Paneer, chickpeas and sweet pointed peppers shak

This is one of those cupboard-raiding recipes that ends up being bloody delicious! It’s a variation of the Paneer Jalfrezi for people who don’t have enough peppers. I wasn’t sure that the chickpeas would work with the paneer as they are both rather subtle in flavour but the pepper really lifts the dish and the roasted cashews add a nice crunchy surprise.

Ingredients:

  • 6 green cardamoms
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 tbs ground nut oil
  • 1 large bayleaf
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion diced finely
  • 2 tbs ginger – garlic paste (made with 2 inches grated ginger and 4 cloves garlic minced then mixed together to form a paste)
  • 1 large green chili chopped finely
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin coriander powder
  • 400g organic chickpeas – drain water and rinse
  • 2 organic sweet pointed peppers – cut off stalk, remove seeds and slice into thin julienne strips
  • 1 block paneer cut into 2 cm cubes
  • 3 tomatoes diced finely
  • 1 tbs tomato puree
  • 6-8 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • Handful of cashew nuts – dry roasted in a pan before hand to make them slightly crunchy
  • Juice of half lemon

Cooking:

  • Put a large sauce pan or frying pan on medium heat and dry roast the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom until they start to smoke slightly. Remove and set aside for later
  • Add oil to the pan, once it is heated add the bay leaf and cumin seeds
  • When seeds start to sizzle add onions and cook until they start to brown, stir frequently to prevent sticking
  • Spoon in the ginger/garlic paste, chili, cloves, cinnamon and cardamoms – stir for a minute or so until the ginger/garlic starts to go a light brown
  • Now add the chili powder, cumin/coriander, turmeric and sugar. Keep stirring and cook for a minute or so until the mix is all well combined
  • Add the chickpeas and peppers stir and cook for about 5 minutes until the peppers begin to soften. Stir frequently.

  • Add the paneer, tomatoes, tomato puree and curry leaves. Mix thoroughly. Turn heat down to low – medium and cook for 5-8 minutes. Check every few minutes and stir.
  • It is ready for salt and lemon when the tomatoes are mushy. Add salt and lemon to taste.
  • Throw in the cashew nuts, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Serve with basmati rice and nice glass of wine. Yum, yum,  yum!!
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Baked ricotta pudding (Faux rasmalai)

Rasmalai is a gorgeous Indian dessert which is made from balls of curds (paneer) which are soaked in a delicious sugar syrup enhanced by cardamon, saffron, pistachios and almonds. BUT and this is a bit BUT, it’s a huge faff to make. A tasty substitute can be achieved using ricotta.

You can find a few ricotta rasmalai recipes online but where’s the fun in that? I completely ignored those and invented my own. The biggest challenge is that ricotta is made from whey which is the liquid discarded when making paneer. But the clever cheese makers out there have found a way to take the whey and make a nice cheese/yoghurt type concoction.

This is an experiment and I hope to perfect it in future but as a first attempt it was bloody tasty so I urge you to try it. The whole thing took less than an hour to make. I hope you enjoy it and if you can suggest improvements, then please don’t be shy, speak UP!

Ingredients:

  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 50g caster sugar (could be reduced to 40g if you are watching your waist as it was a bit sweet)
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1/2 pint full fat cow’s milk (the ordinary stuff you put in your tea)
  • 1 tbs pistachios
  • 4 or 5 strands saffron
  • 7 0r 8 almonds

Preparation:

  • Ricotta cheese: the normal rasmalai has a spongy consistency. To emulate that, I took the ricotta cheese and smoothed it out in a bowl. Stir in the caster sugar and mix well.

  • Cardamom: Dry heat (i.e. without oil) the cardomom seeds in a frying pan or tawa for a few minutes…the kitchen will be filled with this delicious aroma. Then grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar. I was lazy and just picked out the pod cover afterwards (it’s so light you can blow it out but you could lose some of the seeds too). You may prefer to open the pods out and just takes the seeds out for grinding. Mix the ground seeds in with the ricotta and sugar.

  • Pour the mixture into either a flat baking tray (has to be quite small) or into a muffin pan. Only fill to have the height as they rise in the oven
  • Cook in the oven at 150 degrees for about 40 minutes until the mixture sets. Watch out for the mixture burning. Remove and let these cool.

  • Blanch the almonds by soaking them in hot water for 20 minutes. Then remove the skin and chop the almonds into slivers. Set aside.
  • Crush the pistachios and set aside.

Cooking:

  • In a heavy non stick pan, heat the milk over a medium heat. Add the pistachios and saffron. This is going to be the liquid that the ricotta will soak in. In normal rasmalai a sugar syrup is used which absorbs milk from the paneer and goes milky. To emulate the same effect I reduced milk down so that it thickened by boiling it and stirring continuously for about 15 minutes. It’s important to keep stirring the milk to prevent it sticking to the pan and burning.
  • Once it’s reduced, pour over the set cheese and garnish with the almond slivers.
  • Chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Paneer jalfrezi (paneer with onions, peppers and tomatoes)


I was going to make saag paneer (spinach and paneer) but I took a fancy to the paneer jalfrezi recipe in Monisha Bharadwaj’s India’s Vegetarian Cooking.

As usual, I made a few small amendments. The recipe calls for garlic / ginger paste. I couldn’t be arsed with that so just grated the ginger and crushed the garlic. I also added fresh chili as I like my dishes spicey. Finally, I added red pepper too as I had some in the fridge and it looks pretty in Indian dishes. Peppers are a really good source of vitamin C, and red peppers in particular are full of bioflavonoids which helps your immune system and is good for preventing bruising and bleeding.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbs groundnut oil (tel)
  • 1 tsp cumin (jeera)
  • 1 onion – sliced finely (dungri)
  • 1 inch ginger – grated (audoo)
  • 1 large clove garlic – crushed (lusan)
  • 1 small green chili – chopped finely (murcha)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (murcha)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (hurder)
  • 1 tsp salt (nimak)
  • 1 tsp coriander, cumin powder (dhanna jeeru)
  • 1 green bell pepper – sliced finely
  • 1 red bell pepper (optional) – sliced finely
  • 750g paneer (Plumstead bods…I got mine from Superfruits). Diced in 1 inch cubes
  • 2 ripe red tomatoes – diced finely
  • Coriander to garnish

Cooking:


  • In a heavy based saucepan or large frying pan,heat oil then add cumin seeds.
  • Once the seeds are sizzling, add onions and fry until they are soft
  • Add garlic, ginger and chilis. Cook for a minute
  • Add spices and cook until blended well
  • Add the sliced peppers and cook for about 8 minutes. The recipe calls for them to be soft but still holding their shape
  • Add the paneer and tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes
  • Garnish with coriander

Ms Bharadwaj recommends eating this with rotlis but I’m going to have it with plain rice.

Spinach and paneer curry

Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I order this dish as I enjoy it.  The best version in London that I have had is the one from the Punjab in Neal street.  The vagar (sauce it is cooked in) is similar to many of my shaks but hey, it works so why not stick with it!

It is possible to make paneer at home which has a nicer consistency in my view than the shop bought ones. However, I have had some luck with versions bought in Sainsbury and Tesco. It is normally found in the cheese section. Indian groceries will often sell paneer in their chiller sections too.

If you have time, dry roast the cinnamon, cloves and cardamon in a flat pan. Dry roasting means you don’t put in any oil you just add the stuff and let it cook. Cook until you see vapour coming off the ingredients then take off heat. This helps release the flavours.

A general note about the spices – the quantities are not set in stone. You should amend them to fit your taste. The only thing I would watch is the salt as spinach tends to become quite salty. But if you are not a fan of a particular ingredient then leave it out!

Ingredients

2 tbs groundnut oil

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 large dried bayleaf

1 large white onion – diced very finely

3 cloves garlic

1 inch ginger grated

1 – 2 chillies chopped finely

2 sticks cinnamon (about 5 cm long each)

5 cloves

5 green cardamon

1tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

1tsp coriander cumin powder (dhana jeeru)

1tsp salt

2 tomatoes chopped into very small dice. Get very red tomatoes that are fresh.

5 curry leaves

1 pack paneer – open and chop into 2 cm cubes

1 pack baby spinach – wash out all grit

Squeeze of lemon juice

  • Heat oil in a pan and add bayleaf. Heat should be set to medium – you don’t want to burn anything!
  • Add cumin seeds and wait for them to start to sizzle.
  • Add the onion and let them cook until they start to caramelise/brown
  • Add garlic, ginger and chilis and allow to cook for a few seconds
  • Add cinamon, cloves and cardamon – again let cook for a few seconds
  • Keep stirring all these ingredients as you add spices
  • When spices have had time to cook out (shouldn’t take long), add tomatoes and curry leaves
  • Up to this stage, you are making what is known as vagar. It’s the sauce you will put your main ingredients into. The intention is to let the tomatoes reduce.
  • Now add the paneer and ensure it is well coated with the vagar
  • Then add the spinach and let it wilt down.
  • Add water and turn down the heat to a simmer. Let this cook for about 20 minutes. The paneer should be soft and have absorbed much of the vagar. The spinach should be completely wilted
  • Squeeze in the lemon juice, stir, cook for another 2 mins then turn off
  • Garnish with coriander and serve with rice.

I personally think this should be cooked at least 1 hour before it is needed to allow the ingredients to combine. When you are ready to eat it, then you can heat it through gently then serve with rice.