Tag Archives: spicy

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.

Aloo Naan (spicy potato stuffed naan bread)

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Aloo Naan (spicy potato stuffed naan bread)

There’s nothing like fresh hot naan.  I love all kinds of naan.  Peshwari Naan, Garlic Naan, Plain Naan, or in this case a stuffed Naan.  You  might be thinking to yourself (or not) why stuff potatoes inside a bread?  Well, why not?  Actually since this serves as the main carb for a meal, it’s perfect.  It’s great served with daal, channa dishes or one of my go to dishes Sabzi Paneer Masala.  Since I don’t own a Tandoor oven, the best way I know how to mimic one is by using a pizza stone.  A Tandoor oven heats up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.  The highest my gas oven will go is 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  In order to compensate for this temperature difference  I usually place  the pizza stone in a rack closest to the upper element.  I usually preheat the oven to the highest it will go (500 for electric or 550 for gas) with the pizza stone in it.  Then right before baking the naans, I turn the oven to the broil function.  This helps even out the heat from the top and the bottom and usually the naans turn out fantastic.  Try this one.  You’ll be the talk of the town.

Naan ingredients

Aloo filling ingredients

Proof yeast in water and sugar

Make a well in the middle of the flour and add liquid ingredients.

Make the dough and let it rest for 4-8 hours.

Cook the potatoes in the microwave, mash them and add all the spices. Make into 6 equal balls

The potato ball should be a little smaller than the naan dough ball

Roll dough into a 3" circle and place the potato ball in the middle

Pull the edges of the dough together and make a nice smooth ball

Let the dough balls with the filling inside rest for about 3-4 minutes before rolling out

Heat oven to 500 (or as high as it will go) with a pizza stone in it

Place rolled out dough onto hot pizza stone (I can usually fit up to 3 on the stone)

Cook for 2-3 minutes. Naan will usually puff up

Brush hot naan with ghee (clarified butter) or just plain butter

Enjoy your Aloo Naan!

The Aloo filling is delicious!

Here’s the recipe:

Aloo Naan

Makes 6 Naans

Plain Naan dough:

3 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil

2 tbsp plain yogurt (I like Greek)

3/4 cup warm water

Aloo Filling (potato filling):

2 medium russet potatoes

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cumin seeds (Jeera)

1/2 tsp dry mango powder (Amchur)

1 Serrano chili, partially seeded and chopped

2 tbsp chopped Cilantro (coriander leaves or Dhania)

1/2 tsp garam masala

additional items:

2 tbsp oil (to coat hands, for the dough etc)

2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) – to brush the naans with

1/8 – 1/4 cup flour to dust rolling surface

Making the Naan:

I make the dough for this naan in the morning before going to work, it only takes a couple of minutes and it’s perfect for when I get home.  The dough works really well 6-8 hours later.  Needs at least a minimum of 4 hours, so plan accordingly.  

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let it proof for a few minutes until it bubbles up.  In a larger bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add in the yogurt and oil.  Mix together until you get a coarse crumbly texture.  Slowly add in the proofed yeast mixture and knead the dough.  Don’t worry if the dough is slightly sticky.  Put a few drops of oil on the dough and smooth it all over the dough ball.  Cover the bowl with the dough in it with some plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 4 hours.  I prefer about 6-8.  It doesn’t really over-rise so even if it is longer than 8 hours, it’s okay.

Aloo filling:

Wash the two potatoes and pierce the skin with a fork a few times.  Microwave about 4-5 minutes (depending on microwave) until potatoes are tender.  Don’t skin and boil these potatoes since we’re trying to reduce moisture content.  Once cooked and slightly cooled, peel the potatoes and smash them with a fork or a potato masher.  Add all the spices to the mashed potatoes and mix well.  Divide and roll into six equal balls.

Putting it all together:

Preheat the oven to 500 or 550 (as high as it will go) with the pizza stone in it.  Pre-heat for about 20 minutes because you want the stone nice and hot.

Coat hands with a little vegetable oil and knead the naan dough a few times and divide the dough into six equal parts.  Sprinkle a little flour on the rolling surface and roll out dough into 3″ circles.  Place a potato ball in the middle and wrap dough around it like a little dumpling.  Make sure to pull the edges together well.  Make all six balls the same way and let it rest for about 5 minutes (this rest period helps a lot when rolling it out).  In the meantime, turn the oven on to broil and make sure the rack with the stone is closest to the top element (be sure to wear oven mitts or you’ll get a nasty burn like me).

Roll out naans into an oval shape.  Before placing them on the stone, coat the palms of your hands with a little oil and flip each naan back and forth to lightly coat each side.  Place 3 naans on the stone (or however many will fit on your stone).  Cook for about 2 minutes, maybe 3 depending on your oven.  It should get a nice golden brown color on top and will puff up.  Take out the naan and brush with ghee (clarified butter) or regular butter.

Make sure to wait 2-3 minutes between baking batches of naan to give your oven time to get back to the maximum temperature.  Serve Naan with Sabzi Paneer Masala.

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.

Pork Chops with Spicy Red Beans

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Pork Chops with Spicy Red Beans

Have you ever read the book “If you give a mouse a cookie…” It was my kid’s favorite book when they were little.  It’s a classic for me as well, you start with one thing and before you know it, it leads to a whole host of other things.  I made Polenta last night because I had some on hand and I didn’t feel like eating rice (gasp!) and once I made the Polenta, well I wanted some Pork chops to go with it and then I wanted a Chocolate dessert….you see where this is headed?  I do like pork chops occasionally.  They are versatile and can be oh so tasty!  I had some red beans on hand and decided to use cumin and coriander as well as a little ginger and garlic to bring out the flavor of the beans and pork chops.  They turned out really tasty and went VERY well with the grilled Polenta.

Ingredients at a glance

Sear the pork chops in a skillet

Saute thinly sliced onions and all the spices for 2-3 minutes

Add chicken broth, tomato paste and red beans and simmer gently

Add the pork chops to the sauce, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until chops are tender

Serve with creamy or grilled polenta! hmmmm

Here’s the recipe:

Pork Chops with Spicy Red Beans

3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 pork chops, (I liked the bone in chops)

2 red onions thinly sliced with a Mandolin

3 garlic cloves

1 inch piece of fresh ginger (I always mix my garlic and ginger together in a paste)

2 fresh Serrano Chilis

1 1/2 tsp Cumin seeds

1 1/2 tsp Coriander Powder (that’s the Cilantro seed)

2 1/2 cups of chicken stock (or you can use water if you prefer)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 can of red beans (14 ounce size)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the pork chops to the pan to give them a nice sear on both sides.  Set aside.  Add the thinly sliced onions and all the spices except for the tomato paste and stir fry for about 2-3 minutes until onions are tender.  Add in chicken stock and tomato paste and bring to a simmer.  Add in drained and rinsed red beans and simmer an additional minute before placing the pork chops into the sauce.  Cover and simmer gently over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the chops are tender and cooked through.  Goes really well with Savory Herbed Polenta.

Yellow Split Pea and Egg Curry

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Yellow Split Pea and Egg Curry

If you are short on funds but want something super tasty and pretty easy to make, it’s this dish.  South Asians refer to any kind of split peas, legumes and lentils as “Daal”.  We cook them in a variety of ways and in Bengali we even refer to “Daal” as the “poor man’s meat”.  When I went home to Bangladesh earlier this year, I visited a lot of Child Development Centers where kids get an awesome education and one meal per day. That one meal per day literally saves lives. Egg curries are included twice a week as a cheap source of protein  along with “Daal” of course, and the kids always love it.  I loved eating egg curries as a child as well.  I used to save the yolk until the very end, like a reward.  So I decided to combine “Daal” with a more traditional Egg Curry.  The result is twice the nutritional value and a very tasty dish.  This is delicious served with plain white rice or a vegetable rice palao or lemon rice.

This mixture is what Bengalis call "Gorom Mosla" meaning "hot spices" It lays the foundation of most savory curry dishes

Cumin, Turmeric and Chili powder. The trifecta of any good curry dish

Boil the yellow split peas with half a chopped onion, turmeric, cumin and salt

Cooked yellow split peas

Hard boil a dozen eggs

Saute onions in vegetable oil with crushed Cardamom pods, bay leaves, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks

Add Turmeric, Chili and Cumin along with the garlic and ginger paste and stir fry (make sure to add the salt)

Add the peeled boiled eggs to the sauce mixture

Stir fry gently for a few minutes

Add cooked yellow split peas and water and simmer for 4-5 minutes

Add coconut milk to the mixture and simmer for another couple minutes

Serve with plain white rice or with a vegetable rice Palao

Here’s the recipe:

Yellow Split Pea and Egg Curry

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs

1 1/2 cups of dried yellow split peas

1 large onion, chopped and divided

1/4 cup oil

5 Cardamom pods

2 Cinnamon Sticks

5 whole Cloves

3 bay leaves

2 1/2 tsp Turmeric

1 1/2 tsp Red Chili powder

2 1/2 tsp Cumin

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

4-5 whole garlic

1 inch piece of fresh ginger (combine the garlic and ginger together in a paste)

1 can of Coconut Milk

5 cups of water

Place the eggs in a large pan with cool water to boil.  In the meantime, in a medium sauce pan wash the yellow split peas and put 4 cups of water, half chopped onion, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp turmeric and bring to a boil.  After mixture is boiling, lower temperature to simmer and cover to cook in a back burner until tender and water is dried up (about 20 minutes or so).  Take the hard-boiled eggs, cool, peel the shells and set aside.

In a large 5-6 quart dutch oven style pan, heat oil.  Add the rest of the chopped onion, crushed cardamom pods, whole cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.  Stir fry for a few minutes until fragrance is released.  Add in Cumin, Turmeric, Chili powder and garlic/ginger paste stir fry another minute or so.  Add the remaining salt and the hard-boiled eggs, gently stir to coat the eggs in the sauce.  Add the cooked split yellow peas and a cup of water.  Cover and simmer for about 5-7 minutes until all the flavors are incorporated.  Add the can of coconut milk and stir.  Simmer an additional 2 minutes.  Serve hot with  vegetable rice palao or plain white rice.

Kitchuri

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Kitchuri is a very Bengali dish.  Made with rice, lentils, vegetables and sometimes even some meat thrown in.  It’s  the South Asian version of a casserole.  The variety of “kitchuri” is as limitless as each cook’s imagination but two things remain a constant, rice and lentils.  Growing up in Bangladesh, eating Kitchuri was a delight because we usually ate it at picnics or outings, sometimes cooked over an open fire.  Often the kitchuri would have seasonal vegetables, or leftovers from the day before added to it.  I knew whenever I smelled Kitchuri cooking that good things were going to happen that day.

On a recent trip back to Bangladesh, Kitchuri took on a new meaning.  We visited Child Sponsorship Programs and villages where lives were literally being saved.  Children ate one meal a day during school, often it was their only meal.  The meal always consist of Kitchuri because of the high nutrient content and an additional source of protein such as eggs or chicken or fish.  Cooked in a giant pot, the humble Kitchuri had taken on a super hero role!

2 cups Basmati Rice

1 cup red lentils

1 whole spanish onion, chopped

3-4 serrano chillis, chopped

2 whole cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

4 cardamom pods, crushed

3 whole cloves

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red chili peppers

4 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

1/4 cup oil

salt to taste

4 cups water

1 1/2 cup Assorted chopped vegetables , such as zucchini, shredded carrots, English peas, yellow squash

Wash rice and lentils thoroughly until water runs clear and set aside.  Heat oil in a large 5-6 quart pan and add onions and Serrano chilis.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and stir fry another 3 minutes or so until all the flavors are released.  Add 1 tsp of salt, turmeric, cumin and chili powder along with garlic and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add all vegetables and 1/2 cup of water and stir fry for a minute or two before adding the rice and lentils and the rest of the water.  Bring mixture to boil, stir then turn down temperature to low and cover pan.  Let simmer and cook until all water is absorbed about 10-13 minutes.  When all water is absorbed, rice and lentils should be nice and tender if additional water is needed, add it at this point and cover pot for another 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Take out cinnamon sticks and bay leaves before serving.

Chicken Korma

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1 whole chicken or 8- 10 chicken thighs

3 bay leaves

4-5 whole cardamom pods, crushed

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion chopped

1   8 oz can of tomato sauce

1/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

1 ½ tsp turmeric

2 tsp paprika

2 tablespoon Fresh garlic and ginger paste

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 whole Serrano chilis

4 dried plums (prunes) cut into halves

Cut whole chicken into smaller serving pieces and take all skin and visible fat off, wash thoroughly or if using chicken thighs, take skin off the thighs and cut the thighs in half.  This helps with getting spices more evenly incorporated into the meat.  Using chicken with bone in will always give greater flavor than boneless/skinless chicken.  If you are using boneless chicken, please use boneless chicken thighs and not chicken breast (again for better flavor)

Wash chicken thoroughly, place in a large heavy bottom pan.  Put all ingredients into pan and mix together well.  It will be a pinkish/ reddish color.  Put on medium heat keep stirring every 5-8 minutes and when mixture comes to a boil, cover and lower temperature to medium low and check every 10- 15 minutes and stir gently.  The chicken will naturally release water as it cooks, when the overall liquid goes down and the chicken is tender and the gravy looks fairly thick, add about 1 ½ cups of water and continue to simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes.  Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to serve hot with either plain rice or a rice pilau.