Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paneer Makhani

I'm not Irish, so for St. Patrick's day, I ate paneer makhani. It was almost going to be a beer and popcorn night, but the raw m___ in the fridge needed to be made into something. It made lovely soft curds that soaked up the flavors beautifully. This was made entirely from local ingredients, aside from the spices, which ended up making it really HOT! I savored the fragrance, flavor and intensity of this meal while thinking about returning to India this summer. Richly colored saris, camels and cows on the road, cheerful temples, dust, sun and heat are beckoning.

Paneer Makhani

butter, ghee or oil
1/2 tsp each whole spices (cumin, fenugreek, mustard are my favorites)
chopped green chilis (1-3 depending on your heat tolerance)
chopped garlic (1-3 cloves)
1 T grated fresh ginger
coarsely chopped onions, red peppers or other vegetables, as per your taste
2 cups fresh paneer, cubed (see instructions below)
1/2-1 cup tomato paste (I food mill frozen tomatoes to make the paste)
1/2 cup cream, milk or yogurt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
powdered spice mix for paneer makhani (see note)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat your fat of choice in a cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add the spices and heat in the oil/butter/ghee until they sizzle and are fragrant. Add the chili, garlic and ginger (avert your face!) and stir on high heat for about a minute. Add whatever additional vegetables you like and saute until soft. Add the paneer cubes and gently stir to coat with spices. Add the tomato paste and your dairy product of choice. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and lower the heat. Simmer until it reaches the desired thickness (thin for over rice, thick for eating with paratha or chapati) and season with spices, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the top with cilantro right before serving. I ate this with fragrant basmati rice (a rare, not-local treat...), yogurt raita and sauted collard greens and swiss chard.

Heat 1/2 gallon milk in a large stainless pot until nearly boiling. Add 1-2 T of vinegar (more if the curd fails to break) as the milk rises, turn off the heat and stir with a slotted spoon until curds rise to the surface. Drain in a colander lined with cheesecloth (save the whey for ricotta if you like!) Toss the curds gently to shake out the whey and sprinkle lightly with salt. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and form into a flattish ball. Press with a heavy-ish object (I used my full yogurt container) for a few minutes, or longer, depending on how hard you want your curds.

Note: I highly recommend checking out an Indian grocer for spices mixes. They are unbelievably flavorful and include things like ground green cardamom, mango powder, aesofetida, etc, that truly are the essence of deliciousness in Indian cooking. Failing access to an Indian grocer simply add powdered cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper to taste (and miss out on something special). You can also add microscopic amounts of nutmeg, cloves, mace and star anise, which would be in this spice mix. But don't overdo it!!! Do not, EVER, buy the generic "curry" powder in the grocery store. The spices will be bitter and old (like me someday!) and will not have any of the lovely "sour" and "sweet" notes of proper spice mixes.

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