Muttar Paneer, My Favourite Curry

As promised, it’s curry recipe time. But first let me say a few words about that ubiquitous word ‘curry’. The word Curry is simply the anglicised form of the Tamil word kaŠĻüi meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice’. This makes sense as rice is central to all Indian meals, as it is in other parts of Asia, and the ‘curries’ are often presented in small bowls to add to your rice and not the other way around. If you order a large Thali in India, you will be offered unlimited rice along with little teacup sized scoops of spicy and bland accompaniments- perhaps some mild chickpeas flavoured with sour tamarind, a crunchy fried fingerling, some bland soupy dal, or a dry curry of spicy potato or cauliflower, along with some hot chutney and dahi (plain yoghurt). A good Indian curry recipe involves subtlety in spicing, variation in texture and balance. Some people associate the word curry with heat, but this is a misconception: there are more mildly spiced aromatic curries than hot versions. There are no prizes for choking on chilli, eyes weeping in pain. A good banquet of curries might include one hot dish such as a Madras or Vindaloo, alongside others that are medium or mildly spiced, with some wet and some dry dishes.¬†

Unfortunately, there’s no chance for a banquet here any time soon, given the restrictions on social gathering. So it’s down to one curry at a time in this household of two, made with care, and served with all the sides- basmati jeera rice, naan, chutney and dahi. We have time on our side.

 

Muttar Paneer ( peas and curd) Serves 4 or more as part of a banquet

This is a two part recipe. The first step involves making the curd (paneer) which can made the day before, or anytime up to 3 hours before you make the curry. The recipe for paneer, including photos of the process, follows this main recipe.

  • 4 Tables neutral flavoured oil, such as canola or a mixture of half oil and half ghee ( my preference for a richer sauce)
  • 250 gr paneer, cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 6 or more cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic puree*
  • 2 tsp ginger puree*
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2- 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 200 gr canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with skins removed, finely chopped.
  • 350 gr whey or water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 125 gr frozen peas
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 Tblsp cream
  • 2 Tblsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat half the oil and ghee in a medium sized heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the paneer, sprinkling with a few pinches of turmeric if you wish. Cook till golden brown, turning gently.  Remove and drain.

Add the remaining oil to the same saucepan. Add the cardamom, stir about for a few seconds, then add the onion,and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if need be, till soft. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 more minutes or until the onion is soft and a pale golden colour.

Add the ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4- 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of whey, (or water if you’ve used a commercial paneer ) stirring frequently until the oil separates from the spice paste. Then add the rest of the liquid, and salt. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes.

Add the paneer and peas to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and cream and remove from heat. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander if you happen to have some. Mint works well too.

Serve with rice, naan and thin yoghurt or raita.

* the best way to produce ginger puree is grating it on a fine microplane, while garlic puree is best made bashed in a mortar and pestle. If I’m making a few different curries, I start with this step and make a bulk lot of each.¬†

Paneer recipe

Making paneer is the one of the easiest and most satisfying things to do. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to those tough blocks sealed in plastic found in the fridges of Indian Delis. You will also be able to use the whey in your curry, so nothing is wasted. The whey keeps well for over a week and can be used in all sorts of curries and soups.

Ingredients for paneer to yield around 250 gr

  • 2 litres full cream milk
  • 3 tablespoons strained lemon juice

Boil the milk, making sure that it just reaches boiling point and doesn’t develop a skin or begin to froth. Stir occasionally while doing this. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and stir about until curds and whey separate. Leave it for 5 minutes, then tip into a muslin lined strainer over a bowl. The bowl will collect the whey. Wrap the curds tightly in the cloth, making a flattish shape, then place in the fridge on a plate with a heavy weight on top. Keep the whey and store in a bottle. The curd will be ready to use in 3 hours. Cut as required.

The pics below show the stages of paneer making. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. The result is worth it.

The following chart gives an approximate guide of yield of paneer ( curd cheese) to milk. I used 1 litre of full cream milk for my most recent batch which produced 130 gr of paneer, enough for a large curry for two. The time before, my batch of 2 litres of milk produced a yield of 260 gr which is consistent, using full fat generic brand supermarket milk . UHT milk is not recommended. 

An approximate guide to yield of curd from milk. Use this chart to reduce or increase the recipe for paneer as required. Chart courtesy of Kurma Dasa. Who remembers cooking with Kurma?

For Maree Tink, who also enjoys making Muttar Paneer.

Indian Night to the Rescue

Unlike the residents of the nearest village who are offered a plethora of dining options during this period of social distancing and isolation, we have none. Down at that village seven kilometres away, every coffee shop, take-away, fine dining restaurant and catering business has published their menu online to tempt families, couples and the non cooking brigade, setting times for parcel pick ups, sourdough bread days, couple’s date night in, and more. They all seem to have adapted to the new normal, competing for the same disposable dollar. They appear to be doing well enough.

I’m not prepared to brave the queues or drive at night to pursue those options. The last time I went out, everyone was too close for comfort. There’s no rest for the lockdown wicked. I get quite cantankerous in the kitchen these days, especially if I’m the only one contributing to the decision making about meals. There’s trouble in paradise. It usually goes like this:

Me “What would you like for dinner?”

T¬† “Hmmm, what do you feel like?”

Me “No, I asked you first. I’m sick of thinking about food”

T¬† “Maybe a stir-fry?”

At which point I pour myself a glass of wine and turn on Netflix. A stir-fry is not the answer I was hoping for. It’s a recipe for disaster, usually resulting in some hodgepodge dish doused in a collection of pantry Chinese sauces and condiments, the plating resembling a dog’s dinner, with little thought given to ethnic origin or finesse.

I usually cook Italian food, which is second nature to me, but if I’m straying at all, I’ll choose between Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek cuisine. We’ve now resolved the problem with the advent of cuisine theme nights, where we both test new recipes from my wall of cookbooks. On Indian nights, which seem to be occurring rather frequently of late, we make one curry each, starting quite early to allow the curries to settle a bit before rewarming them for dinner. There’s usually enough leftover to stash in the fridge for another meal, given that most curries improve with age. We rate our new concoctions, and if they get the nod of approval, they’re scanned, then popped into a folder. Our Indian nights include dressing the table with Indian fabric and playing some romantic ghazals by that old crooner, Jagjit Singh. Who needs to dine out? It’s a fine solution for those who take self isolation seriously.

I hope to share our tried and true Indian recipes this week, in case you need some inspiration for some Indian take away made at home. Recipes will include two good versions of pakhora, muttar paneer, prawn curry, dhal, potato, pea and yoghurt curry, pumpkin curry, rajma and naan bread. Stay tuned.

eggplant pakhora with coriander and mint sauce.

Easy Tomato Soup Indonesian style

When we eat at home in Bali, I invariably make a soup. Some of these soups are easily converted into wet style curries by adding two tablespoons of coconut cream at the end of the cooking. Served with rice, a little shaped mound on a plate, Bali style, you simply add a few spoons of the soupy curry to the top of your rice and not the other way around. I have seen many Westerners add scoops of rice to their bowl of soup/curry and I always wonder if they are trying to make rice soup.

Tomato soup, however, is never served as a curry. Although a very Indonesian recipe, I like it served western style, with a little garlic bread or toast. It is based on the classic duo, purple shallot and garlic- those two sisters, bawang merah and bawang putih. Each time I make this, other herbal and spice elements creep into the initial stir fry and come along for the ride. I have finally settled on this simple and quick recipe. It takes around 10 minutes all up, and doesn’t involve making an initial paste or sambal.

Tomato Soup, Indonesian Style. Serves 2 -3 .

  • 2 tablespoons of cooking oil of choice
  • 6-8 small purple shallot, finely chopped ( note, Indonesian purple shallots are much smaller than most found in Australia. See photo above.)
  • 2-3 garlic, finely chopped
  • one small hot chili, finely chopped
  • a small knob of turmeric, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2¬† lemon grass stems, thick white part bashed then finely chopped, the remaining stems knotted
  • 1/2 kilo fresh tomatoes in season, roughly chopped into small pieces.
  • salt
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 packet Indo Mie or instant noodles

Add oil to a small wok and heat on medium. Add the shallot, garlic, chili, turmeric and lemon grass. Stir fry gently until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and raise the heat a little to get the tomatoes shedding their juice and breaking up. Add salt, pepper and the knotted lemon grass. Add water, around 4 cups or so. Cover the wok with a lid, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the Indo Mie/ noodles, cook for a further minute or two. At this point you can decide whether to add the contents of the little packets that come with these noodles. I like to add the white powdery packet and soy sauce sachets into the soup for that old Indo Mie hit. Stir through, and remove the lemon grass knot. Serve in big bowls.

 

Spice and the Time Traveller

On Boxing Day, food and eating are the last things on my mind. As the excess and consumer frenzy of ChristmA$ begin to fade, the thought of an indolent summer lying about, drinking tea and reading new books on a shady verandah, becomes an appealing prospect.  Or a gin and tonic under a slow-moving fan.  And in my lazy dreaming, I am perched on a stool in an Indonesian Warung, eating gently spiced vegetables and fish, a gado gado with peanut sauce, or a grilled fish that has been massaged with a spicy sambal, soft tofu in a turmeric laced curry, or a pyramid of greens gently poached in a spicy coconut milk.

Thanks to Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack, where spices may provide warmth to a cold Irish Christmas.

 

 

Rajma Curry and Back to the Budget.

I’ve indulged in a few wanton and delicious splurges lately. One involved a long lunch at a nearby restaurant. Mr Tranquillo and I, tired of¬†picking, prepping and pickling produce, agreed it was time someone else cooked our lunch. We chose Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham, not only because¬†of it’s ‘hat’ awards over the years, but also because the menu looked like it might please my very fastidious palate. The¬†degustation¬†menu for two looked perfect, and at $90 each, a steal. The whole experience was delightful and exquisite: the setting, elegant with soft lighting, the staff discreet but well-informed, the food exceptional, cheffy but very good. No photos were taken. I was rather pleased to discover a vacuum in my camera’s memory card slot. It was a sign not to spoil a heavenly experience with the tedious, pedestrian business of the taking of photos. Enough said. Just go to Mercer’s when you need to be spoilt.

As an antidote to this splurge, and in keeping with my resolution of the New Year, I now return to my $1.00 per head feasts with this Rajma Masala recipe. The Indian ( Hindi) word for red kidney bean sounds more exotic than the English, the latter with allusions to tie-dyed hippydom. This is a classic Indian vegetarian curry.  Break out the Bollywood and dance as you prepare your simple feast. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARajma Curry for 2 (or many as part of a larger banquet)

Ingredients

  • 200 gr red kidney beans/rajma
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves + 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped + 1 green chilli, crushed to a paste in a mortar and pestle ( or small blender)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ¬ľ to ¬Ĺ tsp red chili powder
  • ¬ľ tsp turmeric powder
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • ¬ľ tsp to ¬Ĺ tsp garam masala powder
  • 2 cups of stock or water
  • 2 to 3 tbsp cream
  • salt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Method

  1.  Rinse and soak the beans in enough water overnight or for 8 hours. The next day, discard the water and rinse the beans again in fresh water and cook in a pressure cooker, or on the stove till soft and cooked.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot or wok. Add cumin seeds and let them crackle and brown a little, then add the onions and cook gently until soft and caramelised
  3.  Add the ginger/garlic/chili paste. Stir and saute for 5-10 seconds on low heat.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes. Saute for 2-3 minutes till soft.
  5. Add all the spice powders- turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, asafoetida and garam masala powder and stir through until the oil separates from the masala.
  6.  Add the drained beans to the mixture. stir through. You may decide not to add them all.
  7. Add 1+ 1/2 cups or stock, water or bean cooking liquid to the mixture and add salt to taste.
  8.  Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or more till the curry thickens slightly.
  9. Mash around a third of the bean mixture in a mortar and pestle and add back to the mixture to thicken the curry.
  10.  When the curry has thickened, add the cream and stir through. Check seasoning.

Serve with rice and cucumber raita. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Simple Cucumber Raita

  • small cucumber, peeled , seeded, diced.
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • small handful chopped coriander
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds
  • a little plain oil.

Mix the yoghurt and cucumber together, add the chopped coriander and a little salt. Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the seeds till they pop and brown and add to the yoghurt mixture, Return mixture to fridge to cool further. Make this ahead of time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Balinese Fish Curry. Tropical Nirvana

Hot balmy nights, evening white wines in a shady garden, a Balinese fish curry, these little pleasures are to be savoured, fleeting moments conjuring food memories of my other ‘spiritual’ home, Bali.

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Indonesian food goes very well with Melbournian summers. Some dishes are simple and economical: others demand some effort, especially this fresh Balinese fish curry, with its long list of ingredients for the paste, involving a market trip to an Asian grocery to source some of the more unusual ingredients. A good home-made curry paste makes all the difference. It really is worth the effort.

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I learnt this classic Balinese fish curry at Janet deNeefe’s Casa Luna cooking school, ¬†which is¬†attached to the Honeymoon guest house in Ubud, Bali. The curry sauce is rich, fragrant and complex and tastes just like Bali on a plate.

Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.
Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.

The paste being ground in the huge Uleg.
The paste being ground in the huge Uleg at Casa Luna, Ubud.

The curry paste.

  • 6 garlic cloves,
  • 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste/belacan/terasi ( toast over a flame before adding)
  • 3 large chilli, seeded. These chillies are not hot but give colour and depth of flavour.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric ( substitute dried powder if unavailable)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger
  • 3 candlenuts¬†( or use macadamia nuts )
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns. ¬†I prefer white.
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, white section only. Save leaves and stems for adding to Asian stock.
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped.
  • 1 large tomato
  • 3 small hot chillies
  • 2 tablespoons galangal
  • 1.2 tablespoon kencur ( not available locally)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar
  • stalk of torch ginger (optional)
  • pinch of nutmeg

Prepare the ingredients by roughly chopping larger items. Put everything into a large Uleg, mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a smooth paste. I began mine in the uleg  (an Indonesian mortar) but quickly switched to the processor. You may need to add a little oil to blend them in a processor.

Home prepped ingredients in my little uleg
Back home. Prepped ingredients in my little uleg

Other ingredients

  • 400 grams of fresh mackerel in chunks ( 3 cm by 3 cm) ( or any firm fish that is suitable to curry) I used sea bass. NOTE. I would recommend 600-700 gr of chosen fish.
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil, NOT olive oil.
  • 3 salam leaves ( not available fresh in Melbourne)
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot,
  • 1 torch ginger shoot bruised ( hard to find in Melbourne)
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup or more of coconut milk
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1.12 cups water.

    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.
    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.

After making the curry paste, by mortar or processor, heat a little plain oil in a wok and add paste to the hot oil, along with lemon grass tied in a knot and the lime leaves.  Also add the salam leaves and torch ginger if you happen to have them. Stir around. Next add the chunks of fish, stirring around until they change colour, for a minute or two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdd 1 cup of water, simmer gently then add the coconut milk. I use more than the stated 1/2 cup . Just add and taste. 1- 1/2 cups is about right for me. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I had more sauce and not so much fish, I added a handful of green prawns, unshelled. Cooking them with shells on adds to the depth of flavour, imparting a fragrant tropical bouillabaisse sensation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave the rice cooking while making the curry. Balinese tend to use fat rice: Australian medium grain rice is perfect with this dish. Serve the curry in a big bowl with chopped coriander and lime wedges if you are lucky enough to have some.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGo into the garden, pretend you’re in Bali, and see how much turmeric you can splash about on your napkins. Tropical Nirvana to share for four.¬†

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Indonesian Curry Pastes and Sambals: the Uleg in Action

I recently introduced my Indonesian Uleg as part of my¬†April’s IMK post. The Uleg had a great workout over summer and before the season changes and gets too autumnal, requiring more¬†Cucina Italiana, I thought I might show off some of the impressive curry pastes made in this wonderful mortar and pestle. When B and I bought our Ulegs in the market in Cipanas, Java, I was surprised to hear the elderly vendor use the old Hindu word ‘Lingum” for the pestle, especially in a largely Islamic Indonesian region.Image

A lingum is

“Sanskrit for “shaft of light” and is the term for the Hindu god Shiva as represented by a phallus (erect male organ). Usually found in conjunction with the Yoni (‘vulva”) which represents the goddess Shakti – the source of Creative Energy. They co-join to form Bhrama – the Universe. This is the Hindu Trilogy; the representation of the twins of Creation and Destruction as the highest manifestations or aspects of the One (Bhrama).”¬†1.Image

I must admit that the Indonesian pestle is more phallic than my others and certainly does a very good job.

A very hot sambal makes the perfect side dish for spring rolls and nasi goreng.

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The photos above and below are some of the wonderful curry pastes and sambals Barnadi introduced me to this January. As you can see, all sorts of wonderful things get ground in the Uleg, not just spices. After some practice, the combinations become intuitive. Once ground to a paste, magic cooking follows.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage