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The one vegetarian dish I always order whenever I am eating out at an Indian restaurant has to be paalak paneer. Though I may sometimes be tempted by dal makhani or baigan bharta when I look up a menu card, my final choice has to include the famous spinach gravy from North India even when I happen to order a thali meal for a quick lunch. With time, I learnt to make paalak paneer at home combining young spinach leaves from the local market and freshly made cottage cheese to match the ‘restaurant’ taste and texture of the restaurant of this favorite dish of mine. The recipe, from MyFoodStory, is one I have used many times with consistently outstanding results using minimum effort. The bright green spinach colour comes through nicely and the gravy gets much of its creamy texture from a blend of cashew nuts and tomato puree, which is best enjoyed along with a spicy masala curry and piping hot naans.

 

PAALAK PANEER

Ingredients:

5 cups spinach

1-2 green chilies

5 garlic cloves

1-inch fresh ginger

1/2 cup cashew nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-inch cinnamon stick

1 dried bay leaf

2 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 large tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons kasuri methi

2 tablespoons heavy cream

200g paneer, cut into cubes

Kitchen salt, to taste

Method:

  • Blend together fresh spinach leaves, chilies, ginger, garlic cloves and cashew nuts in blender.

  • Add 1/2 cup water and blend till smooth. Heat olive oil in a pan, add cinnamon and bay leaf.

  • Add cardamom pods and saute the spices for one minute, then add minced garlic and onions.

  • Cook onions till they are translucent and add tomatoes, coriander powder and salt to the pan.

  • Mix and cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes till the tomatoes are soft. Pour in spinach mixture.

  • Add kasuri methi to the pan and mix well. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to a simmer.

  • Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt, if it is required.

  • Add cream and paneer to gravy. Mix gently so as not to break paneer and cook for one minute.

  • Ladle the palak paneer into a serving dish and serve hot with naan or rice. Makes 6 servings.

Paalak Paneer

With the start of Navratri festivities, houses and surroundings have been cleaned and dusted to welcome Maa Durga into our homes and hearts. Devotees fast and pray for a 10-day duration to invoke the blessings of the divine Mother who is worshipped as a different avatar on each day. While some undertake strict fasting, consuming only fruits and water during the day, others restrict themselves to vegetarian meals and sweets. One of my staple go-to recipes during this pious period is the classic jackfruit curry, well known as carri zak among locals.

Jackfruit is a large tough skinned vegetable that is readily available in many backyards but if you have trouble locating the plant next door, you will find it easier to get skinned and sliced jackfruit in strategic bazaar/market locations or even supermarkets these days. If you have to deal with a whole fresh fruit right off the tree, the recipe below starts off with some important tips to do away with the sticky sap. The fleshy, meat-like texture of jackfruit can then be added to simple curries as well as more elaborate dishes like biryani or pulao.

JACKFRUIT CURRY/ CARRI ZAK

Ingredients:

1 large unripe jackfruit

2 large potatoes, peeled

1 large brown onion, sliced

1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric/ safran

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon kitchen salt

1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste

3 large tomatoes, chopped

Fresh curry leaves/ fey carri poulet

Fresh coriander leaves

Method:

  • Raw jackfruit gives off a thick and sticky whitish secretion that makes it difficult to cut and clean up.

  • It is important to prepare the work surface by covering it with sheets of newspaper to prevent stains.

  • Keep vegetable oil ready in a small container. Grease the blade of sharp knife with oil before cutting.

  • Grease both of your palms well with oil before starting to cut through the thick skin of raw jackfruit.

  • Cut the fruit into 2-inch slices and remove the skin. Next remove the thick central part of each slice.

  • Remove any large seeds, chop each piece into chunks. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

  • Blanch the chopped jackfruit in a large pan of boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes till it softens.

  • Drain well and set aside. Cut potatoes into quarters and boil them till soft but still holding its shape.

  • In a frying pan, fry onions until translucent. Add the spices, salt and ginger-garlic paste and stir fry.

  • Cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup water, cook it for 5 minutes.

  • Add blanched jackfruit and boiled potatoes to sauce and cover pan. Simmer over medium low heat.

  • After 15 minutes, remove curry from heat and sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves before serving.

Zak dan Masala

With the scare surrounding animal borne diseases like Salmonella and Foot and Mouth Disease over the past few weeks, the Mauritian population has been shunning meat and poultry in favour of less suspicious sources of animal protein such as fish and seafood. Many have abandoned the meat section for safer plant based preparations. Tofu is one such healthy option that has been attracting more interest these days. Commonly known as teokon in Mauritius, this soya derivative makes a good substitute for both vegetarians and vegans. You will find it in the vegetable section of most supermarkets next to fresh produce and noodles. Though I almost always add tofu to a rougaille/tomato based sauce, I deviated from my usual method of preparation with this stir-fry recipe from BBC GoodFood. The marinated crispy tofu cubes – piled on layers of crunchy veggies and strands of rice vermicelli – pack loads of nutritious elements in a single bowl and will surely make you forget about any dangerous bacteria that has been driving everyone crazy lately.

TOFU VEGETABLE STIR FRY

Ingredients:

For the Tofu Marinade

195g extra-firm tofu

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

2 cm piece ginger, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the Stir-Fried Noodles

85g vermicelli rice noodle

3 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 spring onion, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2 cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped

100g pak choi/ brede tom pouce

50g fresh bean sprouts

1 large red pepper, sliced

50g corn kernels, drained

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 lime, freshly squeezed

1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander

Method:

  • Drain the tofu by placing on several sheets of kitchen paper on a plate, with several more on top.
  • Put a heavy weight on top of the tofu and leave it for at least 15 minutes. Cut the tofu into cubes.

  • Make the marinade by mixing together remaining ingredients. Put the tofu cubes in small bowl.
  • Add marinade, cover and leave for 30 to 60 minutes. Cook noodles as per package instructions.

  • Drain and sit them in a bowl of cold water. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add the tofu cubes.
  • Fry tofu cubes till hot and crispy. Before removing tofu from pan, add any remaining marinade.

  • Let it sizzle for 10 seconds. Place the cooked tofu on a warm plate; cover with foil to keep warm.
  • In a frying pan or wok, heat oil over high heat. Add the spring onion, garlic, red chilli and ginger.

  • Stir constantly for about 1 minute, then add bean sprouts, pak choi, peppers and corn kernels.
  • Stir for another 1 to 2 minutes, then add the cooked noodles. Toss well, then add the soy sauce.

  • Add lime juice and mix until well combined. Remove from the heat and divide between 2 bowls.
  • Top each bowl with tofu and drizzle over any juices. Sprinkle with the coriander before serving.

Eat healthy, eat safe!

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PrerrnaMirchi
Mauritius

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