21 September 2009

Palak paneer (Cottage cheese/ricotta in creamy spinach gravy)

21 September 2009

They say that if you were force-fed spinach as a child, you probably wouldn't like it as an adult. Despite the force-feeding though, spinach is another vegetable -- like pumpkin -- I've started enjoying and appreciating more as an adult.
Palak paneer* is one of my favourite dishes, easy to cook and very easy on the stomach as well. For those who are weight conscious, it couldn't get better than this dish: Lots of green, cheese that doesn't make you feel guilty. For moms who find it hard to feed anything remotely leafy to their kids, this is a good option since they don't see the leaves in this dish and it's very creamy, which I'm told kids like.
(*Palak = spinach; paneer = Indian cottage cheese)

Like most Indian recipes, there are different ways to make palak paneer. Since most of those recipes involve frying the paneer and adding cream, I don't really enjoy them. I've also found that in the popular recipes, the spinach base can turn out to be bitter. Even if this sounds like blowing my own trumpet, I enjoy making and eating my version of palak paneer the best.

I use very little oil (1 TBS), don't fry the paneer and have found that my spinach base is much creamier -- without using any cream -- than the other versions on the net. Try it, you'll like it.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Try this with: Bread or rice


Cottage cheese/ ricotta/tofu 300-500 gms
Spinach leaves 160-200 gms (I use baby/English spinach, works just as fine as the big-leafed variety found in India)
Garlic 4 cloves
Cloves 2-3
Cardamom 1
Black peppercorns 4 (optional)
Bay leaves 2
Onion 1 large, finely chopped
Ginger 1", grated
Salt to taste
Oil 1 TBS


It's imperative that you wash spinach and all leafy vegetables very thoroughly. There's often mud and insects hiding between the leaves. A good way to wash leafy greens is to soak them in enough water and let them sit for 10-15 minutes. This way the mud and dirt washes off the leaves and settles at the bottom of your washing bowl/bucket. Gently pull out the leaves, throw the dirty water and rinse the leaves again in running water.


  1. Cut your paneer, ricotta or tofu into small cubes, cover with a wet cloth and keep aside.
  2. Spinach gravy base: Put the washed spinach leaves, garlic, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns in a deep saucepan (with lid). Fill with just enough water to cover the spinach, put the lid on and cook the spinach for 15-20 minutes. Once done, drain the leaves and spices in a colander/sieve, keep the water aside and allow it to cool slightly. Blend the spinach leaves (with garlic and spices) in a blender to form a smooth paste. Your spinach gravy base is ready.
  3. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Once its hot, add the bay leaves and saute for a minute.
  4. Add onions and grated ginger and fry till onions are golden. (If you are not using onion, saute the grated ginger for a minute, taking care not to burn it)
  5. Add 1 TSP (heaped) salt, mix well and add the spinach paste. The paste could be thick, add about 1/2-1 cup of the spinach water that you've kept aside earlier.
  6. Mix well and cook, on high heat, stirring intermittently, till the gravy boils. (For those who like it spicy, you can add chilli powder.)
  7. Once spinach paste boils, reduce heat, add the paneer/ricotta/tofu, gently mix it in and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste to see if it needs salt and add (or not) accordingly.

Your palak paneer is ready. You can garnish it with a teaspoon of cream or butter. Wasn't that simple? Try the dish and let me know if you like it.

13 September 2009

JB special: Butter chicken

14 September 2009
Now I've loved butter chicken for as long as I've loved chicken. But I've had two problems with the restaurant butter chicken -- whether in India or in Melbourne -- I've had. 1) It always leaves me feeling really bloated 2) all the ghee/butter and cream gives me nasty gas.
Forced by my gastronomic disabilities -- love butter chicken, don't want to fart (!) -- I experimented... successfully. Now there are at least five different ways of making butter chicken and a basic e-search will give you those recipes. After trying most of them, this is a version of the butter chicken I've come up with.
What's so special about it? It uses roughly 2 tablespoons of oil, has the authentic taste and does not use any milk products -- butter, cream or yoghurt -- in it. I can hear the puritans yelling, "That's not butter chicken." But hey, try my version, you won't regret it. However, I cannot call it completely fat-free since the cashew nut paste is somewhat fatty. But bloody tasty. :)

Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes (includes marination)
Cooking time: 30 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice, bread or roti/ chapati


For marinade:
Breast or thigh fillets 500 g (cut into cubes)
Salt 1 TSP, heaped
Chilli powder 1 TSP
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Vegetable/Canola oil 1 TSP (of 2 TBS)
Turmeric powder 1 TSP, heaped
Coriander powder 1 TSP, heaped

For the sauce:

Onions 2 medium or 1 large, blended
Tomatoes 2-3 medium, blended
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Coriander powder 1/2 TSP
Turmeric 1/2 TSP
Fresh coriander 2 TBS, blended
Tomato ketchup 1 TBS
Cashew nuts 100 gms, blended
Water (if needed)


  1. The chilli powder is optional, the dish tastes just as good without it.
  2. The flavour of your butter chicken depends a lot on the tomatoes used: Select ripe tomatoes else the dish can turn out sour.
  3. Butter chicken is lightly salted and is somewhat sweetish; don't go adding too much salt.
  4. For those who like their butter chicken to taste extra buttery, add 1/4 cup cream with the cashew nut paste.
  5. You don't need to add any additional salt, cashew nuts release a natural sweetener that works just fine. However, if the tomatoes are too sour, chuck in a teaspoon of sugar or adjust according to taste.
  6. As always, before you put the pan on fire, prepare your indredients first... I've had a rather smokey kitchen because I'm looking for something while the oil burns in the pan.
  7. If you have one blender jar -- as I do -- and don't want to go washing after each session, follow this order: Puree cashew nuts first, followed by onions and lastly the tomatoes.
  8. While blending, do not add any extra water.


  1. Mix the teaspoon oil, turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, salt and ginger-garlic paste together. Rub it on the chicken pieces -- should coat every piece -- and let the chicken sit for 20 minutes. (Use this to prepare the other ingredients)
  2. Blend the onions, tomatoes and cashew nuts -- separately please -- and keep aside.
  3. Heat remaining oil in a pan. Once its smoking hot, add the marinated chicken pieces and stir fry on high heat for 5 minutes or till all chicken pieces turn 'white'. Use a slotted spoon -- leaves the oil in the pan -- to pick out the chicken and keep aside on a plate.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and in the same pan, add the onion paste. Fry till it dries out and starts turning golden.
  5. Reduce heat to minimum and add the ginger and garlic pastes. Stir fry for 3 minutes.
  6. Raise the heat to medium -- sorry, all this heat up-down is only till this step, promise -- add the blended tomatoes and cook, stirring intermittently, till the sauce dries out a little.
  7. Reduce heat to minimum, mix in the tomato ketchup, stir fry for 2 minutes.
  8. Add the cashew nut paste and blended coriander; mix well.
  9. Add the pre-fried chicken pieces and mix so that all pieces coated with the sauce.
  10. Add sugar/salt according your taste IF needed.
  11. How does the gravy look? Depending on the tomatoes used -- ripe ones have more water content -- and how well you've followed the recipe, you shouldn't need to add any water. However, if the gravy looks too dry, add 1/2 - 1 cup water, mix in. Do remember that butter chicken gravy is never watery.
  12. Cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes or till chicken pieces are tender.
  13. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, roasted cashew nuts or cream 'squiggles' (as in pic) and serve hot with rice or roti.

Try it!!! And let me know how it turns out. :) If you have a different or better recipe for butter chicken, please do share. Will be happy to put it up here (attributed to you) or to link to your website. Share the love, share the recipes!

11 September 2009


Watch this space for more tried, tasted and digested yummies... starred items have videos to go with them as well:

Coming soon on Roti & Roast...
  • Lamb chops in pomegranate and red wine sauce
  • Potato gnocchi*
  • Palak paneer (home-made cottage cheese cooked in a lovely spinach gravy)
  • JB special: Beef-salsa wrap (minced beef in salsa, all wrapped up)*
  • JB special: Butter chicken
  • JB special: Matar-mince (beef/lamb mince cooked with green peas and spices)
  • Carrot cake
  • Ginger cookies

I'm trying to put up at least one post a week, so bear with me and do come back. :)

07 September 2009

Aloo poshto

7 September 2009

Poppy seeds* -- or poshto in Bengali and khus-khus in Hindi/Punjabi/Marathi -- have been used as an ingredient in cooking and herbal treatment for long. A little research revealed an interesting history behind the use, which you can read here.

For me, aloo-poshto has been part of the standard vegetarian meals that Ma served. Partnered with dhal/daal (from red lentils) served with slit green chillies and a dash of lime, and very tasty begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried in mustard oil); this was usually a Sunday lunch. Given that the daal-aloo-poshto-bhaaja combo was usually followed by a tasty mutton dish -- Pa couldn't do without his meat -- aloo-poshto has always been a highlight for me.

The first time I made this dish in Australia, many wondered if, "Poppy seeds! Oh my god, opium...does this make you high?" The answer, (un)fortunately is, no it doesn't. Apparently it's only the 'natural' poppy seeds that give you a buzz if ingested. However, there are discussion threads on the Internet on how eating poppy seeds can give you a negative blood test (opiates found in the blood) and there have also been news reports on people getting addicted to poppy seed tea. Rest assured though, this dish does not give you a high -- only a gastronomical one -- and trust me on that, I've tried. ;)

My first experiment with cooking poshto was a disaster. Unless using on a bagel or in cakes/pastries, Indian cooking usually involves the poppy seeds to be finely grinded. And let me tell you the bloody things are very resistant to blenders/mixers. I learnt it the hard way when the first time I cooked aloo-poshto, it neither looked nor tasted anything like Ma's. No matter what the class or quality of your blender at home, keep a mortar-pestle ready to grind these seeds to get a perfect dish. The rest of it is fairly simple.

* Can be bought at any Indian specialty store, or most supermarkets also stock it
**The poppy seeds in India are white, while in Australia, I'm using the black ones; works the same way.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice or hot chapatis

Poppy seeds 4 TBS
Green chillies 4-6, depending on how hot you want it; 2 should be slit lengthwise
Potatoes 5-6 medium sized, diced small
Kalonji or onion seeds 1/2 TSP
Mustard/vegetable oil 2 TBS
Sugar 1/2 TSP
Turmeric poweder 1/2 TSP
Salt to taste

  1. As mentioned, poppy seeds are tough to grind into a fine paste. Prior to grinding, soak the seeds in hot water for 30 minutes. Keep a couple tablespoons of the water aside, drain the rest. In your blender, grind the seeds along with four of the green chillies. Take the resulting paste out and hand-grind them again in the mortar-pestle. The paste should be as fine as possible and should be slightly frothy.
  2. In case you prefer to dice the potatoes earlier, place them in salted water to prevent them from blackening (happens due to oxidising). When cooking, drain them well before adding to the hot oil; water in hot oil splutters a lot.

  1. Heat the mustard oil in a wok/frying pan till it smokes.
  2. Add the onion seeds/kalaunji and fry for 2 minutes till the seeds pop.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and fry for 5-8 minutes. You need to stir intermittently to avoid the potatoes sticking to the sides of the pan. The spuds are ready once they are browned and somewhat softer.
  4. Now add the poppy seed-chilli paste with half a cup of water and mix well to coat all the potatoes with the paste.
  5. Add salt, sugar and turmeric, mix well and fry for another 3 minutes.
  6. Cover the wok/pan and cook over low heat till the potatoes are done (should be soft).
  7. While you cook the spuds, keep checking and scraping the paste off the sides as it can get somewhat sticky.
  8. Once the potatoes soften, cook uncovered to dry out any water and scrape off the paste from the sides.

Serve hot with the JB special daal/dhal and steamed rice. And yes, I do look forward to your comment and food stories, so please keep them coming. If you try this and like it, leave a testimonial...if something goes wrong, feel free to ask. If you have aloo-poshto stories, I'd love to hear them! Share people...