  I don’t remember being THIS sore the last cycle of P90X.  My daughter reminded me that was a few months ago and now I am OLDER.  Thanks, Onjoli.  My sister Rita is also doing P90X.  We live hundreds of miles apart but found time to laugh on the phone together over how hard it was to even blow dry our hair after doing a bunch of pull-ups.  I need something to look forward to at mealtimes while I get over the first few weeks of muscle pain (and misery).  I want comfort food (or my mom to cook for me)! Comfort food that won’t destroy all the hard work of working out.   Muttar Paneer  has all the flavors of a richer meat dish, like a Rogan Josh curry (that’s an awesome beef or lamb curry) but is pretty low in  fat while being high in protein.  Since I make my own paneer using 2% milk, it’s a lower fat version than the ones available through my cheese monger or  at the Indian grocer.  The spices used are very similar to what is used in making a lamb curry, making the flavor profile much richer.

I know when you look at the long list of spices, it can seem daunting but there is another piece of good news.  you can make the tomato and cashew based sauce ahead of time or in a bigger batch and freeze them in portioned freezer bags. When you’re ready to cook, you can take out a bag of sauce and add the garam masala and either lamb, beef or in this case the green peas and paneer to complete the rest of the currying process.  I have done that in the past, I just didn’t have any sauce in my freezer this time!

I have used whole spices in my Garam Masala again.  I beg you to use whole spices whenever you can, the taste is so much better, I promise.  I hope you try this out.  You’ll really enjoy the mini explosion of flavors in every bite and keep eating it and eating it….Oh, BTW, it goes great with Chappatis.

Saute cashews first in a little oil

Add onions, turmeric, garlic, ginger and salt and saute for 2-3 minutes

Add tomatoes and cook another 2-3 minutes

Blend the cooked tomato mixture in a food processor until smooth – you can make a big batch of this and freeze it if you like for future use.

Saute whole garam masala and cumin seeds in 2 tbsp oil until the cumin seeds are popping and everything is fragrant

Add tomato puree to the garam masala and simmer for about 10 minutes

Add green chilis, methi and green peas and cook another 5 minutes over low heat

Add cilantro, paneer and milk (or cream) and cook another 3 minutes before serving

Muttar Paneer with coconut rice

Muttar Paneer

4 tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped

1 cup frozen green peas

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

5-6 raw cashews

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, grated

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1-2 fresh green chilies

2 tsp Kasuri Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves)

handful of cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup milk with 1/2 tsp flour mixed in or you can use 1/4 cup heavy cream

Whole Garam Masala: 

5 green cardamom pods

1 stick cinnamon

2 bay leaves

5 whole cloves

salt to taste

Heat 2 tbsp oil and saute cashews, add in onion, salt, turmeric ginger and garlic and stir fry for about 2-3 minutes.  Add chopped tomatoes and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Blend this mixture in a blender or processor until smooth.   (Note: if you wanted to make extra sauce for future use, you could easily make a double or quadruple batch and freeze them in portioned freezer bags).  In the same pan used earlier, add the remaining oil and the whole garam masala spices and cumin seeds and stir fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato mixture and simmer covered on low heat for about 8-10 minutes until all the flavors are well blended.  You can adjust with a little water.  Into the sauce add the peas, green chilies and the dried fenugreek leaves (fresh would be great if you can get it, not as pungent) cook for about 2 minutes until peas are tender then add the paneer, milk and flour mixture or cream and cilantro.  Heat all the way through, should take another 2 minutes or so and serve hot with plain brown basmati rice or chappatis.

Saag (Palak) Paneer

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Saag (Palak) Paneer

I know, I know…it seems like I’ve been making a lot of Bengali/Indian food lately and LOTS of things with paneer.  What can I say?  I’m going through a phase.  I’m switching to Mediterranean or Caribbean food this weekend.  Most of you will recognize this dish, especially if you’ve ever been through a lunch buffet at any Indian restaurant.  Saag or Palak Paneer (which basically means spinach and fresh cheese) is an extremely popular Indian restaurant staple.  Usually it’s been sitting in a serving pan over a steamer for a few hours getting overcooked.  I’ve never been attracted to the globs of  moss-green colored spinach with a few pieces of paneer peeking out.  Make no mistake.  I love eating Saag Paneer, just not the restaurant version.  If you want to enjoy the dish in its full, delicious glory, you have to make it at home.  It’s sooooo good.  I can eat a whole bowl of this with a little rice.  It’s pretty low in fat, high in nutrients, full of flavor and a vegetarian and gluten-free dish to boot.   Just make a batch of paneer and you’re good to go.  I usually use frozen, chopped spinach because it saves lots of time and there is no taste difference.  Fresh baby spinach can definitely be used for this dish, just needs a few extra minutes of cooking time.  I also use whole Garam Masala.  Garam Masala usually consists of Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves.  They are toasted and then ground up to create the powdered version of Garam Masala.  A lot of commercial Garam Masala leave out the Cardamom because it’s an expensive spice.  Anytime spices are ground, they lose a lot of the flavor quickly.  For instance, Coriander seeds are fantastic when toasted and then ground but it tends to turn into a flavorless brown powder after a week.  I picked up an inexpensive coffee grinder and use it exclusively for my spice grinding needs since my husband, who is an ubér coffee snob would freak out if his coffee beans smelled like Garam Masala and I would not enjoy spices that smelled like coffee.  This way we’re both happy.

Just a side note about using whole spices….Bengalis, Indians, Pakistanis.  We eat food with our hands.  Many times food is served with whole chilis, cloves, bay leaves etc. and the diner knows to remove them before eating, mostly because we’re encountering them with our hands before we put it in our mouth. The western style of eating with a fork usually prevents that little step.  A lot of the whole spices have been ground into powder because of this reason.  I just count the number of bay leaves or cloves or pods I put in and do my best to fish it out.  The flavor in cooking with whole spices cannot be beat.  In certain recipes it is essential.  I guess you have two choices…wash your hands and dive in or spend a minute or two and fish out the whole spices after the dish is cooked.  Please do try cooking with whole spices though…you will really enjoy the flavors!

Ingredients at a glance

Whole spices that make up “Garam Masala” – the flavor is more intense when these whole spices are used instead of the ground version

Dried fenugreek leaves (I know it looks like a controlled substance, but it has great flavor!)

Saute the bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds and dried whole chilies in oil until it’s fragrant

Add all the other spices (except for the fenugreek leaves) and saute another 2 minutes or so

Add tomatoes to the caramelized onion mixture

Add spinach and water and cook about 6-8 minutes until spinach is tender

Add paneer and methi leaves and mix into the sauce

Add half and half and simmer for 2-3 minutes

Serve hot with plain rice or rice pilaf

Saag (Palak) Paneer

10 oz package of frozen, chopped spinach

3 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

5 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1-2 cinnamon sticks

4-5 whole cloves

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/2 tsp red chili powder

3 dried red chilies

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste (I usually blend the two together in a processor in a 1:1 ratio and keep in the fridge)

1 1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri Methi)

12 ounces (or one batch) paneer cut into cubes

1/4 cup half and half

1 3/4 cups water

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil and saute cumin seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and whole dried red chilies.  When spices are fragrant and cumin seeds are popping add in the onion and salt and continue to cook a couple of minutes until the onions are tender and carmelized.  Add in all remaining spices, except fenugreek leaves and continue to stir fry for about a minute and a half before adding in the tomatoes.  Tomatoes should cook down and begin separating from the oil before spinach is added along with about a cup and a half of water.  Cook uncovered (this keeps the spinach from turning a mossy green color) for about 5-6 minutes until spinach is tender and all the spices are incorporated.  Add in Methi leaves (fenugreek leaves) and the paneer and gently stir in.  Add the half and half and look another couple of minutes.  Turn off heat and serve with some plain white rice or a pilaf.

Kalokand – A delicious dessert made with paneer

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Kalokand – A delicious dessert made with paneer

One of the reasons that I don’t usually make Bengali or Indian desserts very often is that they take a lot of time standing in front of a stove. It’s not like baking something where you pop it in the oven and then go away for a while. South Asian desserts require your attention for the full prep time. There is no “down” time.  On my recent quest to make Paneer at home, I made several batches of paneer with varying degrees of success.  The batch I made with whole milk and heavy cream mixture (4 cups whole milk and 4 cups heavy cream) was soft and had a smooth and creamy texture.  It failed as a paneer for savory cooking but was the perfect consistency for making a dessert that I’d enjoyed eating but have never made myself–Kalokand.  It’s a delicious, creamy and rich dessert that has no other flavor but the richness of milk. It’s one of those desserts better saved for those special occasions.

I’m not sure I’d have ever tried making Kalokand had I not had the great paneer making experiment.  I’m so glad that I did. I’m posting this so that my mom can see the pictures (if my sister will actually show her this post) and tell me what she thinks.  I want to make sure I did it right.  It sure tasted amazing and like I remembered it tasting.  It’s not as intimidating as I thought and it’s worth making on purpose.

Batch of Paneer made with whole milk and cream

Add paneer to reduced milk and cook for about 4-5 minutes before adding Pistachios

Add the brown sugar and continue cooking

When mixture resembles a soft dough take off heat

Pour into a greased plate or serving dish and garnish with pistachios

Cut into small squares when cooled

Here’s the recipe:

Kalokand 

One batch of Paneer made with 4 cups whole milk and 4 cups of heavy cream

4 cups of 2% or whole milk

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped Pistachios

1 tablespoon chopped Pistachio for garnish

Make a batch of paneer using whole milk and heavy cream, don’t knead it.  In a heavy bottom pan heat 4 cups of milk and bring it to a gentle boil.  Stir often so it doesn’t burn.  Reduce the milk volume in half to about 2 cups (takes about 12 minutes).  Add the paneer into the reduced milk and continue cooking  until  the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan (about 4-5 minutes).  Add the pistachios and the dark brown sugar and cook another 3-4 minutes until mixture begins to dry out some more and resembles a soft dough.  Pour into a greased  plate or small pan so that mixture is about 1/2 inch thick.  Smooth out the top and sprinkle the remaining Pistachios.  When cooled, cut into small squares.  Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Paneer Kofta Curry

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Paneer Kofta Curry

I enjoy kofta curries because I think they are fun. I just made a chicken kofta curry not too long ago and last night decided to throw together a paneer version.  I’m leaving for an out-of-town speaking engagement so I wanted to use up whatever I thought would not last the next four days or so (which included some leftover paneer).  I found one sweet potato in the bottom drawer and some cilantro and chilies that needed to be used up ASAP.  I also didn’t take as many ingredient pictures because I was kind of cooking as I was going along.  I wasn’t sure how the sweet potato would taste in the dish but ended up liking the sweetness balanced with the other spices.  Let me know what you think!

The potato to paneer ratio should be about 1:1, I kind of liked the sweet potato and regular potato mixture, give it a sweet and spicy kick

Add in all the other ingredient

Make into little balls slightly bigger than a quarter (yields about 19-20)

Coat the koftas in a flour batter

Fry until golden brown and place on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil

Saute the onions and tomatoes along with bay leaves, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks together until fragrant

Add in all the other spices

Add tomato paste and then some water

Add in yogurt or coconut milk (whichever you prefer along with additional water) and let sauce simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add in koftas, cook an additional 2-3 minutes before sprinkling with fresh cilantro

Great served with rice or naan

Paneer Kofta Curry

Kofta balls:

1 sweet potato

1 regular potato

1 cup of paneer

2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 inch of ginger, grated

1/2 cumin powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 green chili, chopped

3 green onions (white and green parts together), chopped

Paneer Kofta coating

1/4 cup flour

6 tbsp water

Oil for frying

Curry

3 tbsp oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

2 bay leaf

4-5 whole cloves

4-5 cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 tsp red chili powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated

3 tbsp tomato paste

2 cups water (approximately)

1/2 cup yogurt OR lite coconut milk (whichever you have on hand)

Salt to taste

some fresh chopped cilantro for the end

Pierce the skin of the potatoes with a fork and microwave for about 5 minutes until they are tender.  Take off the skin and mash together.  I avoid boiling the potatoes since I want a dry mixture and don’t want to introduce any more moisture.  The yielded potatoes should be about 1 cup.  Mix potatoes, paneer and all the other ingredients for the koftas together and form into small balls a little bigger than the size of a quarter.  They will expand a little in the sauce so you don’t want them too big and mushy.  Make a thin batter out of flour and water (about the consistency of crepe batter).  Coat each kofta in the batter and fry them quickly in some oil.  I used a small pan and a higher heat.  I was trying to give the koftas a coating to keep them from falling apart since they don’t have the resiliency of meatballs.  Set the koftas on a paper towel lined pan to absorb excess oil.

In a medium sauce pan heat oil and begin sauteing onion and tomatoes together.  Add in bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon and crushed cardamom pods.  Stir fry until fragrant.  Add in turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili and stir fry for a few minutes before adding the garlic and ginger. Add in 1/2 cup of water and the tomato paste stir until everything is incorporated.  Stir in yogurt  and another cup of water or if you’re using coconut milk instead, add that in.  Let the sauce cook for 3-4 minutes until all the flavors are well incorporated, check for salt and adjust accordingly.  Drop in the kofta balls and gently stir.  Cover and let it cook about 2 minutes. Koftas will grow in size as they soak in some of the sauce.  Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with rice or naan.

Paneer 101 ~ how to make your own cheese for fun and profit

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For quite a while now I’ve been wanting to make my own paneer instead of paying $6 for a 12 oz package at my local ethnic grocery store.  So I decided I’d call a friend who’s really good at cooking all kinds of stuff and ask if she’s ever made paneer, no such luck.  Next, I called my mom (Ma or Amma).  She gave me some super vague directions, “get some milk and then curdle it.”  Then this last Saturday as I was sitting through an annual volunteer training at the State Penitentiary (I volunteer regularly at the State women’s prison) and the facilitator mentioned that there was an outbreak of prisoners making their own cheese and then bartering it for other valuables.  Whaaat?  So, I asked the facilitator “how did the inmate make cheese without a heat source or acid?” (I wanted answers, dang it)  ~ the answer?  “you don’t want to know, but I heard it was a pretty good Roquefort, why you want some?” then he launched into a side bar story of how two inmates got sick from homebrew made  with an old potato in the toilet….

Seriously, if prisoners can make underground cheese in their cells, I ought to be able to make paneer.  Turns out it’s really easy.  Maybe I can barter it for other valuables.

I did have some failures and here’s what I learned.  Don’t use whole milk or heavy cream because it makes the texture too soft.  It turns into a delightful ricotta that can be used for other things but not paneer.  Don’t use 1% or skim milk because the low-fat content makes a rubbery end product.  So like Goldilocks I found the milk that was just right.  Medium fat content or 2% milk is the perfect choice and although you can use buttermilk or a variety of vinegars as the source of acid, lemon juice still works the best.

Heat milk to boiling, make sure to stir often to avoid burning the milk

As soon as milk comes to a boil add lemon juice and water and stir in gently

Turn off heat and let the whey separate out by letting it rest about 8-10 minutes

Pour into a cheesecloth lined colander and rinse with cold water to get the lemony smell and taste out

Squeeze out all excess water from the paneer

Knead the paneer for about 3-4 minutes until smooth

It should come together into a nice smooth ball

Re-wrap the paneer in cheesecloth and place it on a cookie sheet with a heavy pan on top to take out any excess water (takes about an hour or two)

Here’s the recipe:

How to make Paneer

8 cups of 2% milk

5 tbsp lemon juice thinned with 2 tablespoons of water

Tools needed:  Cheese cloth and colander

In a heavy bottom pan heat milk until it boils.  Make sure to stir often so that the milk doesn’t stick or begin burning at the bottom.  As soon as it comes to a boil, slowly add in the lemon juice and water mixture and gently stir to incorporate.  Turn off heat.  Almost immediately you’ll see the curds separate out and a greenish liquid emerge.  Let it sit for about 8 minutes before pouring into a cheesecloth lined colander.  Gently rinse with cold water to get all the lemony smell out then squeeze the cheesecloth to get rid of as much liquid as possible.  Knead the paneer for about 3-4 minutes until smooth.  At this point you can use the paneer in a dessert dish like Rosgullas or Chumchums or make the paneer used for savory cooking.  If using for a savory dish you can get creative and add toasted cumin seeds or chopped cilantro or salt and fresh cracked pepper to the kneaded paneer.  Now you have “designer” paneer (which the Indian store wanted even more money for).  Flatten out the paneer inside the cheesecloth and put it in a cookie sheet.  Line the cookie sheet with several sheets of paper towel to absorb moisture and some on top of the paneer as well. Place a heavy pan (I used a cast iron skillet) or some other weight on top for about an hour or two this will take out any excess water and make a uniform size.  If you want to, you might even leave it in the fridge (with the skillet and all) overnight for some really firm paneer but I found that an hour on the counter works fine. Cut into cubes or strips and cook your favorite curry!

Subzi Paneer Masala (Vegetable and Paneer in a delicious sauce)

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Subzi Paneer Masala  (Vegetable and Paneer in a delicious sauce)

I’ve had a lot of pale foods lately.  You know what I mean.  Things with creamy, white sauces, pastas, potatoes.  I needed some COLOR and some SPICE!  I can’t go very long without reverting back to my roots.  There are lots of times we eat completely vegetarian meals, not really on purpose but because we never miss the meat.  Especially food from my part of the world.  The flavors, the spices and the textures are so great, you never even think to yourself…”where’s the beef?”  This is one of those dishes.  Paneer is a South Asian cheese. Paneers can be used to make desserts, to put into breads or made into savory dishes.  It’s versatility can take on any flavors, kind of like tofu.  Paneer can also easily be made at home.  I didn’t have time today to make my paneer from scratch (I shall post a paneer making post really soon). I just bought some from the store.  Nowadays you can pick up paneer even at the specialty section of regular grocery stores.  This dish is pretty quick and it’s very, VERY tasty.  I love to serve it with Aloo Naan (savory potato stuffed flat bread) and some Raita (a cucumber, tomato and yogurt side salad).  It’s one of my favorite comfort foods.

Ingredients at a glance

Puree the tomatoes, onion, green chili, garlic and ginger together

Shallow fry the Paneer in a skillet (I like my trusty cast iron one)

In the same pan saute the green and red bell peppers until they are tender but not overcooked.

Take out the peppers when done and into the hot pan add cumin seeds and hing powder

Add tomato puree along with coriander, bay leaves, chili and turmeric and cook for a few minutes

Add Greek yogurt (with a little water mixed in) to the sauce mixture

When sauce has cooked nicely add green peas, peppers and paneer

Cook for a few minutes and add garam masala, sugar and cilantro

Serve immediately with Plain or Aloo Naan

Subzi Paneer MasalaHere’s the recipe:

12 ounces of Paneer, cut into strips or cubes

1/8 cup of oil

14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes

3 cloves garlic

1/2  inch piece of fresh ginger

1 Serrano Chili

1/2 onion

1/2 tsp Jeera (cumin seeds)

1/4 tsp Hing (Aseofatida powder, it stinks but it’s awesome to cook with)

1 tbsp Coriander powder (Dhania)

1/2 tsp Turmeric

1/2 tsp Red chili powder

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

1 tsp Garam Masala

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

1 red bell pepper, cut into little chunks

1 green bell pepper, cut into little chunks

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup plain greek yogurt

1/2 cup water

1 tsp salt (or adjust to your taste)

In a blender or food processor mix the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onion and green chili into a puree.  Set aside.

In a skillet or pan heat the oil and shallow fry the paneer pieces until they are golden brown.  Take them out and put them in a paper towel lined pan.  In the same oil add the green and red bell peppers and cook for about 3 minutes until tender but not over cooked.  Take out and put in the same pan as the paneer and set aside.

Add to the pan the Cumin seeds and hing and stir fry until the seeds pop (should take only a few seconds).  Add the tomato puree, coriander powder, salt, turmeric, chili and bay leaves.  Cook over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes or until the oil separates a little from the tomato puree and the whole sauce reduces to almost half the quantity.

Mix yogurt and water together and add to the sauce.  Stir and simmer for another 3 minutes or so.  Add the Paneer, bell pepper and green peas to the sauce, cook for about a minute until the peas are tender.  Add the garam masala, sugar and cilantro and stir well.  Cook  another minute or so and remove from heat.  Fish out the two bay leaves. Serve hot with Aloo Naan or plain Naan.