Friday, February 10, 2012

Kutchi Paneer (Nutty Cheese in a Spinach-Chickpea Flour Sauce)- Jain Style

About 15, maybe 16 years ago, I was hospitalized, for the very first time in my life. The doctor poked my arm with a foot long IV needle and despite my extreme indisposition, I screamed, the young doctor, a novice, had poked the arm incorrectly, all that happened was blood gushed out in a fountain and spread  itself in a small pool on the stark white sheet. I screamed and screamed and screamed ( okay, you get the point) and the doctor shook and shook and shook in his black shiny shoes and nurses rushed here and there, calming nervous patients who thought it was the end of the world and were praying for it to end peacefully and calling upon HIM to help.
Peace was restored and the nervous doctor pleaded with me to remain calm and produced one more foot long (and equally wide) needle  and advanced towards me with slightly shaking knees and a sweaty brow. I threatened to unleash the lung power once more and he guessed  that I would and so hurriedly handed the needle to a pleasant faced nurse ( who managed to calm me and also my dad, who on seeing the fountain of blood gush from my arm had turned white, like the sheet) and made an excuse about rounds or something on those lines and scrammed from there. I never saw him again in the next 10 days that I was in the hospital.
But I saw a lot of visitors, they came, armed with mosambi (sweet limes), every one of them. Soon I felt like mosambi juice was running thru my veins ( the novice doc had already drained all blood from my body) and I was sick and tired of laying down and sipping mosambi juice.. I wanted a plate of pani-puri or bhel  or sev-puri. But I was off that, as per Dr.'s orders for about 6 months! 
Seemed like a life sentence to me.
 I had died and gone to hell.
I could not keep away from a chaat thela  for long, I kept away for 3 months and then I lost it, I needed chaat to survive. So one day, I snuck out and walked to the chaat walla and stood with my back to the street and tried to hide if I saw a familiar face, who would rat on me to my parents. I ordered a Sev-puri ( I judiciously decided pani-puri was out, water being the reason why I had landed in the hospital in the first place). I had to wait (the bhaiyya had many others waiting before me) and whiled away my time looking at what others had ordered and were eating ( I know, please don't raise those brows at me, I was a poor deprived thing.... ) Someone had ordered Jain Sev Puri and I looked in wonder... no potatoes (gulp), no onion (gulp, gulp), no lal mirch chutney ( it has garlic) ... Oh NO! To me, it looked like a punishment, just like my diet when I got out of the hospital, no this, no that, no nothing...... my head began to swim, I needed my sev-puri fix, potato, onion and garlic chutney! 
After that incident, I never took interest in Jain food (where eating out was concerned), I know it is pure and satvic, but I was not ready to give up all my vices. 

Enter Raghavan Iyer with a recipe that sounded awesome even as I read it... and what was amazing was, it was a paneer curry, Jain style! 

Was that possible?  I asked myself... paneer usually swims in a tomato based gravy spiced with ginger- garlic and garam masala, no? Or made with with pickling spices maybe or even the ever popular scramble
And yet, here was a new avatar, sans the usual suspects and to top it all, has chickpea (besan) flour... if you, dear reader, are like me, unaware of this variation, you must be very intrigued and so without further ado, here is the recipe.

Source: 660 Curries
Serves - 6

You Need:

2 Tbs Canola Oil
1 tsp Cumin seeds
2 tsp White, granulated Sugar
11/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 tsp Cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp Coriander seeds, ground
1 tsp Cayenne (ground red pepper)
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Asafetida
1 medium sized Green Bell Pepper (stemmed, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces)
1 large Tomato, cored and finely chopped
8 ounces fresh Spinach leaves, well rinsed and finely chopped
8 ounces Paneer ( cut into 1 inch pieces and pan-fried)
2 Tbs Toasted Chickpea (besan) flour

* To make toasted chickpea flour, dry roast the flour in a pan over medium heat until golden brown and develops an intensely nutty flavor.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and are fragrant

Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the sugar, salt, ground  cumin, ground coriander, cayenne, turmeric and asafetida. The spices will sizzle and smell aromatic. The oil is hot enough to cook them but not burn.

Immediately add the bell pepper and tomato and return the skillet to medium high heat. Cook uncovered , stirring until the tomato softens slightly and the mixture looks sauce- like (2 mins)

Pour 2 cups water into the skillet and bring to a boil. Pile in the spinach, stirring occasionally to wilt the leaves. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until the spinach is olive green and soft and the bell pepper is fork-tender(12-15 mins)

Stir in the fried paneer and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the cheese has softened, about 5 mins.

Sprinkle in the flour, stirring it in quickly to prevent any lumps from forming in the sauce. Bring it to a boil  and cook uncovered, stirring once or twice until the sauce thickens slightly (3-5 mins). Serve with bread of your choice ( Roti/ phulfa/ paratha/ naan).

Enjoy the weekend, Folks! 
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  1. I so agree with you on the 'no onion - garlic ' thing - indeed it seems like u have died and gone to hell :(
    when i see your curry, i raise a brow - this stuff looks great and I can totally eat this and eat this NOW !! awesome clicks and a great recipe- got to bookmark it :) thxs

  2. Lovely recipe, lovely write up :) I had bookmarked thies recipe too from the book..ur clicks are tempting my to try them NOW!!
    Prathima Rao
    Prats Corner

  3. Wow...looks extremely the spice touch in the recipe....

  4. Excellent write up and great clicks,pics are sooper tempting.....

  5. Awesome dish and a wonderful read..:))
    Very pleasant..

  6. This curry looks awesome! :) I have to make it soon. Thanks for sharing. The best thing about 660 curries is that the curries that I make from it all have a homely touch, I have never tasted a prep like the one I make from the book yet it feels like this is how it must be at someone's home...that too a 'sugran's home' :) and the fact that so many delicious possibilities can start without the usual ritual of 'bhuno onion-garlic-ginger-tomato' makes me so happy! I have loved everything I've tried so far - Palak Batatyachi bhaaji (don't shy away from the garlic, it won't dominate the taste), Mirchi nu shaak, Dhingri Josh, and I made Gatte's from the technique given which resulted in the best gattes I've tasted in my life. :) Which other curries have you tried (and loved)?

    - Priti

  7. awesome post and paneer looks super tempting!! :)

  8. Different from the usual paneer recipes. Looks good.

  9. I have tried this and so many other recipes from the book and loved all of them. Looks delicious!!

  10. I was still in shock when I had tasted raw banana batata wada pav....That day I decided that no matter what I love my potatoes and onions and Garlic....untill my neighbour who was a marwadi, showed me a way to cook without onions and garlic. I do try at times, but still wada pav without potatoes and garlic seems like a lost battle for me.
    Love Ash.

  11. Oh, that dish looks so good! Something I'd love to eat at any time of the day.



  12. I love paneer. It is one of my favorite dishes. I will try this one too.


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