Category Archives: Indian Cooking Series

Easy Butter Paneer Masala Recipe

What do you do when you need to cook dinner and you have nothing fresh in the house?  This recipe came about on just such an occasion. We were having last-minute company for dinner and I had nothing… I dug around in my pantry and found a carton of Organic Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup, a can of diced tomatoes, and then I found the very last onion in the house… and of course I always have Indian spices on hand.  This is the recipe that came out of that near-disaster (almost an “order pizza night”).  I give you…”Easy Butter Paneer Masala.”
Much to my surprise this tasted good (even to my Indian husband and our Indian friends)! We like the flavor that the soup base gives to the dish.  Feel free to add more of the soup (it comes in larger cartons as well) depending on how much “gravy” you like. I usually make Indian food from scratch, and stick to a tried and true recipe, but this turned out really well & I’ve made it several times since.  Of course the second time I made it, I couldn’t remember what I had done the first time I made it…
So let me know if you give it a try.  How about you, ever come up with a great recipe to get yourself out of a bind?  If so, are you able to recreate those truly inspired recipes a second time? Or do you prefer to stick to those faithful old family recipes?
Easy Butter Paneer Masala
Ingredients:
  ● 3 tbsp ghee
  ● 8-10 oz. Paneer (Indian cheese), cubed
  ● 1 tsp. onion seeds
  ● 1 tsp. jeera seeds
  ● 1 large onion, diced
  ● 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  ● 1 stick of cinnamon
  ● 1 green chili, split in half
  ● 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  ● 16 oz of organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup
  ● salt and pepper to taste
  ● 1 tbsp flour, mixed with warm water to thicken curry
  ● 1/4 cup fresh cream
  ● 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
Directions:
Melt the ghee, add in the onion, onion seeds and jeera seeds.  Add onions and cook until onions are translucent.  Add in the diced tomatoes.  Stir in cinnamon stick & ginger garlic paste and green chili.  Add paneer – stir until paneer starts to brown.  Add in roasted red pepper and tomato soup.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to reduce a bit.  Mix in the flour and water paste and stir until thickened.   Stir in the cream and garnish with cilantro just before serving.  Serve over rice or with naan or chapatti.

Cooking for Indian Company

We do a lot of entertaining in our house – everyone knows in Indian culture hospitality is a huge thing! (click here to see my earlier crash course on Indian hospitality) So recently we had an Indian family stay with us for a few days, and it was up to me do plan the menu. This family has just recently immigrated to North America, and they are eager to try typical “American” foods, however, from my previous experience, I’ve found that it is best not to just rush out to McDonald’s for the very first meal, instead, I like to try and ease my company into American foods a little at a time by providing home cooked meals that blend the flavors of East and West.
I like to make sure these fusion meals have some familiar aspects of Indian food, but still remain true to their Western heritage. So here are a few ideas I’ve come up with to help bridge the gap between East and West…
  • Make sure you serve rice if possible (especially if you are hosting South Indians). From my husband’s own mouth: “Sometimes I just don’t feel full unless I’ve had my rice!”
  • Try and make something with a sauce or gravy – even if it has no flavors of curry – gravy is a huge theme in many Indian dishes
  • Remember to spice it up a little! Most Indian palettes are used to flavorful cooking – so broiled chicken and steamed veggies probably won’t get you rave reviews among Indian circles!
  • Meat doesn’t have to be the star – experiment and see what you can do with veggies and starches – in most Indian households, meat is not eaten in huge quantities like it is in the West. My husband’s uncle and aunt moved to America years ago, and invited their new colleagues over for a meal. They served the meal family style, and they were horrified to find that all the meat was finished by the time it reached the third person!
  • Always have a dessert – from my experience Indians are like everyone else in the world – they love their sweets and they will be more than willing to try some of your sweets too – chocolate cake, here we come!
Here are a few “Western” meals I’ve had success serving to Indian guests:
  • Biscuits and Gravy (with hot sauce on the side)
  • Pot Roast with lots of Gravy and Rice, served with hot sauce on the side (if you are entertaining non-vegetarians, that is!)
  • Indian Style Pizzas
  • Baked Beans & Potato Salad
  • Green Bean Casserole & Corn Casserole
  • Sweadish Meatballs with extra gravy and Rice (you could make these veg as well)
  • Try going south of the border – Enchiladas and other Mexican foods are very similar to Indian – tortillas make great chapattis!
  • Did I mention chocolate cake already?
What about you? Do you stick to Indian only cooking with Indian guests or do you try and introduce them to other cuisines? I’d love to get some new ideas on fusion meals, so speak up if you have had success in this area before!

Making Chapatis in Style!

We’ve been trying to eat healthier lately, and I realized that store-bought tortillas/chapattis are full of preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients. So why not just get really good at making chapattis at home? Well, I’ve tried making tortillas/chapattis from scratch before, but lets just say they don’t come out very round! (incidentally, my first “cooking lesson” from my Mother-in-law – the week after we got married was making homemade chapattis – I tried to pay attention, but I don’t think the lesson stuck very well!)

I needed help! So I did a little online research and found these electric flat bread makers that double as a tortilla press. Hmmm….sounded promising! So I begged for one for my birthday. I happily unwrapped this Chef Pro Flat Bread Maker and I couldn’t wait to try it out.
Since the goal here was to make this as easy as possible, I made the dough in my food processor with the dough blade attachment and then took it out and kneaded it by hand a little. (I’ve since found that it is just about as easy to mix it by hand as it is to pull out and dirty a food processor or mixer). I let the dough rest for a bit (cover with a damp towel to keep the dough from drying out).

Meanwhile I pre-heated the Flatbread Maker in the open position…

When it is good and hot, insert a ball of dough…


Close the lid, and press and release a few times to let the steam escape.
And? Voila! A ROUND preservative-free Chapatti!

My first attempt wasn’t too bad. I did realize halfway through that I should be pressing harder to make them thinner. The first few were a lot smaller in diameter and thicker.


A few tips that I’ve picked up since that first attempt on making great chapattis:
  • Start out with 2 cups of flour (all whole wheat or half all-purpose)
  • Add water and salt – to make a smooth dough
  • Kneed well (another secret for soft chapattis! You can also ad oil or ghee to the dough for a softer dough), once the dough is a smooth consistency, let it rest for 10-20 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into 1.5 or 2 inch sections and roll into round balls (roughly the size of a golf ball). Make sure the balls are smooth and crack-free. (otherwise you’ll end up with oddly shaped chapattis!)
  • When cooking, flip the chapatties a few times and apply gentile pressure with the lid of the Flat Bread Maker to help the chapattis to puff up.

Hey it works for me – and I find it a lot more fun than rolling out dough with my rolling pin! What about you? Do you make chapattis at home? Would you try a electric press or a manual press, or just do it the “old-fashioned” way?

Chai


We are totally addicted to chai these days. I’ve always liked it, but in the past, I was too lazy intimidated to make it myself. My Mother-in-law makes wonderful chai for us when she visits from India. But when she wasn’t around, we just tended to go without.

My husband and I were talking a few months ago about how we’re always rushing around in the morning and never take time to connect before we start our day. So we decided to have “Chai dates” every morning before we go to work. (I’ll admit, we still don’t do

this every morning, but it is a fairly regular event now – and we both love it!)
So in order to make these “chai dates” happen, I had to…learn how to make chai. So I called up my MIL and got her recipe. After some trial and error, I think I’ve mastered it.
Here’s the recipe and a few pointers for beginners. (By the way, everyone makes chai differently – so feel free to experiment and try out new stuff!)
Ingredients:
Equal parts: Milk & Water
Fresh Ginger (grated – 1 tsp or so)
Green cardamom pods (opened – 3-4)
Cloves (4-5)
Cinnamon sticks (1-2)
Sugar (to taste)
Loose Tea Leaves (2-3 tsp.)
Directions:
I usually make chai for just the two of us, so I start out by filling one teacup full of water and one of milk (that way I know I’ll get a full 2 cups). Dump the liquids into a sauce pan and turn the heat on to medium-high.
Next, add some fresh ginger,* and all the spices. Bring to a boil.** Remove from heat. Add sugar and stir. Finally add loose tea leaves and let it brew for a minute or two until it is strong enough for your tastes. Strain out the tea leaves and spices, serve and enjoy!
*At first I added chopped up fresh ginger, but I found that you use a lot less if you grate the ginger (with a cheese grater) straight into the saucepan. Go light on the ginger until you find out how strong you like it – the first time I grated it, we had some super strong ginger-tea!
**Do not turn your back on the saucepan – the minute you do, it WILL boil over. Just ask me…
Other tips:

Cardamom pods can be tricky to open. The best method is to open it from the flatter end, not the end that is pointy. They look like a banana, but you want to open cardamom opposite than you would a banana. It is waaaay easier, let me tell you!

Use whole milk, chai will never turn out as rich as it does in India unless you use whole milk!!! (we also use non-homogenized)
Please don’t use those “chai-tea” mixes (WHY do people insist on calling it Chai-tea?? That’s like saying Tea-tea) …it is really fun and not too difficult to make chai yourself.
Other Chai resources:
A great thread in the IndianTies forums: Chai
Do you have a chai addiction? How do you get your fix? Tips – favorite recipes? We want to know!


Indian Cooking Series: Spices

I’d say one of the most important things when marrying someone from another culture is an appreciation of each other’s native foods. Thankfully, I’m in love with Indian food almost as much as my husband is, and I also enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes.

One thing that was overwhelming when I started cooking Indian food, was the sheer number of spice combinations that needed to be used! I’m not talking about cooking Indian food with “curry powder” – that’s cheating in my book! Anyhow, in addition to the complex spice blends, many of the authentic recipes that I had collected used the Indian names for the spices. I was able to learn which spice was which over time, and am now able to switch seamlessly between the Indian names & English names. This skill is useful when sending recipes to my non-Indian friends & family.

So in hopes to help others who are just learning Indian cooking, here are a few of the common Indian spices and their English equivalents. If you’re just building up your Indian spice cabinet, these spices are good to have on hand.



English Spice Hindi Tamil
Asafoetida Hing Perungayam
Bay Leaf Tej patta Talishapattiri
Cardamom Elaichi Elakkai
Chillies Mirch Milagai
Cinnamon Dalchini ilavangkam
Cloves Laung Krambu
Coriander Dhania Kothamalli vidai
Corriander Leaves (Cilantro) Hara dhania Kothamalli
Cumin Jeera Jeeragam
Curry Leaves Karipatha Kariveppilai
Fennel Saunf
Fenugreek Methi Venthiyam
Garlic Lassan Ulipoondu
Fresh Ginger Adrak Injin
Lime Nimbu Elumichai
Mint Pudina Pudina
Mace Javithri Jathipatri
Mango Powder Aamchur
Mustard Seeds Rai Kadugu
Nutmeg Jaiphal Jathikkai
Pepper Kali Mirch Milagu
Saffron Kesar
Tamarind Pulp Imli Puli
Turmeric Haldi Manjal

Once you’ve stocked up on your spices, make sure to follow these tips for storing them so they maintain their optimal freshness and flavor…
  1. Keep the spices in a cool, dark place – free from moisture and humidity. A spice dabba is a fun and practical solution.
  2. Ground spices can retain their flavor for around a year – whole spices retain their flavor much longer. Try grinding your own spices for a more intense flavor. (use a mortar & pestal or a coffee grinder)
  3. Keep rarely used spices in airtight containers in the freezer.

Stay tuned for more in the Indian Cooking Series.