When we lived in Bangladesh, all foreign diplomats were housed in 2 designated enclaves, D.I.T. 1 and D.I.T. 2. I forget what the initials stood for. Most of the Asian restaurants were in these areas; Thai, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian. The sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal, except in the 2 pretty scuzzy international hotels (I saw a rat in the dining room. Eek!). However, special dispensation was given to foreigners and we were allowed to bring our own bottles to the restaurants, which made for very crowded tables with all the multiple Igloo Playmate coolers.
There was a superb Indian restaurant in the Banani section of Dhaka called the Sajna that had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted, outside of London; fish butter masala, dal makhani, butter nan, chicken lollipops. Really good! So good that we would sometimes order lunch boxes delivered to the house on weekends with a tasting selection of our favorite dishes. One of my favorites was paneer do pyaza, a vegetarian dish. Of course I would also include a non-veg selection for balance.
I was thinking about paneer do pyaza last week when I happened upon an authentic Indian food site Monsoon Spice http://www.monsoonspice.com/2007/08/matar-paneer-with-butter-naan.html. What a happy discovery! I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for but I will certainly be returning to this site in the future. Problem is, I don’t have a paneer cheese source. I know, I know you can make it a home but I couldn’t be bothered.
An exhaustive web search for a paneer substitute turned up two options; French faiselle cheese or ricotta. Faiselle is a “fromage blanc” suspended in water. I opened the carton, dumped the cheese in cheesecloth and squeezed some of the water out. Not good enough, tightening the ends of the cheesecloth in a death grip, I squeezed more water out several more times. I remembered that I had read something about weighting the cheese to shape and remove the water. At first I tried the dog food can method.
But soon gave it up for the two black skillet method which seemed to work better but it was still taking time, as the water kept pooling in the bottom of the plate as quickly as I emptied it.
Not to worry, I had bought some ricotta as a back up Unfortunately, the ricotta wasn’t exactly the right cheese; it kept breaking up as I was trying to fry it:( So instead of beautiful little browned squares, I ended up with jagged, irregular morsels.
Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say. But the next time, I going to venture over to the truly horrible Indian restaurant and ask to buy prepared paneer cheese. They must be able to do that.
The following recipe is not exactly the same as on Monsoon Spice but almost. One day I’m going to make their butter naan!
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp piment d’espelette
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp tumeric powder
3 tbsp cashew nuts, broken
1 inch ginger, sliced
3 green cardamoms
3 tbsp coriander, chopped
2 cups paneer cheese, cut into squares
Butter or ghee
1 tbsp fenugreek leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cup water
2 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup cream
1 fresh tomato, chopped
In a food processor, process into a paste the onions, garlic, piment, garam masala, tumeric, cashew nuts, ginger, coriander and cardamoms. Set aside.
Add 2 tbsp of butter to a frying pan and brown the cheese on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Add another tbsp of butter along with the fenugreek, cumin, star anise and bay leaf, then fry for about 3 minutes. Add the spice paste and continue to fry, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, water and salt to taste and simmer until a thick gravy forms.
Add the peas, cheese and cream, continuing to cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the flame and stir in the fresh tomato. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with chapati or naan.