It’s a foggy morning here in San Jose. Fog is not something I expect when I’m home in San Jose. Damp grey mornings are a daily occurrence in the beach-side towns of Aptos and La Selva where I grew up and are therefore expected. Waking up to hovering grey clouds of mist obscuring my morning view of downtown San Jose is a bit unexpected.
Grey mornings put me in a reading mood. I thumbed through my growing pile of library books, which after an 8 PM library outing last night now totals eighteen items. I tend to thumb my way through many books at a time, becoming enthralled with a gallery of how-to photos from one cookbook, which inspires me to check out a chapter from another book. You can literally see the leftovers of my thought process as each book I’ve forgotten about lays open on the page I left it at. If Hubby ever wonders what I was doing that day, he can just have a look around the living room, piles of open books, computer left open on a half written blog article, the kitchen counters sprinkled with left over ingredients from that days recipe testing.
I’m comparing cookbooks at the moment. I’ve currently collected nine cookbooks which I’m reading simultaneously. I’ve fallen in love with on particular book at the moment: Sanjeev Kapoor’s How To Cook Indian.
It’s an encyclopedia of every possible Indian recipe you could think of from one of India’s best chefs and most well-known celebrities, known by cooks and non-cooks alike. I’ve tested out a lot of Indian cookbooks in the last year and I never quite know what to expect when delving into a new book; knowing this book was written by Sanjeev Kapoor I knew I was in good hands.photo credit: www.thestar.com
With the sheer array of recipes, I thought cooking my way through his book was a great way to broaden my recipe repertoire and learn a few regional dishes I had never tried before. I’m a fan of a well planned, structured project, so I spent a while planning how I would approach his book. Should I cook my way from cover to cover and see what I can learn?
“Should I cook my way from cover to cover and see what I can learn?“
The thought of eating twenty potato dishes in a row only to be followed by thirty deep-fried snack food before ever reaching the healthier vegetable dishes quickly nixed that approach. Instead, I chose the first recipe from each section: snack foods, drinks, vegetable dishes, paneer dishes, curries and desserts; and decided to cook one from each.
The dish this week that was the biggest surprise was the main vegetable dish. Vegetable and Paneer Jalfrezie. A Jalfrezie dish typically includes onions, bell peppers and chilies; cut larger than the typical small dice and either fried or lightly stir fried. It was originally concocted a tasty way to use up spare leftover ingredients. This vegetarian version replaces the meat with paneer. Paneer, as Hubby refers to it, is a vegetarian’s meat.
It certainly is a tasty dish. The spice level is a bit sneaky and it slowly creeps up on you without noticing, until you’re about to breath fire in the last few bites. You can vary the amount of chilies you use to fit your own level of tolerance. Hubby likes 2 spoons of chili powder while I prefer only one. Hubby’s response to my significantly lower spice threshold is “Be Punjabi”.
Hubby’s response to my significantly lower spice threshold is
” Be Punjabi. “
The prepping and chopping of multiple bell peppers and onions is a bit of a time investment but you can pass the time with some nice music playing in the background, or as I like to do, enjoy listening to one of the Harry Potter audiobooks for the fiftieth time.
Vegetable and Paneer Jhalfrazie
Spicy mixed vegetables with Indian cheese
Adapted from How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor
This is a new recipe in my repertoire and I’m glad I tried it out. The prepping takes a bit of time but the actual cooking time is wonderfully fast. The use of white vinegar and sugar just before serving adds a nice brightness to the dish. I made a few adaptations. I used pureed tomatoes rather than diced tomatoes as Hubby adamantly avoids chunks of tomato. You are welcome to use diced tomato if you wish. I also chose to grate the raw ginger rather than cutting long sticks or a dice because it’s quicker and I can avoid biting into a stick of raw ginger. The last adaptation was pre-cooking the paneer. I got this idea from my friend Ansh who boils a mixture of water and milk, removes it from the heat and soaks the paneer in the hot mixture for 30 minutes. This softens the paneer and can be done at the same time as cooking the recipe, which cuts down the time.
You can find paneer at an Indian grocery store. I’ve also seen it at my local Costco, but that could be because there is a large Indian community in San Jose. You can also make it at home.
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch sticks
10 green beans, ends and strings removed and cut into 2-inch sticks
2 medium red onions, cut into thick slices
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 dried red chilies, broken in half
1 medium bell pepper in each color available
(red, orange, yellow, green), seeds removed and cut lengthwise in thin strips
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder (use more or less according to spice preference)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon table salt
2 medium tomatoes, pureed in the food processor or blender
14 ounces/400 grams paneer, cut into bite size squares
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Preparing the Vegetables
1. Boil the Paneer
Cut the paneer into bite-sized pieces and bring some milk and water mix to boil. Remove from heat and add the paneer. Let it soak for 30 minutes while you continue with the recipe. This step makes the paneer softer and also brings about a fresher taste.
2. Boil the beans & carrots
Boil 2-cups water over medium-high heat. Add the green beans and carrots. Boil for 5 minutes or until soft. Drain into a colander and place under cold running water or submerge in ice water. The cold water stops the cooking and help maintain the bight color of the vegetables.
3. Heat the Pan
Place a medium sized pan over medium heat. Once the pan is warm add the oil.
4. Add the cumin seeds
Test the temperature of the oil by dropping three or four cumin seeds into the oil. If they immediately bubble and crackle, add the rest of the seeds. If they do not, wait another 30-seconds to a minute for the oil to get hot. Once the seeds crackle and change color (a few seconds) immediately add the onion before the seeds burn.
5. Add the onions & chilies
Add the onions and and dried red chilies. Saute for 1 minute.
(At this point I realized I needed a larger pan and switched pans.)
6. Add the vegetables
Add the green beans, carrots and bell peppers. Saute for 1 minute.
7. Add the spices
Add the 1/2 tsp. turmeric, 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder (careful, it’s spicy!), 1 tsp. garam masala and 1 tsp. salt.
8. Add the tomato puree
Puree 2 medium tomatoes in a food processor or blender and add to the pan. Cook for 7 minutes.
9. Add the boiled paneer
Add the pre-soaked paneer and stir. Cook for 2 minutes. Check if the paneer is done: if you can easily split a cube of paneer with a spoon, it’s cooked.
10. Add the last flavorings and serve
Add the grated ginger (I grate it directly over the dish), fresh chopped cilantro, 1 1/2 tbsp. white vinegar and 1 tsp. salt. Stir and serve hot.
(in the picture below, the ginger is actually diced. This is a picture from a previously tested recipe. I tasted no difference between the diced ginger and the grated ginger. As grating ginger is much easier than dicing it, I prefer it grated.)