Greetings from the summer palace, where I've resumed cooking and writing about the results, after more than a month of balls-to-the-wall publicity, rehearsal, end-of-school celebrations and parading around dressed like a pirate. First up is the Muttar Paneer I made a few weeks ago, on one of those rare evenings we had the Silverback home for dinner, to remind us of our happy, aimless wanderings around the Indian sub-continent, when we were young and pretty and Greg wore a Speedo. I made it again a couple of nights ago, to justify hauling a frozen block of paneer all the way from Jackson Heights, Queens to the back woods of Cape Cod (not that the ingredients situation hasn't improved in the fifteen years since I started making the trek to my gentleman friend's childhood home - you can get lemongrass, fish sauce and Pilates balls at the Stop n' Shop in Orleans, and Provincetown has more Jamaican goods than East Flatbush, a reflection of the folks who've stepped in to fill the seasonal jobs the college and town kids now pass over for Washington and Wall Street internships.)
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a big skillet, preferably something that doesn't look too preppy.
Cube an 8-ounce block of paneer, fry it, remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. I got my first paneer from Patel Brothers and it came pre-fried, so I skipped this step. My second paneer came from Kalyustan's. It was not pre-fried, but I skipped (forgot) this step, anyway and still wound up with a plate licker. If there are no paneer-wallahs in your town, you'll have to get some cottage cheese and some cheesecloth, do an Internet search and make it your ownself. Sounds like a pain in the heiner, I know, but then so does taking the subway to Jackson Heights. Really, it's not that much harder than buying cheesecloth.
Chop 2 onions and fry them up in the butter. Wondering if you'll need more butter after frying up the paneer? Honey, ask someone who takes the time to fry his or her paneer.
Mince four cloves of garlic and a thumb-sized cube of ginger and add them to the onions.
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of coriander
1 chopped jalapeno
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
and some salt.
I must confess, I said the F-word in front of the children when I realized that though I had remembered cheap wine and comic books, I had forgotten to pick up a can of tomatoes, which, I might add, was my own innovation knowing that the fresh ones called for in every recipe I unearthed on the Internet last May would be mealy and cost a fortune for at Met Foods.) Fortunately, my sister-in-law had left behind a can of Hunts Tomato Sauce when she sojourned here last Memorial Day weekend, so I dusted that off and dumped it in - tasted fine, but had a slightly negative impact on the texture.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 3 ounces of yogurt or sour cream. I've used them both and would not recommend one over the other as far as this recipe goes, though if you're looking to fortify yourself with a spoonful of something midway through your task, sour cream is the obvious, nay, only choice.
Return to low heat, add the paneer and a ten-ounce packet of frozen organic peas.
Add 1 & 1/2 cups of water and bring to a simmer.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala. The first time I prepared this dish, I mistakenly believed myself to be in possession of garam masala and when I found that I was not, I substituted a teaspoon of this lovely yellow curry powder I'm partial to, not least because it matches my living room walls. It worked out so well, that this time, I couldn't bear the thought of not adding some, even though I had borne a vial of freshly purchased garam masala to the summer palace, feeling like the Fourth King of Orient Are, or possibly a well-mannered houseguest bringing myself a thoughtful hostess present.
As for the 2 tablespoons of fresh coriander one is expected to add at the end, I have never done so, though I imagine it would be quite nice. Once when I got it into my head to make Habla Channah in rural Vermont, I went out in the field, picked a few tufts of clover, (It's okay to eat the kind with edible heart-shaped leaves, unless you pick them from behind a bench in Tompkins Square or something), and added them. Perhaps next time I'll try that little trick, though I expect that by now, even the bait shop on route 6 probably carry the stuff.