I could well describe the 25th of January 1989 as one of the happiest days of my life. My sister and I got back from school to the wonderful news that we now had a baby brother. And with much excitement and cheer we went around sharing the news in the neighbourhood.
I came home from school each day, looking forward to seeing and holding my tiny baby brother. And as he grew, we only grew closer. There were times when I told him stories and played with him. A man of few words, even back then and not one to express his emotions easily, imagine my surprise and joy when my little 8 year old brother walked a long distance and crossed a busy road just to get me a birthday card with a hand written note.
And now my precious baby brother has blossomed into an incredibly mature, level headed, intelligent and philosophical young man. And there is also a role reversal of sorts. I seek his advice, well knowing that I will always get a practical and intelligent answer. I can also share my woes, pains and joys, discuss my aspirations, just like how I would with a dear friend. He not only listens but also understands!
When my brother came visiting last week, I spent a major part of my time in the kitchen for a day and a half, cooking his favourites. Doing a project in a far flung god forsaken location means that he is deprived of good food. I froze hearing about the type and kind of food he has been eating and tried to give him my best for a day and a half! And needless to say it was a feast for us too. We revelled with south Indian breakfasts, Masala Dosa and Idli Chutney Sambar. I cooked up one of his favourites, a bubbling pot of hot and spicy Rasam on the day he arrived for dinner. One lunch was a typical havyaka meal that included Huli and Beetroot Sasive. Alas there was no time to cook up his other favourites, Chinese and Continental stuff as his first preference was for the foods he grew up with.
One of the meals that I cooked for him was this Paneer Makhani with Peas Pulao, served with Cucumber Raita. I have been wanting to share this recipe where the paneer cubes are folded into a lightly spiced yet amazingly flavourful tomato sauce resulting into a lip smacking dish. A recipe that is quite close to my heart. I have been waiting for the right occasion and the time for this had arrived. I served Paneer Makhani with a spiced Pea Pulao. The Pulao was easily one of the best that I have created in my kitchen. Filled with fresh herbs like mint and cilantro and dry spices it is the perfect combination for the paneer. When the paneer is mixed with this rice and eaten, you would experience one of the best and flavourful taste sensations. That said, both the paneer makhani and the matar pulao have great individual character and capacity to stand alone. You could serve the paneer makhani with rotis or naan and the pulao with any other curry or just by itself. This was rounded off with a soothing raita. A meal that was so satiating that we relished it to the core!
If you are looking for a party recipe, a family get together or a menu for a sunday brunch, or have many mouths to feed for an occasion this will surely please and comfort you and your loved ones.
As the time came to bid adieu, I packed him a bag of dates to snack and also my new favourite cake, another very special recipe that I will share with you soon on a very special occasion.
Paneer Makhani/ Paneer Cheese In A Spiced Tomato Gravy
Kasuri Methi or dried fenugreek leaves add taste and flavour to Indian dals and curries. Besides it is healthy too. If you don’t have it, you could leave it out, but do try and get hold of it for the lovely taste it adds here.
750 gm, 9 to 10 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
750 ml (2 1/2 cups) water
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
3 big cardamom (crushed)
3 tsp kasuri methi, dried fenugreek leaves
3 tbsp ghee
¾ tsp red chili powder
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp brown sugar
½ cup/125 ml cream
1 tsp butter (optional)
2 tsp salt
500 gm (1 lb) paneer, cubed into 1” pieces
In a medium sized saucepan or wok, heat the ghee and add the tomatoes, water, ginger, bay leaves, kasuri methi and cardamom and cook till the tomatoes are pulpy. Allow to cool.
In a blender or food processor grind the tomatoes to a fine puree . Strain the puree using a soup strainer or a wire mesh.
Return the puree to the saucepan and add the red chili powder, sugar and salt and put it to cook over a medium flame. Once, it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and stir in the cream, butter if using and garam masala powder.
Put in the paneer pieces and serve after half an hour. This way the paneer soaks in the gravy and the spices resulting in a more flavourful dish.
Matar Pulao/Pea Pilaf
All the spices here are the usual ones used in Indian cooking except shahi jeera known as black cumin seeds which are darker and smaller in comparison to regular cumin seeds. I prefer using shahi jeera in certain pulaos and biriyanis. If you don’t have it on hand then replace it with regular cumin seeds.
500 gm (2 1/2 cups) basmati rice
300 gm (2 cups) frozen or freshly shelled peas
875 ml (3 1/2 cups) water
3 1/4 tsp salt or to taste
To be ground into a paste:
2 cups fresh mint leaves (pudina)
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
2 green chilies
1 tbsp fresh ginger
For the seasoning:
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp caraway seeds (shahi jeera) or cumin seeds
1 tsp asafetida
1 bay leaf
2” piece cinnamon broken into bits
4 cardamom pods
6 to 8 peppercorns
Wash the rice atleast twice, cover with enough water and allow to soak for any time between half an hour to one hour.
In a blender or food processor, place all the ingredients for grinding and grind to a very fine paste using very little water, about 2 to 3 tbsp water.
After the rice is soaked, remove all the water with the help of a strainer or colander and keep aside.
In a wok, heat the oil for seasoning over a medium flame and add in all the spices, one by one stirring all the while. Put in the ground paste, lower the heat a little and cook until the oil separates from the paste and the raw smell disappears, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and the peas and mix gently so that you dont break the tender rice grains. Put in the water and the salt and transfer all the contents to an electric rice cooker and cook till done.
If you dont have an electric rice cooker, prepare the seasoning in a heavy bottomed big pan with lid or a cocotte and once you add the water, bring it to a boil, lower the flame, cover and cook till done, about 15 to 20 minutes.
After the rice is cooked, allow the steam to escape for 2 to 3 minutes and then gently fluff with a fork. This prevents the rice grains from sticking to each other.
Cucumber Raita (Cucumber in Yogurt)
Kala Namak or Black Salt adds a special flavour and taste so try not to replace it.
2 medium sized cucumbers, peeled and chopped fine
400 gm (1 1/2 cups) fresh thick yogurt
1 tsp cumin seed powder
1 tsp black salt (kala namak) or regular salt
In a bowl, put in the yogurt and mix with a spoon until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Serves 6 to 8