Category: Dairy

Mostly paneer

Scrambled Paneer with peas, potatoes and mushrooms

Some things are created out of necessity.

I set out to make some form of an egg dish today. Some scrambled eggs with toast would make a nice, light dinner. But then I figured I’d make something more substantial that would also make a good lunch tomorrow. That’s when I thought of egg bhurji, a wonderful masala scrambled egg that is a great way to stretch what eggs you may have.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out the way I wanted.

I started out chopping onions, musing on the fact that most Indian recipes seem to start there. Then I looked for a couple of tomatoes to chop in, but then remembered that I had used the last of them up on Sunday. No matter, I told myself, tomatoes aren’t a requirement, so get on with it. I imagined Tim Gunn in my kitchen telling me to “Make it work”. Sure I could do this. There was nothing to it.

I made short work of the mandatory potatoes for this dish. Mandatory for me, that is. I like the one-skillet egg and potato combination. I proceeded to pull out the carton of eggs from the fridge and found it to be much lighter than I’d hoped. Opening it up, I found it to be as empty as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was bare. My absent-minded husband had struck again, using up the eggs and sticking the empty box in the refrigerator.

Since I already had the onion base in the pan, I checked for alternatives. I located a block of paneer, some leftover mushrooms, frozen peas and not much else. Since by this point I had my heart set on the one thing I couldn’t have, the eggs, I decided to make the dish I wanted but with paneer instead, turning back to my pantry for help.

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Kashmiri Paneer with Spinach

Even though the rains are slow in leaving us this year, it is well and truly spring. In fact, it seemed like spring was here in early February. The weather was nippy and grey, but it didn’t matter really. Not when there were cherry blossoms softly blooming all over the city.

It is ethereal how these trees blossom in what seems like the depths of winter, a sure signal of the coming spring if there ever was one. Dull, dead branches magically unfurl gentle pink buds. Chancing upon one for the first time will take your breath away and leave you marvelling at this majesty of nature.

The first time I saw this tree I was lucky enough to see an avenue of them, covered in blushing pink blossoms, no leaves in sight. Ahead and beyond, there were hibernating trees, brown and withered with nary a leaf. They stood there, graceful, delicate pink blooms fluttering down with every cold gust of wind, a resplendent symbol of awakening life. I will never forget that scene. Every year since then, I look forward to the cherry blossoms blooming all over the city. A harbinger of seasonal flux as sure as the changing colour of leaves in the fall.

The plum blossoms soon follow. They aren’t as readily found but as just as pretty. We found a whole row of them up in Napa last month. Just as elegant a sight to behold.

The cherry blossom blooms last but a couple of weeks before the dark, velvety red leaves sprout and take over for the rest of the year. They signify change and are celebrated. Those few weeks are enough though, to lift a gloomy city’s grey mood. These annual events provide much needed nourishment to the spirit. Best of all, they are simple and accessible to anybody.

Good food done right can be as much of a nourishment to the soul as to the body. Most often, it will be the simple dishes that provide the most comfort. Shallow on your effort and your time, with a satisfaction quotient inversely proportional to either. Some of my favourite foods are the ones that work this way. A steaming bowl of hot dal, this potato vegetable rolled up in a chapati, or this one over some couscous. This fried rice topped with a gently fried egg. Or this soul-satisfying paneer dish.

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Strawberry Ice-cream with thyme & lemon verbena

Blue cheese. Nutella. Lavender. Burrata. Habenero.

This could be a list of things I’m crazy about. What it is, is a list of things Amey dislikes, with a healthy dose of disdain thrown in for good measure.

Aside from his insidious proclivity to all things lime and my prodigious tendency to all things chilli, there not much my other half and I disagree about food-wise. Unless we get to this bunch of things. Then we get to how-on-earth-can-this-be-the-person-I-chose-to-marry territory.  The territory where one can have a polarized relationship about Nutella.

He’s a better eater than I am, despite his embargo on soft, fresh cheese and burn-your-tongue-off peppers. He eats all kinds of vegetables I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole – bitter gourd, horseradish, rajma – with a fair amount of gusto. He also respects the fact that you cooked for him and will most likely eat any of these ingredients if you invite us over for dinner. There are then these very rare times where he sticks his hands in his pockets, clamps his mouth shut and does the best impression I know of a two-year old discovering kale for the first time. Times when I’m trying to prove to him, with a piece of toast in one hand and a spoonful of Nutella in the other, just how irrational his not liking it is. I plead “But you like hazelnuts.” He agrees “Sure”. I further posit “…and you love chocolate”. and he’s all “What’s not to like?” Then I go for the jugular with “So this is chocolate and hazelnuts. Together. In one handy, dandy smooth, creamy spoonful”. At which he gets that glazed look in his eyes that he gets when I’m trying to get him to watch The Nine Lives of Chloe King and is all like “What’s your point?” At which juncture I stick the spoonful of Nutella in my mouth, spread his toast with peanut-butter and loathing, and settle down to a lonely lifetime of solitary Nutella love.

So all in all, his quasi-erratic food preferences  should have prepared me to his reaction to this ice-cream flavour I made up. If I’d thought it through, I would have inaugurated my brand-new ice-cream maker with some thing safe, like vanilla. But I was all “vanilla? How boring!” (I love vanilla. I was just caught up in new appliance high.) I’ve dreamed of my own ice-cream maker all my life. Ever since I saw the two guys lug this big barrel around on a bicycle with another barrel in it and rock salt and ice in between, set with a humongous crank that one of them industriously turned. It made the best strawberry ice-cream. I pleaded with my dad who was all “Where on earth do you see room for a giant barrel in this flat?” and my mom who said “I’ll move out and then you’ll have room for your ice-cream barrel”. I was eight. Like I’d have any problem making that choice. But I digress.

I had conviction that the first ice-cream I’d make when I finally got my mitts on an ice-cream maker of my very own would involve strawberries. It was the first ice-cream flavour I ever tasted. It was so good I didn’t stop to think it involved artificial flavouring. I didn’t care. I clung to the strawberry-is-my-favourite-ice-cream-flavour idea with a true limpet touch. A limpet with a plan.

The strawberries at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market are some of the best you can find. The wonderful folk at Dirty Girl Produce (I love them) hooked me up with some of their A-grade stash. They would have been best just eaten by themselves, but they had a date with some sugar and a very cold bowl. In his very comprehensive book, How to cook everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman has a lovely short chapter on ice-cream and how you can put together your own flavour combination by following some simple ratio rules. We had some lovely flowering thyme in the garden which I’d just picked and the colour was so gorgeous next to the strawberries. Without thinking much about it, I found myself tossing the thyme into a pot with some sugar, macerated strawberries and some lemon verbena leaves. A squeeze of orange juice to enhance the lovely tang in the strawberries and I found myself in possession of some delicious strawberry puree with a note of something in it that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. I thought it was heavenly. Making the ice-cream with it was so simple, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t owned an ice-cream maker any sooner. Amey was going to love this. I was sure. I was also wrong.

He had a couple of spoonfuls, put the spoon down carefully and told me I was taking my obsession with salt entirely too far and why on earth had I salted his ice-cream that he’d been looking forward to all day. Then he went looking for some Pringles, because by Yoda if he was going to eat salty foods then it would be stuff not pretending to be sweet. I cautiously tasted the ice-cream again. I tasted no salt. There was no salt in the recipe. No, I hadn’t mistaken the salt for sugar. I don’t get it. I loved it. A friend of mine who tried it loved it. All Amey tasted was salt. I wonder if it’s like that phenomenon where to some people cilantro tastes like soap.

Strawberry Ice-cream with Thyme and Lemon Verbena
Based on Mark Bittman’s method from How to cook everything Vegetarian.
Makes about 1 pint

For the puree:
Strawberries – 2 cups, washed, hulled and halved
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Thyme – 1 3″ sprig
Lemon Verbena – 5 large leaves
Orange – 1/2, juice of

For the ice-cream:
Milk – 1 cup (2%)
Cream – 1 cup
Strawberry puree – 1 cup
Eggs yolks – 5
Sugar – 1/3 cup

To make the puree:
– Toss the strawberry halves and sugar into a saucepan at medium heat.
– Pour in the juice of half an orange along with a cup of water.  Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil.
– Turn the heat down when mixture reaches a boil and then add the thyme sprigs and lemon verbena leaves.
– Roughly mash in the strawberries against the side of the container, using a large fork or potato masher.
– Simmer until the liquid has slightly reduced and mixture has thickened about 25-30 minutes.
– Skim off the foam. Fish out the woody bit of the thyme sprig and the lemon verbena leaves.
– Pour into a jar and let cool to room temperature. (Will make more puree than you need for one batch of ice-cream)

To make the ice-cream:
– Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan and heat at medium-high, just bringing it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Move off heat.
– In a separate bowl, beat the yolks and sugar together until mixture is thickened and light yellow.
– Slowly add 1/2 cup of the warmed milk and cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking continuously, to temper the yolks.
– Whisk the egg and milk mixture gently back into the rest of the hot milk.
– Cool mixture down to room temperature then place in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
– Take out of the fridge and add in the berry puree. Stir to mix then follow your ice-cream machine’s instructions to make your ice-cream.

Cook’s notes:-
Mark Bittman instructs the use of 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar for strawberry ice-cream. That just scared me but I didn’t want the ice-cream to be ruined (apparently it was anyway; my husband hated it) so I reduced those numbers slightly. I think I shouldn’t have. A bit more sugar may have gone some way in helping Amey’s palate.
I really don’t know what happened with this ice-cream. I love the honey-thyme ice-cream that Humphrey Slocombe makes and somewhere in the back of my mind that’s what I was thinking of while making this. Truly, I thought it was delicious. On a normal day, Amey loves strawberries. And thyme. And lemon verbena. Clearly, he has a problem with them together. Or he doesn’t like them cold. Or something. Wish I knew what it was. Then I could make a tweaked batch of this again. As of now, I have to wait for him to take a week’s trip somewhere. Or catch a cold. Either option will do. I get petty when my ice-cream is insulted.

Gourmet’s Hummus and Tzatziki

It is an inevitable truth that everything that has a beginning has an end. Some enjoy heights of success, only to falter and fade away, then fall into oblivion to disappear with nary a blip. Others are lamented in their eventual passing. Then there are those whose demise brings on waves of despair, shouts of protest, flowing tributes in homage. “How can it be true?” you hear people shout! “Where are we to turn?” they ponder in sadness. These are the lucky few. Their demise sends shockwaves among their supporters. They live amongst their fans forever.

This is what happened with the closure of Gourmet magazine. Witnessing the shock and despair of its legions of fans at Conde Nast’s decision to shut down this matriarch of the published food world, I have to admit I didn’t quite get it right away. I revere books; I’ve never been much of a magazine lover, the only ones I ever subscribed to were the Architectural Review, Readers’ Digest and Archie comics (yes, the 12 year old in me never quite grew up). The hue and cry baffled me. Surely this was just a magazine meeting an untimely demise at the hands of business people? Given the tough economy so many things have gone a similar way. Cookbooks are still around, so how bad could it be?

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Buttermilk (Takachi) Kadhi

You know that hole-in-the-wall you love? The restaurant that’s smaller than the MUNI bustop? You know that lovely yellowed curry it serves? The one that’s smoky (or not) and tart (or sweet?), the kind you put up with sardine-can seating for, because you love it? Remember how when you’re done, your napkin, the tips of your fingers, heck, even the plate just goes completely yellow? Enough to make you nervously wonder about maladies that mess with your vision? Congratulations, you have had a swift, yet definitive introduction to turmeric. (And oh, that stuff that turned your fingers red that other time? No, that’s not chilli powder, that’s just the red food coloring additive in chilli powder. Very different. We’re talking apples and potatoes here. Even though the French call them both pommes, but I digress…)

Turmeric has been turning everything yellow for eons. This stuff was around even before the Romans decided that anyone who turned water into wine was really cramping their style. But it didn’t begin its culinary journey as anything connected with cooking. What it was used for, first and foremost, was as a dye, especially for holy robes.

Turmeric has been mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu sacred texts. It was associated with purity and cleansing. Even today, orthodox Hindu households will use turmeric water to purify everything from themselves to objects in the house and the house itself before a religious event. Along the same lines, Hindu brides and bridegrooms have a ceremony called ‘haldi’ (the Hindi word for turmeric and also the name of the ceremony), just before their wedding day.

This yellow-orange rhizome (that is a relative of ginger) is also credited with tons of medicinal uses. It is used as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent. When a classmate in school cut her finger during a cooking class, a well-meaning friend promptly threw some turmeric on her finger. Good move as far as providing an antiseptic, but bad for the bleeding. As it turns out, turmeric is also an anti-coagulant. (No permanent damage done, it was a very tiny cut. Nothing that the band-aid that followed couldn’t take care of.) Studies show that curcumin, the main flavoring compound in turmeric, is also an anti-oxidant.

Turmeric imparts a rich, ochre yellow to anything it is included in. The mustard so popular on hot dogs gets its color and part of its distinctive flavor from this golden spice. Turmeric is famous for its inclusion in curry powders. Marco Polo noted the following of turmeric when he came across it in 1280 “There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell as the color, and yet it is not really saffron.” This isn’t entirely true. Turmeric and saffron can both turn things yellow. The similarity ends there. Saffron is fragrant and enchanting, its flavor elevated and floral. Turmeric smells a bit acrid; Its flavor is earthy, reminiscent of ginger and mustard. One should never be used in lieu of the other. The dish in question would absolutely not taste the same.

Turmeric in Indian cooking is used primarily in its dry, ground form. Small quantities are used when called for in a recipe but they are more than enough to convey the ginger-peppery flavor. In some parts of India, turmeric leaves are used to wrap dumplings before steaming. There is a milder flavor and flowery aspect associated with the leaves that is different from the stem which supplies the powdered spice.

Forming the base on which several dishes can be built, turmeric, along with asafoetida and mustard seeds, feature in countless recipes from the Indian sub-continent. Lentils, vegetables, meat and fish, all do well with a seasoning of turmeric. One of the simplest dishes featuring turmeric is also the most satisfying. Called kadhi, different regions of India have their own versions; it tends to be of a thinner consistency in the south as compared to the north of the country. It can be plain or made with chickpea dumplings (pakoras).

Buttermilk Kadhi
Serves 3-4

2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/3 tsp asafoetida
1/4 tsp turmeric
3-4 green chillies, split lengthwise (Serrano or Thai chillies)
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish

For seasoning:
2 tbsp clarified butter (ghee) or canola oil
5-6 curry leaves
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

– In a pot, combine the buttermilk, chickpea flour and 2 cups of water. Stir together to dissolve any lumps.
– Add sugar, salt, turmeric and asafoetida and mix.
– Move the pot onto the stove on medium high heat and bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Add more water to thin it down if the mixture is still too thick. (The ideal consistency would be like that of tomato soup).
– When the buttermilk comes to a boil, add the green chillies and ginger.
– In a separate small pan, heat the ghee or oil to prepare the seasoning. Add mustard seeds (which should begin to splutter if the oil is hot enough) followed by cumin, asafoetida and curry leaves. Continue to heat gently for a few seconds to season the oil or ghee.
– Pour the spiced oil into the buttermilk mixture. Stir everything to incorporate.

Garnish with some cilantro and serve.

Cook’s notes:
Keep stirring the mixture as it comes up to a boil to avoid any possibility of the buttermilk curdling and separating. Once it has reached a boil, the thickening of the chickpea flour keeps everything together and you needn’t worry about it anymore. Though oil can be used here, try and use ghee if you can. There is a voluptuousness of flavor that it brings to the party. Also, if using oil, make sure it is neutral tasting like canola or peanut oil. An oil like olive oil would be too strong and would disrupt the other flavors.
Though traditionally served on steamed rice, kadhi can also be served with chapatis or enjoyed just by itself. It is rare to find this dish in restaurants. This is home-cooking at its most basic. You could try variations by including some carrots or peas in it. Served with rice and an Indian spiced pickle or papad, you have a simple, nutritious meal, a tiny bit of comfort on a plate.