Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Make Paneer at Home

After almost a year and a half, I finally feel confident of my paneer-making skills. Paneer is fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids. Sometimes it is also called 'cottage cheese.'

In India, people just buy paneer from the grocery stores. Here, it is not only expensive but the Indian stores are a half an hour drive away. So it is usually more convenient to make it at home in bulk and freeze it in freezer-safe, zip-lock bags and then pull them out one at a time whenever needed. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients and Equipment:

1.75 gallons of whole milk (I buy the two 1-gallon cartons from Costco - cheapest option)
20 caps of vinegar
1 meter cheesecloth or muslin cloth
1 shallow colander
1 large pot

Method:

1. Take the largest pot you have at home, sprinkle some water into it (saves the milk from burning at the bottom) and pour all the milk you have in it. Now my pot only holds about 1.75 gallons of milk but if your pot can hold 2 gallons, go ahead and empty both your cartons. 


2. Let it come to a boil. This will take a while. 

3. While the milk boils, prepare the cheese cloth. If you have muslin cloth, you don't need to do anything but cheesecloth is a little different. I buy the cheesecloth at walmart and I try to put two pieces of cut cheesecloth together to make it more fine.


4. Then spread it in a shallow colander. 


4. You have to make sure you are there when it first begins to boil because as soon as it starts to boil, we need to turn off the heat and pour in the vinegar immediately. You'll start seeing bubbles on the surface when it's about to boil. Sometimes I like to remove the skin that forms on the surface because there were times when the milk was boiling under the skin and I couldn't see the bubbling.


5. Either ways, as soon as the first boil happens, turn off the heat and pour 20 caps of vinegar. I usually sort of splash vinegar around into the pot but I wouldn't be able to explain how much vinegar I used. So this time, I measured the vinegar by pouring it one cap at a time until the milk curdled. It took 20 caps. Below is the vinegar I used. Just plain, old, regular. The vinegar bottle's cap is what I used to measure how much vinegar was needed. You can use lemon juice as well. Whatever floats your boat. 


6. When you pour vinegar, make sure you pour it all around the milk and start stirring to see if it has curdled. When it separates, it'll look like the picture below. 


7. You should be able to see chunks of curdled milk and water separately. That's when you know it is done.


8. Now put your prepared colander in the sink.


9. Slowly use a ladle to pour chunks of curdled milk into the cheesecloth. I wouldn't suggest pouring it directly from the pot because 1. the pot will be heavy, 2. the hot milk/water will spill everywhere and you might burn yourself, 3. from the pressure of the fall, the cheesecloth might move and you won't be able to strain all the milk properly. Eventually, once the pot is lighter, you can slowly pour all the liquid directly into the cheesecloth. 


10. Now turn on the tap water and clean the milk. The reason we do this is to get rid of the sour taste of vinegar. Just pour some water, use your hands to clean the milk. Stir it around. If you have a shower tap, even better.


11. Now grab all corners of the cheesecloth and try to strain the water out as best as you can.


12. You may think that the water has been strained, but there is so much more. Lightly tie the corners of the cheesecloth. I always tie it too tight because I'm afraid it won't gain shape but my Mum-in-Law tells me to tie it lightly to avoid weird tie marks on the paneer. I haven't mastered that skill, yet. Put this cheese on a heavy flat surface. I used my marble that I make rotis on. You can use a plate or chopping block or whatever heavy, flat surface you can find.


13. Clean the pot you used to heat the milk and fill it with water to the top. Put the paneer and your plate in the sink and put the heavy pot over it.


14. This will push out all the water from the paneer and give it shape. To give you a better idea, I clicked a picture of it on my counter.


15. See how the excess water strains out? Do this is in the sink, though. You don't want liquid all over your counter. If you are using a plate, keep checking every once in a while and empty out the liquid from the plate. Let this heavy vessel sit on the paneer overnight or at least six hours for best results. When it is done, it'll look like a nice, solid block of cheese.


16. Carefully unwrap it.


17. See those tie marks? That's what you should be able to avoid if you wrap it lightly. I'm too paranoid to do that. Cut the cheese up with a very sharp knife. I think a bread knife works best.


18. Cut the pieces up to the size of your choice.


19. This is how much I made. Once you have your paneer pieces cut up, put them in freezer-safe zip-lock baggies in one layer. Don't overcrowd in one bag or the pieces will crumble.


20. I got five bags of paneer. Put the perfect cut ones in one bag and the crumbly misshaped ones in a separate bag. You can make paneer bhurji or paneer paranthha out of the crumbly/weird shaped pieces.


All done! If you plan to cook paneer the same day or the next day, put a packet or two in the fridge and put the rest in the freezer. Paneer out of the fridge can be used as it is. Paneer out of the freezer should either be cooked in a pan first or put in warm water to make it soft.

Homemade paneer tastes waaaay better than store-bought paneer. Try it!
x

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Naan Recipe

This is the easiest naan I've ever made and it turned out so good. As usual, I made this as a last minute thing and didn't have yeast or baking soda. But I still managed to make it taste good somehow. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour (maida)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice

For garnish
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped cilantro 
pinch of chili flakes
pinch of salt
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl

Method:

1. Take flour, add baking soda, salt and yogurt and knead into a soft sticky dough. Use water for kneading as required. Add lemon juice and mix well. Once you're dough is ready, cover it with a wet cloth or paper towel, then put the lid on the bowl and leave it in a warm place for 6-8 hours. I did this one night before and then made naans for lunch the next day. Worked great.

2. When you are ready to make naans, divide the dough into equal portions. Make dough balls as the size of limes. Take a dry, clean surface, sprinkle some flour and using a rolling pin, roll out a dough ball. If you can make them round, great. If not, make oval shaped naans. The dough will be very stretchy and you might have to keep rolling to pull them out to the right size. You might want to just pick it up and stretch it once in a while. Just make sure that it has been rolled out equally on all sides or it won't cook properly. Roll out as thick as a parantha or thinner.

3. Once you have rolled them out to the size you like, use a brush to spread the garlic-butter on the naan.


4. Heat a skillet, sprinkle some olive oil, place the naan on it and cover it with a lid.



5. Once you cover the skillet with a lid, the naan will start to bubble up. Once this happens, switch sides.



6. Now, use a spatula and push it down so the other side can cook properly. Turn it around again.



7. Once you are satisfied that all the sides have been cooked properly, remove and do the same thing with the rest of the dough. This should yield at least eight naans.



These are perfectly soft and tasty and will be a great accompaniment to dal makhani, shahi paneer or butter chicken. 

Enjoy! 
x

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dal Makhani

Continuing on with the meal, the next on the list is dal makhani, which I have now nailed after several attempts in the last year and a half. I have learned that you cannot make dal makhani from recipes online. I have read so many recipes that I've lost count. I even tried to make it from this one post that claimed it was the same recipe of dal makhani from the Oberoi Hotel. Whatever. It wasn't all that great. Many recipes forbid using onions for dal makhani. I have tried it with and without and I like it way more with onions. Anyway, here is my take on this dish:

Ingredients:

1 cup whole urad dal (kaali dal)
1/4 cup red kidney beans (rajma)
5 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup tomato puree
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped (I like to add half a tsp more in the end, as well)
1 Serrano pepper, finely chopped (green chili)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cumin
a pinch of asafoetida
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp garam masala
2 tbsp deggi mirch powder
4 tbsp full cream
cilantro for garnish

Method:

1. Soak the urad dal, rajma and chana dal in warm water. Let it sit for 2-4 hours. Later, in a pressure cooker, pressure cook the lentils with 4-5 cups of water, 2 tbsp of salt, half the ginger and a pinch of asafoetida, until they are soft. Once they are cooked, release the steam and open the pressure cooker to check if the lentils are soft enough to eat. Don't cook too much or too less. The lentils should retain their shape and still be soft from the inside.

Warning: Do NOT attempt to open the pressure cooker without releasing steam. You may severely end up burning yourself if you try to do that. If you're not comfortable using a pressure cooker, boil the lentils in a pot. It'll take much longer that way.

2. Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and a pinch asafoetida.


3. Then add chopped onions, green chili, ginger and garlic.

4. Once the onions turn translucent, move them to one side of the pan and add tomato puree on the other side and cook.


5. Mix everything together. Add salt, coriander powder and turmeric powder. Cook for ten minutes until you have a nice thick masala (called tadka) ready.


6. These were the main steps. Now comes the easy part. Once your tadka is ready, add it to the cooked lentils. There should still be enough water in the cooker to mix the tadka and make a curry. If you feel there isn't enough water and the curry is starting to look thick, add some hot water according to your desired consistency. Let it come to a boil. Add any remaining ginger.

7. Then add the cream, garam masala, deggi mirch powder and salt according to your taste. Keep stirring and let it come to a boil again. Keep boiling until the curry becomes consistent and mixed with all the ingredients. You should have a creamy texture to the curry. Let it simmer for 15 minutes. Taste check for salt and spice levels. Add more garam masala or salt, if needed.

8. Before serving, garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro.


And that's it! Some people like to add butter to it in the end and more cream and what not. I like to keep it as healthy as possible and I think it still tastes pretty good without the butter or extra cream.

Dal makhani tastes even better when reheated the next day.

Hope you like it.
x

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shahi Paneer

Last night, I made shahi paneer, dal makhani and naan. I've made shahi paneer once before. It was good but not amazing. Last night, it was amazing. I'm so proud. 

I have read all sorts of complicated recipes to make this, involving a gazillion spices, yogurt, cream, etc. Here is MY version of the recipe (which is brilliant, by the way) and requires nothing complicated. No butter, no cream, the healthier-than-usual shahi paneer or paneer makhani. Whatever you want to call it.

Here's the recipe:


Ingredients:

1 pound (»450g) paneer (cottage cheese), cut into 2 inch cubes
1 cup of tomato puree
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
paste of 4 large cloves of garlic
paste of 2 inch piece of ginger
1 tbsp cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
4 tbsp of cashew nut paste
2 tbsp of coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp of deggi mirch (I use this specifically to give the dish a bright orange color and a little heat)
Deggi mirch is an important Indian spice made from a unique blend of special varieties of colorful red capsicums and Kashmiri red chilies. It has a mild heat and a deep red-orange color. It can be found in Indian grocery stores.
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Method:

1. In a pan, heat the oil. Once the oil is hot, add cumin seeds and asafoetida. 


2. Once the cumin seeds turn into a light brown color, add the onions and the ginger-garlic paste. Once the onions are translucent, add the tomato puree. Now I said 1 cup puree, which I thought was good enough but if you want more curry, go ahead and add more. 


3. Add coriander powder, turmeric powder and salt. Meanwhile, take a quarter cup of cashew nuts, soak in hot water and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. 


4. Microwaving makes the cashew nuts softer and easier to grind. Add some water to them and grind into a smooth paste.


5. Add this paste to the curry and mix well.


6. By this time, the curry will become thick so add some hot water to it to reach your desired consistency. I don't like it to be too dry or too watery. I like a semi-thick curry.


7. After you add the water, add some deggi mirch powder. I actually added two tablespoons because my husband likes it spicy. But if you can't handle too much spice, stick to just one tablespoon. Add some sugar and let it come to a boil. Taste check for salt. Once you're happy with the taste of the curry, add cubes of paneer and stir it in.

If your paneer is store-bought, I would suggest soaking the paneer cubes in warm water to make them soft. My paneer was homemade and it was soft enough to eat so I just added it directly to the curry. 


8. Let it come to a boil and turn off the heat. And that's it! :)

9. Garnish it with some chopped cilantro and you're ready to eat.

It's that easy. No cream, no butter and it tastes just as creamy and tasty as it does in restaurants. Give it a try.

Love.
x