Someone once asked me what would I want to eat if I were stranded on an island and had one wish. My answer was immediate and without hesitation, it would have to be cheese! Of course, I'd want a little bread and butter to go with it but there's something wonderfully comforting about cheese. Though not created equal, I think all cheeses deserve some special mention and one of my favorite cheeses is an Indian one called paneer. It's unlike any other cheese and though it's sometimes called Indian cottage cheese, I think we should just call it paneer since they are so very different. If you head over to Food52 , I have a recipe for making paneer at home and mattar paneer which is a thick spicy tomato based gravy in which chunks of paneer and bright green peas bathe. Have a lovely weekend!
I've fallen in love with Netflix's new documentary called The Chef's Table. It's one of the most inspiring cooking documentaries, I've seen in a long time. I don't really care for the food competitions shows and rarely watch them but this is one show that has had me glued to the TV. It's easy to get repetitive when it comes to creating food (I find myself falling into this trap often) but after watching this series and listening to the stories and how these world renowned chefs overcame their personal struggles was uplifting, encouraging and exciting. My only complaint, too few episodes but I do hope it comes back for another season. I've been eyeing Marcus Nilsson's Fäviken cookbook for a while now and to see him in the series was exciting. I'm also hoping I get to visit LA to try out Niki Nakayama and her Kaiseki techniques that make her food so beautiful. If you get a chance, do check the documentary out, you won't be disappointed!
Dairy is pretty popular in India, the fact that I grew up eating plain yogurt at any time of the day, is probably a good testament to this fact. Cheese however as we think of it here in the West, is made in a very different manner in India. Rennet and fermentative bacteria are not the tools of choice when it comes to preparing Indian cheeses but rather acid and heat coagulate the proteins in milk. You still get western style cheeses in India and they are popular but panner is by far the most prominent cheese used in Indian cuisine.
Paneer is a type of cheese, that doesn't melt when heated and in many ways, it reminds me of tofu. It takes on the flavor of anything it's mixed with and you'll find it used in curries and other savory dishes. If you look into my freezer, you will often see a small pack of paneer stored because the possibilities with this cheese are endless when used correctly. You can find paneer at Indian and South East Asian and/or International food markets and I've also come across low-fat versions of this cheese too. The good thing about this cheese is that it holds it's texture very well when heated as it doesn't melt. However, this also makes it, in my opinion, unsuitable for a grilled cheese sandwich.
This paneer recipe is very simple to make and is an easy appetizer or side to serve. It's definitely not a traditional way of serving it in India but as I always say, why not! Just doll the warm slabs of paneer up with a few fresh daikon radish shoots and the tea and pineapple dressing before serving it.
Here are some of my kitchen tips when preparing this paneer dish;
- Use low-fat or full-fat milk derived paneer. Honestly, the fat-free kind tastes terrible.
- I was tempted to call the tea and pineapple dressing a vinaigrette but the ratios of the components are a little off from the classical definition so I've labeled it a dressing.
- The tea is lightly sweetened with fresh pineapple juice which gives the dressing a little sweetness and tanginess. If you want it a little sweeter add a little more juice after tasting the dressing.
- The extra garnish of sea salt flakes at the end when serving is optional but I personally like the touch of saltiness because paneer by itself is generally not salty when made from milk.
seared paneer with tea and pineapple dressing
yields: 4 servings
400 grams (14 ounces) low-fat/full-fat paneer, chilled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + a little extra for searing
1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika powder
a few fresh daikon radish shoots to garnish
a little Maldon sea salt flakes (optional)
tea and pineapple dressing
1 black tea bag (I used Darjeeling tea)
100mL boiling water
50mL white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons pineapple juice, fresh
100 mL extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1. Slice the paneer into 9 cm X 3 cm long slabs that are 1.5 cm thick.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, place the olive oil and the rest of the ingredients from the salt to the paprika and mix with a spoon. Brush each of the paneer slabs with this mixture and allow them to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature to absorb the flavors.
3. Heat a little extra oil in a medium-sized skillet on medium - high heat. When the oil just starts to smoke, place two to three slabs of the seasoned paneer. Cook on each side until seared and lightly browned. This should take about 60-90 seconds on each side. Place the seared paneer on a dry paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Cook the rest of the paneer in the same manner and keep aside until ready to use.
4. To prepare the dressing, place the tea bag in a small heat proof bowl. Pour the boiling water over it and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Drain the tea bag to remove any excess liquid (avoid squeezing the bag or the tea liquid will turn murky). Pour the tea into a medium bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Whisk until combined.
5. To serve place the hot/warm seared paneer slabs in a serving dish. Drizzle the paneer with as much as tea dressing as desired. Garnish with a few fresh daikon shoots and sprinkle with extra sea salt flakes if desired. Serve immediately with extra dressing and daikon radish shoots on the side.
I'm had a great time with the class audits at the culinary school. Though, I was a silent observer, it was a great opportunity to see how the classes at the school are taught, talk to students in the program and get to know the instructors a little bit. It gave me good food for thought on what culinary school might entail. An extra bonus was to watch some fun and interesting pastry techniques in action. One class was busy preparing laminated doughs for an upcoming test and the students work so fast while keeping the butter cold to get those flaky layers. The advanced class had students making entrements with apples. Making laminated doughs from scratch intimidates me, something I need to tackle at some point!
One of my favorite dishes to order at an Indian restaurant and even make at home occasionally, is saag paneer. That along with a couple of buttered naans becomes be a tasty combination. Typically in Hindi the word "saag" translates to any type of leafy green, in most restaurants unless it says "sarson ka saag" or mustard greens, it will in most situations be spinach. In today's post, I'm using the naan dough as a base for my skillet pizza and then topping it off with the ingredients
I blistered the naan to give it that characteristic charred flavored in the pan before loading it with fresh mustard greens and spices. Paneer is a different from the regular kind of cheese, it holds it shape rather well and does not melt but in this pizza-style dish, you want a little bit of a hot and melty cheese dripping all over in every slice. I added a little mozzarella to get that much desired melt that my taste buds were craving and seasoned the pizza with a few spices, cracked a couple of eggs and stuck it into the oven to bake for a few minutes. Greens, eggs and cheese with a few spices and naan, this makes a good breakfast, lunch or dinner!
Here are some of my tips while preparing this breakfast naan,
- I let the naan dough rise in an oven that was preheated for 10 minutes at 200F. I shut the oven once I place the dough inside.
- You can use any type of green here, kale, spinach, fenugreek etc. By tossing the greens in oil, the leaves will hold their texture and not dry out as much during baking.
- Don't expect the rich creamy gravy from saag paneer here, I've skipped all of that heaviness to make this pizza lighter.
- I've tried mozzarella and gruyere here but feel free to play around with the cheeses.
- You could also use the entire dough and fill a pan up to get a deep and thick crust. I find half the dough per 10 inch pizza to be just enough.
breakfast naan skillet pizza with mustard greens and paneer
yields: 2 X 10 inch naans
2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose flour + extra for dusting
1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher sea salt
2 tablespoons plain greek yogurt (full fat 0r 2%)
1 large egg, at room temperature
200mL full fat milk at 100F
2 tablespoons vegetable oil + a little extra for cooking the naans
2 cups mustard greens, cleaned, chopped and mid ribs removed
1 inch piece ginger root, peeled and julienned
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup shredded paneer or 8 thick slices of paneer (if you're using a block of paneer)
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella/gruyere
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
4-6 large eggs (you can play around with the number of eggs you want per naan)
1. Place the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Dry whisk with a fork to mix the ingredients lightly. Attach the dough blade to the stand mixer. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl along with the two tablespoons of oil. Mix the dough on low speed for about 3-4 minutes until the ingredients just come together and then increase speed to medium-high to form one large sticky ball. Place the dough in a large well oiled bowl. Cover the lid with cling film and place it in a warm place to rise for 2-4 hours.
2. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove and transfer the dough to a clean surface (pastry board). Dust the dough with a little flour and using your hands shape it into one large ball. Divide the ball into half. Then take one half and roll it out into a rough 10 inch circle dusting with a little flour. Repeat the same with the remaining half of dough and keep aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the greens with ginger and garlic along with the olive oil. Keep aside until ready to use.
4. Place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. While the oven is heating up, add a little oil in a large 10 inch skillet pan with a lid on the stove on medium-high. Slap one naan on the hot skillet and cover the pan with a lid for 2 minute. Then flip the bread over and cook for 2 minutes covered with the lid. Remove the skillet from the stove. Layer the naan with half of the mustard greens mixture. Layer with paneer and mozzarella. Crack 2-3 eggs in the center of the naan and add half of the garam masala, coriander and half of the salt. Place the skillet in the preheated oven and bake the naan for another 5-8 minutes depending on how you like your eggs cooked. I like the egg whites to be just set and the yolks runny. Check the oven while the bread is baking. Prepare the second naan similarly. Serve hot.