Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Palak Paneer, Evolution.

There has been a blog about Palak Paneer 4 years back,
but, 4 years is a very very long time in this age of culinary evolution. I also felt that as an experimentalist, it is quite important to try out new variations to attain higher flavor profiles without destroying the base. Hence, this version of Palak Paneer is a bit modified than its predecessor.

What I offer here is home cooking, not fine dining. So it is very important to have a high power blender that can blend in your whole spices. Alternatively, one can use pre-blended spice mix and a normal blender to attain similar results. Since I believe in not wasting anything, the blended sauce is not sieved to obtain silkiness.

Moving on to the procedure - 

1. Make your own Paneer (fresh cheese from milk) - This is a very simple procedure. Boil 1ltr high fat content milk and just as it begins to rise, add few table spoons of lemon juice and simmer down the heat. The lemon juice will incorporate a mild tanginess to the Paneer and this will taste much better that using vinegar. Once the milk is split, immediately filter it through a fine cloth (muslin is the best, however fine cotton towels also work) and squeeze it dry. Bring the cheese together within the towel and wrap it inside. Place a heavy pan filled with water over the folded towel and let it rest for 2 hours. The Paneer will get pressed and it will be easier to cut it into cubes! Freeze for later use or refrigerate for immediate use.

2.  Blanch 1 kg fresh spinach - Oh yes, please use fresh spinach! Removes the leaves from the bunch and wash them well. Drop them for 4-5 minutes in boiling water and then transfer them immediately to cold water. Squeeze them to remove the water and set aside.

3. The sauce - Melt 25g of butter is a skillet and add the whole spices (3 pods cardamom without skin, 1 tsp regular cumin, 1/2 tsp black cumin, 3 cloves, half a finger size of cinnamon and half a star anise). Saute for a minute and add finely minced garlic and ginger (according to taste), 2 finely chopped onions (medium sized, just 1 if big) and a few green chilies. Add salt to taste and close skillet with a lid. Allow the onions to sweat in medium heat. When the onions are almost cooked, add 1 (big) finely chopped tomato and 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. Stir and close the skilled and allow the mixture to get cooked well. Once the tomatoes are cooked, transfer the contents to a blender along with the blanched spinach and blend till smooth. Add 2 to 3 tsp of hot water during blending to get a good consistency and transfer to a serving bowl. Top it off with cubes of Paneer and mix it in!

4. To Note - Instead of whole spices, one can also use "garam masala". Replace chilies with black pepper pods if chilies seem very spicy. A little sugar can be used to balance the sauce if necessary. Cream is totally unnecessary! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SAMOSA - Stuffed with memories of MADRAS

There are very few places in Madras where we used to get great Samosas. I have no idea if Samosas taste good in Chennai, for I have no intention of tarnishing my memory! Having lived in Mylapore for over 2 decades and also being an alumni of Vidya Mandir, Bombay Halwa house was the first place from where I tasted them. They always served samosa along with onions and mint-coriander chutney and this combination has no parallel anywhere in town! My next favorite place is Brijwasi sweets in T-Nagar. This is a very small shack opposite to the T-Nagar terminus and they fry them in front of your eyes and deliver them piping hot! The final place is Ritchie street. There is a shop on the entrance of this electronic street and he serves amazing samosas, but definitely a no no for a person with low immunity!

Living here in Germany, memories do no satisfy the craving! So I decided to make samosas drawing inspiration from all the best flavors I have experienced. Here is a detailed description of the method - 

All purpose flour (weizenmehl - type 405 or 450. I have used 450 here) - 2 cups
Salt - according to taste - make sure seasoning on the flour is right!
Carrom seeds (ajwain) or Thyme - 1 tablespoon
Sunflower oil - 8 tablespoons
Water - few milliliters

Take the flour in a kneading bowl and add salt and carrom seeds to it. Now add in 8 table spoons of sunflower oil and get your hands in to do the work! Mix the flour thoroughly with the oil. Make sure that every grain is well coated with the oil. This is very important to get the perfect crust for the samosa. Introduce water now, but in very small quantities (tablespoon by tablespoon) and keep kneading. It is very important not to add excess water since the dough can be repaired. Knead until you get a tough dough. The entire dough making process should take you at least 15-20 minutes. Cover it with a moist cloth and keep aside for 30 minutes. Make small balls from the dough, flatten them and roll them out into thin circles. DO NOT add any flour at this point! The dough will be oily and it will be easy to roll! Cut the circle along its diameter, add the potato stuffing in the semi circles and fold them to get cones. Press the edges so that they stick well and fry them in oil. Maintain your oil at a medium heat to get a well cooked and crisp crust.

The stuffing - 

Boiled and cubed potatoes
Sliced onions
Green peas
Cumin seeds - 1 teaspoon
Fennel seeds - 1 teaspoon
Red chili powder
Garam Masala powder

Temper the cumin and fennel seeds in hot oil and add the onions. Sprinkle the turmeric and red chili powder and allow the onions to get fried. Now add the green peas, salt and garam masala powder. Cook for a few minutes and them add the boiled potatoes. Mix well and cook at medium heat for 5-10 minutes. DO NOT allow the potatoes to get fried! I prefer not to smash the potatoes as well!

The sauce - 

Grind together some coriander, mint, green chillies, lime juice, salt and a little water into a nice paste. Mix this well with sliced red onions and then serve along with the hot samosas!

You can of course play around with the stuffing by adding cashew nuts, raisins and green chilies!