Monday, March 12, 2007

An Indian Meal in Three Acts

Dan felt like having an all-day cooking jam yesterday, so we cooked three recipes from one of our favorite cookbooks, (the late film producer and gourmet cook) Ismail Merchant's "Passionate Meals" (NY: Hyperion, 1994).

Act One:

First, we experimented with making Paneer, a soft cheese. It was very easy to make in our microwave:


4 cups milk (we used whole milk)
3 Tbsp. yoghurt or 1Tbsp. vinegar or juice of one lemon (we used lemon)

Heat milk in a saucepan, stirring, until it boils. Add yoghurt, vinegar, or lemon jusic, and stir over medium heat until the mixture curdles. This takes about 2 or 3 minutes. If it doesn't curdle, add a little more yoghurt, vinegar, or lemon juice.

(Microwave variant: We boiled the milk in our microwave, keeping constant guard to avoid scorching, for 8-10 minutes. Since microwave wattage varies widely, experiment with what works with your model).

Remove pan from heat and drain the mixture through a sieve. Press down gently with a spoon to make a flat, solid mass of cheese. The sieve should preferably have a flat bottom. Leave the cheese to cool for 2 hours. It should be fairly solid, but you should be able to cut it.

(I would imagine you could also skip making your own paneer and use pressed tofu for the next recipe.)

Act Two:

Then, inspired by dreamy versions of various Indian spinach dishes we've enjoyed when dining, we concocted Merchant's recipe for:

Palak Paneer (Spinach with Cheese)

1-1/2 lbs. fresh spinach (we substituted one brick of frozen spinach)
Paneer made from 4 cups of milk
Vegetable oil for deep frying
6 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds (we substituted 1/2 tsp. powdered cumin)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of turmeric

Wash spinach well. Cook it in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water for 2-3 minutes. When tender, drain and chop. (we cooked up frozen spinach and squeezed the water out and chopped)

Cut paneer into 1-inch cubes. Heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep heavy pan. Fry the cubes of paneer in batches, turning over once or twice, until they are light brown. Remove the paneer with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels.

In a large skillet, melt the butter with 1 Tbsp. of oil over medium heat and cook the onion until just beginning to turn brown. Add the cumin seeds and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger, spinach, red and black pepper, salt and turmeric, and stir well. Add the paneer and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 6.


Act Three:

Turnips with Ginger (Shalgam)

(Now, our two daughters have been really game about eating gluten-free and healthier all-around, and they have begun to enjoy spicier, more exotic fare as they age, but they are still hesitant about eating most vegetables. We got them to fork down a few mouthfuls of this delicious turnip dish by falsely calling them potatoes, although they were quite suspicious about the texture of these spuds. No clean plate rangers this night, I'm afraid.)

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds (we substituted 1/2 tsp. ground cumin)
1 medium tomato, chopped fine
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1-1/2 lbs. white turnips, peeled and sliced (we substituted one frozen bag diced yellow turnips)

Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onion until lightly browned. Add the cumin and fry for 1 minute. Add the tomato, ginger, salt, and red and black pepper. Stir and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the turnips and 1/2 cup water and stir well. Cover the saucepan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The turnips should be mushy. If they're not, mash them with a wooden spoon.

Serves 4-6.

We popped up some puppodums (see previous post) , threw some basmati rice in the rice cooker, and dined like rajahs.

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