Julia Child once said that “a party without cake is just a meeting”. To my mind, the same kind of metaphorical analogy can be made about the wonderful South Asian cheese paneer :an Indian dinner without paneer is just bad takeaway. (Ha! Put that on a bumper sticker!)
Just like the better-known (at least to us, Westerners) halloumi cheese, paneer is a firm cheese, ideal for frying, because it marvelously holds its shape. Unlike halloumi, which has a rather pungent, salty flavour (some pussies would say too salty), paneer is subtler and creamier in flavour and therefore balances perfectly with the strong and spicy flavours of a wonderful Indian curry, for it slightly mellows the fiery blow.
The vegetarian curry I decided to pair with the seared paneer is one containing a very comforting mix of green beans, lentils, bell peppers and lots of ground spices. To make the curry truly stand out, I added a fruity touch to the mixture… yes, I added a heaped tablespoon of apricot jam with chili flakes. I recently bought this very delicious jar of jam and was so delighted by its flavour, that I decided to throw it in savory dishes as well. The fruity jam is a great alternative to palm sugar, which is traditionally used in Asian dishes. The jam will not only slightly sweeten the curry and balance all those spices, but it will also add that heavenly fruity touch of apricot… Sigh. Sometimes, I really am … good.
So here it is: the perfect Indian meal! Rejoice!
Green Bean and Lentil Curry with Fried Paneer
Please don’t be scared by the long list of ingredients! It’s mainly all spices, and you cannot make a good curry without the appropriate load of spices.
Ingredients (serves 2):
250gr paneer cheese, cut into cubes
80gr dried lentils
350gr green beans, cut into chunks
1 orange bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
500ml tomato passata
200ml coconut milk
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped
½ tsp chili flakes
½ tsp nigella seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp asafetida
¼ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp garam masala
1 heaped tbsp. apricot jam (with chili flakes, if you want the truly fancy stuff)
Fresh coriander, chopped
Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan and add onion, garlic, coriander stalks and all the spices (apart from the garam masala). Sauté on a medium heat until the spices start to smell incredibly aromatic.
Add the lentils and stir in the tomato passata and coconut milk. Add a teaspoon of salt and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in the chunks of pepper and the apricot jam and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
Finally, add the green beans and the garam masala and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes until the lentils are soft and the beans tender.
Taste the curry. Season with salt and a bit more chili if necessary.
Meanwhile, heat a pan on maximum heat and add the chunks of paneer. There is absolutely no need to add oil to the pan, the paneer will fry beautifully on its own!
Serve the curry and paneer in cute bowls and sprinkle with coriander.
There are days when I know exactly what I want to eat. Pizza. Tagine. Noodles.
I have cheese days. Chocolate days. Add-chili-to-everything days.
But sometimes my cravings aren’t so specific. The only thing I then know for sure is that I am hungry (very very hungry!) and want something comforting (very very comforting!). Now, when I am craving something comforting, I always choose either something Italian (risotto is on top of my list) or something Indian with lots of spice and coconut.
Yesterday, however, I simply could not choose. Italian or Indian? Indian or Italian? It was literally driving me mad.
So in a total act of desperation, I decided to do both. Mix Italian with Indian. I probably pissed off both the Italians and Indians by doing so, but at least it filled my stomach. Although “filling my stomach” does not exactly do this dish justice, because this insanely yummy dish was a lot more than filling; it was an entirely new, hallucinatory delicious experience! The coconut milk in the risotto made the rice extra smooth and creamy and the combination with the lime lifted the Italian classic to a very delicious Indian level. Furthermore, the creaminess of the risotto was in perfect harmony with the sweet-spicy-zingy salsa with peach and peppers and sits happily married with the ultra-spicy tandoori prawns.
This is fusion food at its best! So who cares if it pisses off the whole Indian and Italian population, when something is this sensational I don’t really mind stepping onto a few food-patriotic toes 😉
For the risotto:
320gr Arborio rice
1 shallot, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
400ml coconut milk
½ tbsp. nigella seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp fish sauce
Fresh basil (you could use Thai basil, but since we’re doing Italian and Indian together, you can use the Italian as well!)
1 spring onion, finely sliced
For the salsa:
2 long, sweet peppers, finely diced
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
3 peaches, finely diced
1 granny smith apple, finely diced
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh Thai basil
Juice of 1 lime
For the prawns
30 prawns, peeled and cleaned
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the shallot with the nigella seeds and chili flakes for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and fry until the grains become slightly translucent. Add 200 ml of coconut milk and let it simmer until absorbed. Now add the stock, one ladleful at a time until al dente. Now stir in the remaining coconut milk to make sure the risotto is oozing creaminess. Stir in the lime juice and fish sauce and scatter some basil and spring onions over the top.
Meanwhile, make the salsa by putting all the ingredients in a bowl and seasoning with lime, salt and pepper. Voila!
Completely dust the prawns in tandoori powder and skewer them onto large sticks. Now you have a couple of options. Fry them in a large pan, barbeque them or –like I did- put them under a hot griddle for a couple of minutes.
I still have to meet the first person who doesn’t like chapatis. I mean, what’s not to like? The soft gooey texture is insanely satisfying and it is the perfect edible utensil to sop up all those delicious curry flavours.
99% of the people on this planet -too consumed with social networking and making a career- just microwave a store-bought packet of chapatis or order some Indian take-away. There is nothing wrong with that –I mean, you have the right to have a life!- and those vacuumed chapatis will still give you that satisfying indulgence of sopping up gravy…
But dear readers and fellow food lovers, if you ever want to experience the full chapati experience, you have to make them yourself! And before you start screaming in total fear of the daunting process of having to transform your kitchen into a flour-exploded palace, remember this: making chapatis is dead easy. And it does not make a mess at all!
Making your own chapatis is not only incredibly gratifying, it also gives you the opportunity to experiment and add flavours to the dough that you normally wouldn’t find in a store-bought stodgy packet of chapatis. (At least not in my supermarket.) I added some finely chopped chillies and lime zest to give the already splendid chapatis a zingy and spicy dimension. But other great flavour combinations would be: coriander and mint, turmeric and nigella seeds, desiccated coconut and green chillies,… The possibilities are endless so have fun with it!
When you make chapatis, you of course need something to sop them in: a good curry. This vegetarian curry was the best I ever made. Even my brother, who normally hates all things meat-free, loved it! What makes this curry so special is the truffle potatoes, which have an exuberantly purple colour. It is absolutely fine to use regular potatoes are sweet potatoes, but I saw these purple beauties in my supermarket and I just had to buy them! Other ingredients in this curry are chickpeas, Chinese cabbage and red pepper. And loads of spices of course.
Lime and Chili Chapatis
Ingredients (makes 6):
250gr strong white flour
20ml olive oil
2 chillies, finely chopped
Zest of one lime
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into equal pieces. Roll each one into a thin disc, about 20cm in diameter.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat. When the pan is hotter than hot, cook the chapatis, one at a time, for 1-2 minutes on each side until browned and somewhat bubbly.
I often think that I must have been Indian in a previous life. I love bold colours, I love accessories and I love spicy food. But above all, I’m simply smitten with Indian food. Of all types of world food, there is just one cuisine I couldn’t possibly live without, and that’s the Indian cuisine.
It’s spicy. It’s hot. It’s oh so comforting and if things couldn’t get any better: vegetarians will never be neglected! Indian cuisine literally overflows with fragrant and rich veggie dishes! My current food obsession: paneer. (For the food dummies among you: paneer is a non-melting fresh cheese that is very popular on the Indian subcontinent. If you have no idea what it tastes like – shame on you! – you should definitely try the very popular dishes mattar paneer (with peas) or saag paneer (with spinach)! They taste divine!)
However, you don’t have to go to an Indian restaurant to experience the rich flavours of Indian cuisine. You can easily experiment with Indian spices and flavours in your own little 70s-inspired kitchen. It may not be as authentic, but it will definitely give that same comforting richness. Plus, you don’t have to stick to the traditional dishes. You can experiment and create dishes with all the left-overs you have lying around in your fridge. The following dishes were packed full of spicy, sunny flavours (they brought an instant smile to my face!) and they were dead easy and super-duper quick! I swear, these dishes are so speedy, it would even make Jamie Oliver blush!
Fruity Paneer red curry
If you are looking for an explosion of flavours: this is it! I know it may sound really weird to combine cherry tomatoes, curry paste and pineapple juice (it actually sounds really icky!) but it works so well, you’ll be in an utter state of culinary delirium! Ingredients (serves one):
• 100 gr paneer, cut into cubes
• half a red pepper, finely sliced
• 200gr canned apricots, roughly chopped
• Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
• 1dl pineapple juice
• 2 tbsp red curry paste
• 1 tbsp garam massala
• ½ tbsp turmeric
• Fish sauce
• Fresh coriander Method:
1. Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the red pepper for a couple of minutes. Add the pineapple juice and curry paste and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the apricots, cherry tomatoes and the spices and put on a low heat for a further 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, grill the paneer cheese in a very hot pan for a minute on each side. Sprinkle on some salt and garam massala.
4. Finish the curry with a splash of fish sauce to taste and the fresh coriander.
5. Serve the crunchy paneer on top of your steaming fruity curry and serve some naan or fluffy rice on the side.
Comforting bean-endive-peanut paneer curry
I was feeling a bit down and depressed the other day…
Wait! Let me rephrase that, since I’m not in the mood to be euphemistic: I was having a severe panic attack about my fast approaching thesis deadline. (That’s more like it 😉 ) So I was looking for something really comforting to have for dinner and so this dish was born. The peanut butter and soy cream make it incredibly creamy , the endive provides that bitter tang and the beans are high in protein and an excellent source of iron. This dish is the perfect spirit lifter! Ingredients(serves one depressed lady in need of some real comfort)
• 200gr endive, blanched and drained (you can substitute it with spinach are pak choi if you prefer)
• 200gr small can of white beans
• 100gr paneer, cut into cubes
• 100dl soy milk
• 1 tbsp peanut butter
• 1/2tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp curry powder
• ½ tsp sambal oelek Method:
1. Heat the soy milk in a pan over a medium heat, together with the peanut butter, turmeric, curry powder and sambal. Bring to the boil.
2. Add the blanched endive and white beans and let is simmer on a low heat for a couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, grill the paneer cheese in a very hot pan for one minute on each side and season with salt, pepper and curry powder.
4. Serve the steaming curry in a large bowl and top with the grilled paneer. Serve with some delicious naan or Turkish bread ( whatever you prefer really, but I believe there is no better way to lift your spirits than to dunk some bread in a yummy sauce so that it gets all juicy and soggy. But hey, that might as well just be me 😉 )