Indian Food Feast, Part 2: Chana Paneer and Aloo Palak

(For how to make Paneer, see Part 1)

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So, Karla! Before I dive into this awesome recipe, I just wanted to note how clear it is that you live in California, and I live in Chicago. All your recipes are sunny and light, since you’re already well into the spring, whereas Chicago is definitely not quite there yet. Have I mentioned that 30-something and raining is the BEST weather? Thank you, weather gods.

While you’re going Paleo, I can’t stop thinking about heavy soups, curries, cheese, etc. Oh well. I guess I’ll get into the summer mentality eventually.

Regardless, next time you have a chilly, rainy night, this stuff is sure to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. To round out our Indian food feast, Beata and I decided to make Chana Paneer (Cheese with Chickpeas) and Aloo Palak (Potatoes with Spinach.) The Chana Paneer was great (the chickpeas are so silky, oh my god…) but I have to say, I LOVED the simplicity of the Aloo Palak. The potatoes cooked up in no time, the spices were simple and tasty, and curry spinach will get me every time. It’s such a flavor blast! I felt the same way with the spinach in the Moghalai Chicken.

Ok, so without further ado… our menu. First, you have to start with a spice blend. Just about all curries require some sort of garam masala to start. What I didn’t anticipate at first is how many DIFFERENT garam masalas there are! This one is fennel based.

Spice Blend

Spice Blend

Balti Masala (Fennel-Flavored Toasted Spice Blend)

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds from black pods
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks (each ~3in. long), broken into smaller pieces
2 teaspoons cayenne (ground red pepper)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the whole spices (reserving the cayenne, nutmeg, and any ground substitutes you may have to use.) Toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds, until they become highly fragrant and browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Immediately transfer the nutty-smelling spices to a plate to cool. (The longer they sit in the hot skillet, the more likely it is that they will burn, making them bitter and unpalatable.) Once they are cool to the touch, place them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. (If you don’t allow the spices to cool, the ground blend will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat, making the final blend slightly “cakey.”) The ground blend will be a deep reddish brown and the arome will be sweet and complex, very different from those of the pre-toasted and post-toasted whole spices. Stir in the cayenne and nutmeg.

3. Store the mix in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat, and humidity, for up to 2 months. (In my opinion, refrigerating the blend adversely affects its flavors.

So, once you have your spice blend all set, or maybe even while it is cooling, you can start the curries. Each one requires a good amount of attention, although they’re relatively quick to put together. You can do them in whichever order you’d like.

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Aloo Palak

ALOO PALAK (Chunky Potatoes with Spinach)
from 660 Curries

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 pound russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes, and submerged in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, well rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded fresh coconut; or 1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted. (To reconstitute: cover with 1/2 cup boiling water and set aside for 15 minutes, drain.)
8 to 10 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices (do not remove the seeds)
10 medium-size to large fresh curry leaves

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle and turn reddish brown, about 5 seconds. Add the turmeric, which will immediately turn the oil yellow. Then pour in 1 cup water, which will instantly boil.

2. Drain the potatoes, and add them to the pan along with the salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fork-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Pile the spinach into the pan, cover it, and let the spinach wilt, about 2 minutes. Then add the coconut, chiles and curry leaves. Stir, and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve.

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Chana Paneer

CHANA PANEER (Chickpeas with Pan-fried Cheese)
from 660 Curries

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 or 2 fresh green  Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, stems removed
1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon balti masala (see below)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas
8 ounces paneer
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems for garnishing

1. Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish brown, and smell fragrant, 5 to 10 seconds. Add the onion and chiles and stir-fry until the onion is light brown around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomato, salt, masala, and turmeric. Lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomato softens, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the chickpeas and 1 cup water. Bring the curry to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

4. Fold in the paneer and the cream, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the cheese and cream are warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

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1 Comment

Filed under Vegetarian

One response to “Indian Food Feast, Part 2: Chana Paneer and Aloo Palak

  1. Karla M.

    HAH, Damnit I should make it a rule not to check the blog around midnight. Making me hungry all over again. Think sleep, no wait food, no sleep?… AGH!

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