Sultana’s Kitchen, Installment 1 – Paneer Tikka

So it’s been about a year and a half since the last time I posted here. Things have been nuts, with exams and life, and getting things back on track. A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I got together for a study group. The study group turned into a cooking party soon enough, and the results were simply fabulous. The meal consisted of paneer tikka, chili gobi (cauliflower for you non-hindi-speakers) and a simple fried rice – the only time I have ever genuinely liked fried rice.

I”ll start with the paneer tikka recipe and we’ll go from there. I never actually knew that paneer tikka could be so easy. It’s one of those things that’s only served in fancy restaurants, so I really didn’t know that making it at home would be such a piece of cake. My chum Sultana is one of those rare specimens that is skilled at everything she does. Her knowledge of culinary arts rivals her knowledge of clinical methods and current affairs, which makes her quite a source of company. This is her recipe for paneer tikka. Hope you all enjoy it as much as we did!

This is going to be a bit vague as far as proportions go, but I think it’s more a matter of preferences than rigid rules.

Ingredients

64 oz. firm or extra firm paneer

Marinade:
Half a tub of yogurt
olive or canola oil

If you have a grinder:
dried red chilis (2-5 depending on how spicy you like your food)
a 3-inch piece of ginger root
6-8 cloves of garlic

If you don’t have a grinder:
chili powder (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste (available at an Indian store)

a pinch of kasturi methi (available at an Indian store)
a pinch of curry powder (available at an indian store)
a pinch of garam masala (available at an indian store)
Green chilis
chili flakes
Salt to taste (preferably rock salt)
To serve with:
1 big capsicum (bell pepper) or 2 smaller ones
2 beefsteak tomatoes
1 yellow onion

Method:

1. Cut the paneer into thin squares. They should have enough surface area that grilling them will be easy, but they should be thin enough that the marinade will soak in properly.
2. Combine all the ingredients of the marinade together thoroughly, making sure that they are blended properly. If desired they can be whipped together.
3. Lay the paneer slices out in a shallow baking dish, covering completely with the marinade. Alternatively, they can be placed in a big ziploc bag after covering with the marinade.
4. Cover with an airtight seal and place them in the refrigerator overnight.
5. The paneer can be cooked in two ways. It can either be grilled or it can be cooked in a frying pan with a little oil, whichever you are comfortable with.
6. Both sides of each piece should be evenly browned, forming a rich golden crust. Make sure it’s cooked long enough without burning it.
7. Finally, if you’re using a grill, you can grill the vegetables on there as well. Otherwise, cut each into lengthwise pieces and roast for about 7-10 minutes in the oven.
8. Serve the paneer hot with the roasted vegetables as a side dish with roti (Indian flatbread) or rice.
9. Enjoy!

p.s. I would like to see how this would turn out with tofu to replace the paneer for a healthier option. If anyone tries it out, let me know!

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A Wonderful Tex-Mex Meal – Black Bean Chili and Cornbread with a Kick

Today’s back-to-my-roots meal at the understocked household was lovely! Inspired by Tex-Mex creations, the combination of a light black bean and corn chili with a heavy, moist firecracker cornbread was fabulous!

I’ll share one recipe today and save the other for another day  – I don’t want to overwhelm my fair readers!

Cornbread is quite a staple where I’m from, but isn’t something I grew up with. There are as many variations on cornbread as there are people down South, but I really enjoyed this take, a spicy bread with an almost cake-like texture, flecked with tender corn kernels and the orange and green of carrots and chili peppers.

I started off by infusing some butter with the red pepper flakes right in the dish I was eventually going to bake in, which gave me a nice, evenly browned spicy crust. The yogurt and milk made it rich and moist without having to use eggs or any oil or butter in the actual bread. Die-hard Southerners may not like the sweet nature of the bread, but you can omit the sugar and the bread will be just as good, in my opinion.

Egg-free Cornbread with a Kick

Ingredients

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat or white wheat flour
1/2 cup self-rising all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white, cane, or brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1 cup yogurt (I used homemade whole milk yogurt, I’m sure you can substitute)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 can of kernel sweet corn
1 cup shredded carrots
1 chili pepper or jalapeno pepper
2 tbsp chopped pimiento olives
1 tsp crushed red peppers
sprinkling of feta cheese
sprinkling of Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses

Method

1. Combine the dry ingredients – the cornmeal, two flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and add the butter and chili flakes to the dish you plan on baking in. Place this in the oven to infuse while you are preparing the batter.
3. In a separate dish, combine the yogurt, carrots and corn.
4. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, mixing well.
5. Add milk until it reaches a pourable consistency.
6. Chop up the olives, pimientos and pepper, and stir them, along with a bit of the Colby cheese, into the batter.
7. Pour the batter into your pan – after taking it out of the oven carefully, of course! – and spread the batter if you need to.
8. Sprinkle the top with the feta and the other cheeses.
9. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edges are nicely browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

This cornbread has a wonderful aroma and an awesome kick. It is also a great canvas for different flavor combinations.

If you want to go traditional with serving the bread, you can slather it with honey-butter. My opinion is that it might become a little too rich if you do that, but it’s an option. Other mix-ins may include sun dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers. The initial butter infusion is also a wonderful opportunity to pull in a variety of flavors, including basil, oregano, or sage. The adventurous palate may enjoy a hint of garlic, or a stir-in of dried cranberries.

What would you put in this cornbread to mix it up?

Priyanka’s Kitchen, Installment 1 – Chhole

So obviously there are things I don’t know how to cook. And other people do. Also, I’m not cooking ALL the time. So I’m always on the lookout for new recipes from my friends and acquaintances. My friend Priyanka appears to have a few up her sleeve, so I asked if she’d be willing to share. And luckily for you, my loyal reader, she’s been kind enough to share her recipe for Chhole, an Indian curry made from chickpeas.
It’s actually quite the staple in North Indian kitchens, but I’ve never ventured so far as to make it. So let’s hear it for Chef Priyanka!

as written by Priyanka

ingredients:
-garlic (a few cloves)
-one large onion (I prefer red)
-chillies to taste
-one large tomato or three small ones
-white chickpeas/garbanzo beans (you can either use the canned ones in the states or
the kind you need to soak overnight)
… if you need to soak overnight, soak in warm water with a tiny bit of salt
-lemon juice, coriander leaves (also called cilantro), channa masala (if you have it), garam masala,
chili powder, salt

method:
chop all vegetable ingredients (fine chop garlic).
heat a tiny bit of oil in a medium size pot.
saute garlic first until light brown.
add chopped onion and saute til browned.
add chole, and keep lid on for faster cooking.
stir often and add some water and salt.
add chopped chillies.
add garam masala, chili powder and channa masala to taste.
keep stirring and let simmer.
taste one chick pea to test if it has cooked.
after the chole has cooked for some time, add tomatoes and add lemon juice to taste.
as a finishing touch, add coriander as garnish
serve with chapati, naan or puri!  🙂

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Tofu-Tomato Stew, Indian Style

I’m one of those people who is tempted by food names and can’t really handle food that doesn’t sound like it’s going to taste good. So this post is definitely an exception for me, mostly because I can’t think of a better name for this. Ragout, perhaps. Most people don’t really know what that means though so i’ll stick with stew for now. If any of you readers can think of a better name, you should let me know.

Today has been kind of a long day. I have a case of the mondays, had a long weekend (see here for details), went to the gym, and tried to study. Also, I have exams coming up, which means less cooking, and I also had ingredients hanging out in my fridge with no apparent purpose. I figured if i didn’t use them today, there was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t get to use them at all. I had a few almost-overripe tomatoes, a cucumber, and a block of tofu. I scrounged and found an onion which is about to grow a new onion, and I thought to myself, this has the makings for an interesting meal. In typical fashion, I went through the probable nutritional facts in my head and was satisfied with the protein proportion and went ahead with my strange idea.

Tofu in India has a funny taste to it, to which I prefer the tastelessness of American tofu. Imported tofu is actually available here, but I can’t justify paying that amount for it just because I think the alternative kind of smells a little weird. I found out though, as I was explaining to my friend Lalita today, that if you come up with a good marinade for the tofu, it absorbs tastes beautifully, turning into a sort of palette for whatever picture you want to paint for the day. I took a page from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks for this particular marinade and I really liked the results. I might experiment with some different types later, and I’ll be sure to keep you folks in the loop.

Ingredients

Extra-firm tofu, washed, drained and cubed

For the marinade

4 tablespoons of thick yogurt
3/4 teaspoon Sabzi masala or garam masala
salt to taste
a teaspoon of olive oil 

Whisk these ingredients together, and toss the tofu in with them. Set it aside, covered, while you make the rest of the stew. If you can, set the tofu to marinate the previous night – it will give you better flavor.

For the stew

4 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
1 large white onion (or 2 small purple onions)
salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste 
1 teaspoon sabzi masala
2 chili peppers, chopped, or 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
a splash of olive oil

Method

1. Chop the onions finely and brown them with the ginger-garlic paste in the olive oil. Add the salt and masala to this mixture and let it all brown together, but it shouldn’t burn. Make sure that the paste doesn’t have that sharp, raw smell anymore. 

2. Add the tomatoes and let them cook in their own juice, but not until they’re too mushy. You don’t want to end up with tomato sauce instead. 

3. While the tomatoes and onions are cooking, brown the tofu in a skillet. You don’t need to add any more olive oil since your marinade already has enough.

4. When the tofu is evenly browned, add it to the tomato mixture and let it all cook together. Add the peppers or pepper, whichever you’ve chosen to use, at the end, stir for two more minutes, and remove from heat.

I served this stew with white rice, but I’m sure you could try brown rice, brown bread, naan, focaccia, chapati, anything really. 

High in protein, vitamin A and lycopenes, and easy to make, I think this is going to be repeated some time, with a few variations. If you guys come up with any interesting variations, let me know. Enjoy!