If the immense diversity of this city reveals itself in the faces of its people, and if, in turn, those faces can be said to reflect the myriad flavors of this world, then how should one interpret the wearing of “beats by dr dre” headphones by anyone north of 25 years old? With this eternal question in mind, I urge you to consider another conundrum for the ages, which may still puzzle some Hindu theologians: how to take enticing food photography of Indian food with its range of brownish-hued sauces? As we know only too well, appearances are crucial in the food world.
Since the majority of Hindus swear off most meats, dairy and legumes (pulses) are essential proteins for the citizens of the sub-continent, and paneer, a firm, fresh cheese, is an important component of that diet. Paneer – which comes in a variety of styles in India, from super firm to an almost goat-cheese consistency, but is mostly limited to the former in our hemisphere – is something of a strange beast in that it neither melts nor competes for flavor with even the mildest of curries. Also, due to being typically coagulated with lemon juice or vinegar rather than rennet, it somehow manages to be wholly acceptable to vegetarians too.
A perennial, and, likely fruitless, desire to be good food bloggers but also possess the waistlines of triathletes, lately convinced us to expand our palates beyond our customary choices – lamb rogan josh and chicken bhuna – and include a vegetarian option and recipe on these here interwebs. Hardly groundbreaking, we know, but every day is a journey through the world, as described in a previous post, and another recent stop was Patel Brother’s grocery store at the far end of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
Picking up fresh curry leaves, house-ground spices and a fat block of paneer at Patel’s, we ransacked the springtime growth of our tiny garden for English peas and threw together a matar (pea) aloo (potato) paneer curry with some cumin-seed scented basmati rice and some of the best heat ‘em up at home naan bread we’ve had.
Satisfyingly protein-packed and redolent of sub-continental flavors with the curry leaves and toasted spices, it came together in no-time flat. If you have access to good Indian supplies, this can quite easily become part of your weeknight repertoire and, even if you don’t, non-melting mild cheeses (like halloumi) are readily available and good peas are only a freezer section away.
Of course, Dr Dre headphones are almost certainly perfect for listening to all kinds of music, including hip-hop, but when sported by middle-aged business men one can’t help but assume they were borrowed from teenage offspring (who would surely pour merciless scorn on them for it), as which person of that demographic, in our image-conscious world, would risk public approbation and actually buy them? Taking a similar risk with crumby photos of this yellowish-brown dish we humbly request that you overlook appearances and trust us enough to try it.
Adapted from Rick Stein Coast to Coast
- 12oz paneer, cut into inch cubes
- 2 medium starchy potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil – sunflower, safflower, canola, etc.
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1/2 large white onion, diced
- 1 inch piece ginger, chopped finely
- 2 birds’-eye, or other hot green pepper like serrano, chiles, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon each of ground turmeric and ground cayenne pepper
- 1/3 of a 12oz can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or pulled apart
- 1/2lb fresh (or frozen) shelled peas
- 4 tablespoons julienned cilantro (coriander)
- 6 fresh (10 dried) curry leaves
- Heat oil to medium high in a large pan or wok
- Lightly fry paneer until golden on all sides, about five minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.
- Add onions and cook until translucent. Add ginger, garlic and chopped chiles.
- When aromatic, add dry spices and stir well to coat everything in the pan.
- Fry gently for about three minutes.
- Add potato, tomato, curry leaves and peas (if fresh) with 2-3 tablespoons of water.
- Stir well and simmer gently for five minutes before adding paneer.
- Simmer gently for another 5 minutes.
- Season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle in chopped cilantro.
- Serve with naan and pilau rice seasoned with cumin or caraway seeds