Kadai Paneer – Indian cottage cheese in tangy, spicy tomato gravy

My oldest tyke turned 15. A year shy of the quintessential mark of a rebel.. But hey I don’t think a particular year turns the page.

I sometimes think this boy was born as an old soul in a young body. Sigh !

Or maybe just maybe the single liners or the dry remarks are just a genetic influence that has been passed on … Ahem Ahem !

 But this child still has the glint in his eyes when looks forward to certain favorites. This being one of those on his list.. Happy Birthday A1 and may you be blessed with the best of health and happiness always ..

An awesome spicy and tangy gravy of Paneer and bell peppers and onions served with flat bread  ( rotis or Naans) or fried puffed breads ( Pooris) and piping hot Jeera rice.

Kadai Paneer - Indian cottage cheese in tangy, spicy tomato gravy

Cooking time : 30-40 min  Serves : 6

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz paneer : Cut in 1.5 inches lengthwise
  • Bell peppers  ( green , colored mix) : 3-4 cut in thick strips
  • Red onion : 1 big, cut in big fat strips
  • Ginger garlic paste : 1 tsp.
  • Roma tomatoes : 8-9 , pureed
  • Cumin (Jeera seeds) : 1 tsp.
  • Garam Masala : 1 tsp.
  • Kasuri methi leaves (dry) : 1 tsp, crushed
  • Melted butter : 3 Tbsp.
  • 2 to 3 tbsp oil or ghee or butter
  • Fresh Coriander leaves : chopped fine , 1/4 cup
  • Salt : 1 tsp + to taste

 Kadai masala: Dry roast, cool and fine grind

  • Coriander seeds : 1/4 cup
  • Dry red Kashmiri chilies ( low – medium heat) : 6

Optional :

  • Kashmiri chili powder : 1 tsp.

Method:

  • In a big wok or Kadai and add 3 Tbsp. of butter or ghee ( clarified butter ) if using and heat it.
  • Add in the Cumin seeds and let it sputter.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste , fry it for a minute or two.
  • Now add in the cut onions and sauté till translucent.
  • Add the Garam masala, fine ground Kadai masala and Kashmiri chili powder ( if using) and stir for a min or two. Essentially cooking the masala combination.
  • Now add in the pureed tomatoes , stir well , cover and let it boil for about 7-10 min. By now the gravy will acquire  deep red hue from the combination of Kashmiri chilies and the chili powder if using and the tomato puree. That is the color you would typically look out for.
  • The butter would separate and you would see it glistening on the sides, plus there would be a reduction in the gravy volume as well.
  • Add in 1 tsp. or so of salt and about half a cup of water only if you think the gravy is too thick.
  • Add in the chopped bell peppers  and simmer in this for another 5 minutes or so.
  • Add in the crushed Kasuri Methi leaves and the Paneer strips and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

 Notes :

  • Adding the red Kashmiri Chili powder is not necessary but it gives the beautiful hue to the gravy.
  • Don’t feel like making the Kadhai masala fresh?  Go ahead and  substitute with just Kashmiri Chili powder  and 3 -4 tsp of dry dhania powder and adjust the masala to taste. It should be close enough, but if you could take an extra 5 to make the masala fresh.
  • The bell peppers need to retain the part crunch , hence they are added a bit later in the prep.
  • This recipe uses a lot of tomatoes. Don’t have any on hand? Just substitute with canned as per the directions on it.

Kadai Paneer - Indian cottage cheese in tangy, spicy tomato gravy

 This was a part of the lovely birthday dinner served along with pooris , Peas and Carrot simple Pulav , Mixed  Masala Dal and Baingan Bartha.

Enjoy!

And dessert of course was the super delish Guava Ice cream!

Saffron Kalakkand – Quick and Easy Cheese and Milk Fudge with Saffron and nuts

Fresh, dewy eyed and eyes full of spark a young lady landed on the shores of opportunity in the land of the grand USA some 16 plus years ago. While the young lady has progressed in age , thoughts and wisdom, marked by the appearance of few strands of gray ( honestly, truly, I noticed 5 in total),the spark ala dimmed a bit, but still bright I hope nonetheless.

One of the first people I met, was a happy foodie couple in Boston. At that point, A1 was yet to put in an appearance, and I was happy to meet people ( ignorant of any of the pyramid scheme trap and happily oblivious as well ). While the “come over for tea” turned into recruiting for the scam/scheme and I could not wait to get out faster, I did notice these gorgeous milk burfi’s. I also did sneak in more than one. Hey if I had to sit in and listen to all that yakking on gold and gorgeous things within arm’s reach, might as well do it with some indulgence.

In any case, today on father’s day DH was in a bit of a mood. Happy smiley face, clean counters, dishes done, emptying dishwasher and more. Well no complaints, cause I love this mood. A nice card, a self bought “surprise” on the homey , techy, front and great family time. And I decided to do something that so grandly resembled hours of labor while actually needing a few min of microwave time. The best part was I did not need to hunt for the ingredients. My awesome neighbor/ friend/ b – partner decided to donate to me 3 huge tubs of Ricotta cheese before her trip to India. 2 Thumbs up! I suppose more Ricotta cheese recipes need to be made now!

This has been the perfect day and weekend is done ! But hey summer holidays on and no school tomorrow.. Which means more staying up for the kids.. Love this !

#FDMenu

Saffron Kalakkand – Quick and Easy Cheese and Milk Fudge with Saffron and nuts

Ingredients:

  • Low Fat or Part Skim Ricotta Cheese – 16 oz
  • Non fat Condensed Milk – 14 oz
  • Saffron strands : a pinch
  • Cardamom Pods – 1/2 tsp
  • Pistachios – 6
  • Almonds – 10
  • Ghee or melted butter: 1 tsp to serve as grease

 Method:

 Prep work :

  • In a spice grinder, add in the saffron strands and cardamom seeds and fine grain powder these without adding water.

 Prep work 2:

  • Finely chop the pistachios and almonds in a food processor or spice grinder.

Process:

  • In a microwave safe glass bowl or container, mix the Ricotta Cheese and the Condensed Milk well. I used a wire whisk to break out the lumps and completely homogenized the mix. Took about 5 min or so
  • Cook in the microwave for about 12 minutes uncovered. Keep an eye out for the bubbling mix. Stop and scrape the edges and re-do this process. I did this step in about 5 stage intervals of 3 : 3: 2:2:2 min cooking . I suppose you can go all out and cook in lower intervals, but I just needed to keep a clean microwave oven. No spill mess 🙂
  • Next microwave covered for about 6 min or so. Stop every 2 min , scrape the sides stir and continue.
  • Just before the final 2 min stage add in the cardamom and saffron mix. Cook for a final 2 min. The heat in the cooked milk fudge will release the flavor or the saffron and cardamom and you will see the beautiful color of the saffron permeating the fudge mix.
  • The final stage should resemble soft crumbly mix . Slightly wet and moist mix would be the ideal stage to stop the cooking process.
  • In a square serving container , grease the bottom with ghee or melted unsalted butter. Go easy the grease part. The idea is for easy release of the pieces not to drench it !
  • Pour in the hot fudge mix in the prepped container with grease and add in the crushed nuts mix on the top and pat down to resemble an even surface.
  • Cover and allow to set in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
  • Cut into beautiful squares and serve!
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Veg Malai Kofta ( with Gulab Jamun mix ) – Creative conclusions of a bare pantry

Alright.. Snowed in. No fresh veggies and in absolute cranky , cabin fever mood. I mean really  I love the snow  as long as I can see it not live with it, and for me to be iced in with snow , sleet and rain is like a big Oh No! . With due apologies to folks in the NJ, NY, Chicago and Dc area etc. You see in Cary, NC, a couple of inches of snow and ice is a big thing! We don’t usually get it and when we do, we love it. But this time twice in 3 week span was a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong the first time was amazing  and we sooooo loved it. Second time ,with schools out again for another 3 days, we were so ready to be done with it.

So while the landscape resembled a Yash Chopra film, pretty snow covered grounds, a white blanket of romance awaiting those who are willing to indulge in it I suppose –  Snowman and strong forts assembled, snow angels made, snowball fights and hot cocoa.. Eventually the younglings tend to wander in from the damp cold into the warmth of the house. Their utter fascination with snow exhausted for the day and hopeful of renewing it  the next day ( unlike their mom’s – it usually lasts an hour or two with me ). But then you do need to feed the bellies.. And you want something , hot, nice, with a bit of spice ( blame it on the genes ), maybe even indulging in some deep fried stuff. And something different. And something special!

A1,2,3 all love this fare and A3 my youngest claims “kofta” is his favorite vegetable. In all honesty, necessity is the mother of invention.

Inspiration : Contents of the pantry and the fridge .

Scavenging results yield: 4 onions + 2 tomatoes + ginger + 2 potatos + few sprigs of cilantro +1 can of diced tomatoes + handful of spinach leaves + a few green chillies

And drum roll please… ” star of the show “ :  A neglected packet of MTR Gulab Jamun mix expiring in 3 months time or so.

Thinking hat on :

Gulab Jamun mix is obviously a mix of milk powder and all purpose flour with a pinch of soda bi-carb to it. It has a mild taste to it , which gets deviously delicious after soaking in flavored sugar syrup..( I mean a wallflower all dressed up, and the makeover lands her the prom queen title  kind of analogy ).

In any case, these became the faux malai koftas  of my creation.

FAQ : Prep time : 45 – 60 min ( including frying the kofta balls )  Yield : 24-36 Kofta balls  Consumption time : Instant

A. Dry Spice grind : Initial Grind

Roast all these in about a 1 tsp of oil and set it aside to cool and pulverize later on. Don’t be daunted by the ingredient list or by the exact measurements. Use your own substitutions if required.

  1. Poppy seeds : 1 tsp
  2. Elaichi or green cardamom : 4-6 . I used it in their skins
  3. Cashews – whole or broken – about 12
  4. Almonds with skin – 6-8
  5. cloves – 2
  6. cinnamon stick – 1”
  7. fennel seeds or sauf – 1/2 tsp
  8. Jeera – 1/2 tsp

Roast and grind these well into a coarse powder initially and then add a few tablespoons of water to make a thick paste of sorts in the blender.

B. The gravy aka the base :

Saute all these in  the sequential order of listing here in about 1-2 tbsp of oil and wait for it to cool down before blending to a thick , smooth chutney like consistency.

  1. finely chopped ginger – 1 inch
  2. optional : 2 cloves of garlic
  3. Onions  : 3 ( chopping these finely will make them sautéed faster )
  4. Then add in the diced tomatoes and canned diced tomatoes
  5. Sautee well till you see reduction in the mass 🙂
  6. Let it cool before you blend it into a smooth paste. No need to add water.

C. Making the Kofta balls

  1. Boil the potatoes and mash it well.
  2. To this add finely diced 2 green chillies. Remember , the spice is to tickle the palate .. not kill it.
  3. Add in 1 small onion , finely chopped as well
  4. Add in 1 inch of finely grated ginger
  5. Add 1/2 tsp of crushed kasuri methi
  6. Add in a handful of finely chopped spinach leaves
  7. Add in a few spits of finely chopped cilantro as well.
  8. Add in some salt, say about 1/2 – 3/4 tsp of it.
  9. Optional : you can add more spices or masalas to this mix at this point if you feel like it
  10. Add in the gulab jamun mix in stages to bind this . If required add in a few tablespoons of water to bind it well .
  11. Your dough should resemble a big golf ball or a couple of big golf balls depending on the base mix. See that’s the best part, this recipe is entirely scalable to your needs 🙂
  12. Make small lemon sized  ball out of this.  Remember these swell up in the gravy base, so don’t make it too big !
  13. To fry – Fry these in medium to high heat alternate settings in a flavorless vegetable oil.  You need to maintain the temp of the oil using the alternate settings  so you cook it thoroughly . You don’t want burnt kofta balls or a half cooked mess on your hands !

Final prep stages :

  • In a large non stick wide mouth saucepan or kadai , add one tsp of oil. Add in some cumin seeds and on sputtering, add in a tsp of crushed kasuri methi.
  • Add in the purred tomato onion base and the ground masala paste with 1/2 cup of water.
  • Let this boil for a min or two. Check for the salt and pieces and thickness of the gravy, You do not want it too thick or a runny base either. Most likely  you will need to add in 1/2 tsp of chili powder if you need to up the spice ante and some salt to taste. You will also notice a possible oil separation on the top layer. Turn off the stove or maintain it in low heat, until ready to serve.

 To serve: Kofta buildup

Do this just before serving dinner. Nope you cannot do it ahead of time. And if  you do it ahead of time, the kofta balls will get too mushy and soggy.

Place the required number of warm koftas in a serving bowl and add the hot gravy to it. That’s it.

No need to mix or swirl or anything else. A swirl of fresh cream can do wonders and turn this faux dish to near authentic. But honestly, drenching the balls with the gravy and garnishing it with cilantro is just good enough.

Serve it with hot phulkas and a cup of steaming basmati rice !

Lip smacking!!

 

 

Cashewnut Burfi or Kaju Burfi – Fudgy, Pudgy Squares Of Ambrosia Joy!

And bang it begins. Amidst all the craziness of kids being kids, Halloween parties and older one’s FLL meetings, I craved for “me” time. Usually it would mean that I would slink away with a book to my room . It has a nice cozy spot overlooking the backyard and I would love watching the birds and the occasional deer that would venture out nearer. Sometimes it would mean trying to look for the “yet – to bloom-leaf” on the apple tree or simply purging stuff from the closet. Any and all of the above is done with music. It is amazing how many cues I can give . MS Subbalakshmi soothes my soul and AR Rahman might perk me up. But Ilayaraja can give me company anytime on my “me” time and punk music accompanies me when I am scrubbing things out. But today was different. It has been a crazy day so far and I yearned to make something which required minimal ingredients, but gave great results. In simple words, I was looking for instant gratification –  amazing results with minimal effort for Diwali preparations:-)

All  of my kids love kaju katlis. But seriously I craved for the melt in the mouth kind of ones. I mean kaju katlis are wonderful, but i just wanted that extra crunch and bite in my mithai this time. So in mash-mash of requirements with simplicity as the theme, here we have Mom’s favorite nut burfi.

Prep time : 10 min

Cook time : 30-40 min

Yield : about 36-40 burfis ( depending on the size). Caution : constant sampling will cause zero yield.

Ingredients:

  1. Raw cashew nuts, coarsely powdered : 2.25 cups
  2. White sugar : 2 cups
  3. Water: 2 cups
  4. flavorless oil or 2 tsp ghee to coat the plate or baking pan in which you would pour out the fudge to settle.

Method:

  • Coarsely powder the raw cashew nuts to yield about 2.25 cups of yield.
  • In a large, thick bottomed pan add in the sugar and water and let it boil to create sugar of single thread consistency. I just maintained the heat in medium flame and this was achieved in about 12-15 minutes.
  • Add in the coarsely powdered cashews and stir in to avoid lumps.
  • The gooey, bubbling mass of goodness will soon thicken and will sort of roll in . I altered the heat setting s between low – medium as I did not want to brown the bottom of the burfi.
  • In about 10-15 minutes or so you would notice the mixture leaving the sides of the pan and sort of come together. If in doubt stir in a bit longer.
  • Now dump out the contents on your greased setting surface, even out the top layer using a greased flat spatula  and using a greased knife, cut in the still hot burfi mass to yield desired shapes. The burfi should set in about 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cut.
  • Cool it to room temperature and store in an airtight container.

Notes:

  • The cashew nuts powder easily at room temperature.
  • I used a nonstick heavy bottomed pan, therefore no grease was used in the cooking process.
  • Cut in the squares or diamond shapes quickly before the fudge settles in. Obviously you are not going to be successful, if it hardens .
  • Using a square baking tray will give you uniform pieces. But I just wanted mine to have diversity.

Coconut Ladoos – Snowy, pillowy, soft ,gooey balls of goodness

I was running ragged between the kids and their classes !  Yep! During such moments of insanity that creep in albeit briefly is born the desperate sense of recipe development and sense to accomplish a thing or two .. more like a stress buster. You see , I was the kind to clean up my room before the exam fever [pitched is high. I had to de stress and often cleaning organizing and making lists would be on my hit list. Somehow a visual task list with hit list of things to do would  create a sense of order in the chaotic turbulence that prevails within me. And I have been ragged royally on it as well.. my  cousins and sisters in spirit Anu and Kris have perfected the art!

And out of sheer desperation in purging out things from the pantry I noticed that I had one too many cans of condensed milk ( apparently I did shopping without a list, Tsk Tsk ) and a bag of desiccated coconut flakes ( which of course snuck into my pantry cause I could not find decent coconuts once upon a time in NC when I desperately needed one. Sigh! Hence decided a packet or two of desiccated coconut flakes with a rehydration experiment should work . To cut a long story short  and chemistry theories aside I had an extra packet of this). And there was an impending urgency in me to create something that was not assaulting  my kids blood level with tons of sugar. (Really, have you noticed  a 5 year old on a sugar high. Know those bouncy balls? My youngest could put it to shame. And my middle one, she can talk nonstop on it for hours. My oldest though is strangely immune to outburst of these kind, but his  witty , sarcastic one liners reach new high . Go figure!). Notice how DH is not in the picture, cause somehow globetrotting on work seem to throw up an invisible shield around him ( sarcasm folks !). May the force be with him ! Anyway I did manage to save a few for him.

Ingredients:

  1. Fat Free condensed milk – 14 oz
  2. Unsweetened Desiccated coconut flakes – 3-3.5 cups depending on the store brand and quality
  3. Cardamom pods : 6-8 – roughly pounded
  4. Saffron a few strands
  5. Melted butter or ghee – 1 tbsp to coat your hands when you make those ladoos and to grease the baking pan

Procedure:

  1. In a heavy bottomed ban, add in the condensed milk and 3.5 cups of desiccated coconut flakes and mix well. Add in the powdered cardamom pods and saffron.
  2. On medium heat in about 8-10 minutes, you will notice the mixture clumping together.If at this stage you notice that the condensed milk has not bound in the flakes and you still feel it a bit more liquify, add in more coconut flakes. About 1/4 cup or so.
  3. Once the desiccated coconut flakes absorb in the milk and sugar from the condensed milk and is more softer to touch , it will be in very thick fudge consistency.
  4. Scoop it out in a greased 8 by 8 inch baking pan. Flatten the surface using the spatula and parchment paper.
  5. While it is cooling down, slice it up. ( chilled mine in the refrigerator . What can I say, I am impatient !)
  6. You can serve it as fudge slices or soft burfis at this stage.
  7. To make Ladoos, grease your palms well, pick up a sliced buffi piece and roll it into those pillowy soft balls of goodness.
  8. Roll in a cup of desiccated coconut after that to give the effect and texture.

 

Notes:

  1. Don’t have desiccated coconut flakes? Use fresh. It will take a bit longer to get to the fudge consistency in the cooking time, but hey it will be worth it.
  2. Don’t have unsweetened coconut flakes, try the mildly sweeter version. The condensed milk has enough sugar to offset the unsweetened flakes. This version would have a little more sugar in the punch. But, hey then again, each one’s taste – o – meter for sugar tolerance and requirement varies.
  3. Don’t have coconut flakes? try coconut powder instead. But just make sure they rehydrate well.
  4. Want to add in nuts? feel free. Almonds, Pistachios and more…
  5. How about dried fruits? Go on try what comes to your mind, raisins, cranberries , dates…

Yield: About 18 – 24 ladoos.