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.
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 😉 )