• Cottage cheese

Mom's Jewelled Tawa Paneer


Have you ever heard of a party at a North Indians home with no paneer on the menu! I can guarantee that this can never ever happen. You will rarely find a north Indian disliking paneer. We use it in all our dishes, with curries, tandoori, stuffings in paranthas or naans or even in sweets! It’s almost as it we have found a treasure in Paneer!

My mom was never the kind who would be cooking away for her children all the time. I think she had done enough of that in her early years and then she hired my nanny(bua) before I was born who slowly, took over the reins of the kitchen from her.

My most amazing mom... an artist, mom, golfer, grandmom...all rolled in one.

I spent some years away from my parents and visited them only during my summer and winter holidays. I would remember the times during my holidays when my mom would be in the kitchen making her marble cake or her amazing cauliflower paranthas (stuffed griddled fried breads which my grandmother would love) , or when we would come back from hot summer afternoons from school (when my parents settled back in India) seeing the table set with the most delicious boiled egg or chicken mayo sandwiches with lemonade or salted chaas (buttermilk)…but have very vague memories of her being in the kitchen (thankfully!) .

She would be often asked by her friends to dish out her exotic Malai Kofta, Pineapple Upside Down cake, Vegetable Bake with tomato sauce and cheese topping for their parties.

She would always be involved with us, playing board games, taking us to classes to learn a new skill, taking us to the club every evening for swimming and other sports , museums…plays ….dining out, the list can go on and on! She is a very independent woman and I thank her for teaching us its importance. She was one of the very few mums who knew how to drive at that time and we would be taken everywhere by her. She attributes these abilities to her parents and from being a Mumbaikar! (a person born and hailing from the city of Mumbai). Please do spare a thought in all this for my Dad, who supported her independence.

I guess that’s where I got my zest for learning..even now I don’t hesitate to take up a skill at this age, or make sure my kids are involved in a sport. I love playing board games today with them in this digital age!

Coming back to her kitchen …When she would go into the kitchen we were sure of a treat!

There were times when there would be parties at home and invariably a paneer preperation would always be on the menu! It was and still is the alternative to “chicken” or “mutton” for vegetarians and the rest of the menu would be planned around it.

If you go to a restaurant in Northern India and mention that you are vegetarian, then the order taker rattles off 10-15 paneer (cottage cheese) dishes in one breath!

There are many ways in which Paneer (cottage cheese) can be cooked, but I want to share with you a very special dish which looks like tiny jewels… amazing at a table ! She cooks this dish with such ease and love and I just love her huge tawa she cooks on ...

Mom's Jewelled Tawa Paneer

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1kilo fresh paneer (cottage cheese-you can get this from any Indian sweet shop)*

½ cup green capsicum

½ cup red onions

1 ½ tsp coriander powder

1 ½ cumin powder

1 tsp garlic paste

½ tsp red chili powder

½ tsp garam masala powder

Pinch of red color

Salt to taste

Oil ,of your choice, for the griddle

To prepare:

1. Cut the paneer into cubes, the onions and capsicum into 1 inch squares. Keep them aside

2. In a platter marinate the above and all the pastes and spices using your hands untill all the spices and pastes are evenly spread onto the paneer. Season. And keep aside for at least an hour.

3. Heat oil on the griddle.

4. Add the marinated paneer mixture on to the griddle and cook on a medium flame. When it starts to cook, sprinkle a little water so that it doesn’t burn.

5. When fully cooked, take it out on a platter.

6. Serve hot with Naan or Roti.

Tawa Paneer..ready to be served

You will always find this dish polished off in no time. It’s very light and complements any meal perfectly.

Even today when I go back home, I get to eat this dish since there is always a lunch or dinner party organised at home.Its one of the easiest Paneer dishes one can prepare. Usually in Indian homes, Paneer is prepared at home . But now since its widely available in supermarkets and sweet shops , one can easily buy it off the shelf. Please remember to keep the Paneer immersed in water in the fridge if not using it immedietely.

The next dish is one of the most famous paneer dishes which one finds in all Mughlai and North Indian restaurants or Dhabas*( small eateries usually found on Indian highways), is loved by many and is very nutritious too.

An Interesting fact:

According to an ancient legend, cheese was accidentally made by an Arabian merchant when he put his supply of milk into a pouch made of a sheep’s stomach when he set out on a long day’s journey across the desert.

The rennet in the lining in the pouch combined with heat of the sun caused the milk to separate into curd and whey. This story seems to have occurred approximately 7000 years BC in the so-called Fertile Crescent situated between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris in Iraq.

Early Vedic hymns in India (6000 to 4000 BC), Egyptian records (4000 BC) and Babylonian records (2000 BC) clearly show references to milk, butter and cheese.

Another paneer dish that is made very commonly at our home which I love is Palak Paneer.

There may be a 100 variants of Palak Paneer. You can taste different versions in different homes. Here is how one would taste it in my home:

Palak Paneer

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1kilo fresh paneer (cottage cheese-you can get this from any Indian sweet shop)*

2 cup tomato puree (you can buy this from the supermarket- organic purees work very well)

1 cup red onions

1 ½ tsp coriander powder

1 ½ cumin powder

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp garam masala powder

3 bunches of spinach

1 tbsps of dried fenugreek leaves ( kasuri methi)

Whole Garam Masala:

½ tsp whole cumin

4-5 Cloves

3-4 Black cardamom

3-4 Green cardamom

2 Bay leaves

½ inch Cinnamon stick

3 tbsps of Oil , of your choice

1 tblsp of milk

2 tbsps of fresh crème

Salt to taste

Green chillies (optional)

To prepare:

1. Cut the paneer into cubes or rectangles ,as you like,keep aside ,preferably in water so that it remains soft.

2. Puree the onions.Keep aside.

3. Wash the spinach leaves very well, blanch (dip in hot water for a few minutes till it wilts) .Put them in a blender and puree it .

4. Take a heavy bottomed pan and heat oil. Add the pureed onions and cook till the water evaporates and the onions start to become brown.

5. Add ginger and garlic paste to the onions. Saute for a few minutes.

6. Add the tomato puree and cook. Add all the spices and cook this pureed mixture till you can see the oil floating on top. Take the mixture out and keep it separate in a bowl.

7. Take another pan and add all the whole garam masalas a specified. When they begin to crackle add the pureed tomato mixture in it . You can add green chillies here. Let it cook for about 5 minutes. You may add a bit of water so that it doesn’t dry up. Cook on a medium low flame.

8. Add the paneer into the mixture and cook. Once you see the paneer pieces brown(this may take another 5 minutes), add the spinach puree and cook again for another 5 minutes.

9. Add the dried fenugreek in this and stir till fully mixed well for another 2-3 minutes.

10. Lastly, add the crème and stir.

11. Serve Hot with Naan , Roti or Rice .

So, if you are a vegetarian , born in Northern India, chances are that you will love Paneer. I remember my nanny (bua) would love putting rock salt over some of the left over paneer pieces and serving it to me whenever she would be making palak paneer for a meal or a party at home.

Yum! I can still feel the creamy taste of the paneer and still be dreaming of when would I get the chance of digging into the palak paneer when dinner starts.

p.s sweet shops selling paneer:

• Puranmal in Jumeira, Bur dubai

• Bikanerwala in Bur dubai, Al Barsha

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