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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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!