While washing chopping and prepping today I was taken back to a hot summer's evening earlier this year. My husband is a solar site engineer and so while I had visited him at site in Haryana we were invited by one of his juniors to dine with his family in the near-by village. While the initial thoughts regarding that day makes me find it hilarious, such as the young man telling me I should not take my husband's name and how I looked an appropriate wife in a churidar and hoe covering the head brings good luck. Most other days when he would come back with Arvind, I would be in trousers and a cotton overcoat. While I do believe in when in Rome do as the Romans do the idea of suffocating in the heat of June under a scarf was impossible. The family was wonderful and to be fair ti was the most delicious of meals I have ever had. The paneer and dal were exquisite , in no other restaurant of Delhi or Haryana have I tasted that good a dish, rather two dishes. I am naturally fond of clarified butter and it was my day. My remembrance of that day is more focused on the little girl I met in that household. Aged about 9 she was fascinated with this "sheherwali" , head uncovered, wearing a hint of lipstick and after the initial shyness remained attached to me throughout the visit. I guess children across borders in all states and nations are the same. They are full of questions, speak really fast when excited and are intrigued by anything which is different form their surroundings. In our 2 hour long conversation I did learn that her favourite subject was geography and that she loved "palak paneer" "Mujhe na palak paneer bohot hee pasand hai" (i just love palak paneer) (A beautiful curry made with cottage cheese and spinach) , what i do also distinctly remember is her telling me that she hates the kitchen and hates the idea of cooking. While I was craving palak paneer I could not but remember this little girl and could not help hoping that she never is pushed into the kitchen unless she expressly wants to. Here is remembering you little girl , here is hoping that you travel the world and here is hoping you do whatever your heart wants you to do. With Amrit ji's recipe for palak paneer , cooked in clarified butter alone and chapatis with ghee on top this is an evening to remember. Here is to winters and all little girls and hoping they never are pushed into this activity that we all love against their will.
Anyways for those of us who do love cooking here is the recipe. Start by making the paneer. Its all in a day's work.
For the paneer:
1 litre of whole milk
1 tbsp vinegar diluted with 1 tbsp water / 1 cup leftover whey
Bring the milk to a roaring boil and add the diluted vinegar or whey . You shall see the cottage cheese forming in front of your eyes and when the whey has completely separated and you can see white clusters floating about in green water , turn off stove and cover and wait for 5 to 7 minutes. Then transfer everything to a clean thin cloth with a bowl underneath it to collect the whey and drain the water for not more than 10 minutes and then use a big flat bowl to transfer the content and press it down to a slab and then put a weight.
Now here is a trick. Many people use the "sil" of sil-nora. A slab of stone with an oval stone shaped object for grinding but while usign that would make yield set paneer it will be ahrd and we do not want our cottage cheese to be hard so press down with another plate and use something like a stone bowl or a heavy book, not one that can be thrown to injure people wink wink on top for a couple of hours. This way the paneer is soft yet set perfectly. So lets say you start makign it at 11 a.m. , you should be done by 3 p.m. or say 4 p.m. Do reserve the water. It dishes a beautiful unmatched flavour to dishes when used.
For the palak paneer. Now I followed the recipe of Amritji but also took help from my over the years collected ones
So you have your :
1 big bunch of palak / spinach
1 heaped tsp to 1.5 tsp ginger garlic paste
Half a tomato
2 small but not tiny sized onions chopped very finely
2 to 4 green chilies
Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Juice of half a lemon or a bit less.
2 green cardamom
1 tablespoonful to 1.5 tablespoonful of Coriander powder
2 tsp Cumin powder
1 heaped tsp chili powder
Pinch of garam masala
Salt as per taste
Clarified butter about 5 to 6 tablespoon
Start by first thoroughly washing the spinach /palak leaves. The bets way to make certain that you get all the dirt is immersing them in a big bowl of water and washing them with your hands while changing the water twice or thrice or a greater number of times. Now palak is a leafy vegetable with high water content, so you need not add too much of water. Do add a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to ensure that the green colour is maintained. In the meantime make a course paste of ginger and garlic, chop the onions as finely as possible and blend half the tomato.
Now blend you cooked spinach to a smooth paste. Add the chilies when blending and if you cannot handle so much heat just leave the chilies out.
Keep a bowl of warm water ready, I usually use the leftover water from the spinach. Cube the paneer and saute in clarified butter till golden but not beyond that and add them to the warm water. this step ensures that they stay soft and beautiful. Take some clarified butter and add your onions, saute till translucent. Add the garlic ginger paste and cook till done but not browned or worse burnt. Add the spices after smashing them with a mortar and then add the tomato and a wee bit of the spinach water to make a thick paste and add the coriander and cumin powder. Now remember that too much cooking of spinach makes them loose colour. So add the spinach and bring to a quick boil and then simmer and quickly add the paneer and mix real well and add a pinch of garam masala and lemon juice with a bit of clarified butter and transfer to a bowl. The lemon juice aids digestion when taking leafy vegetables. Serve with hot flatsbread smeared with clarified butter.
If you have leftover whey from a previous paneer making session store it in the refrigerator and use it to make paneer the following time you are making it by bring the milk to a roaring boil and adding 1 cup of whey per litre of milk. It takes a bit of time to form the cheese but it gives the softest cheese ever