Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eating Out while Eating In: Vegetable-Paneer Korma and Naan

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, we will be cooking up specialties of one region/ state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Richa of As Dear As Salt. The theme is Punjabi Cuisine, i.e., the cuisine of the Northern state of Punjab.

Punjabi cuisine: if ever there was a regional cuisine that has found iconic success, this is it. In Indian restaurants in all the far-flung regions of this planet, whether they are fancy-schmancy ones or pokey holes-in-the-wall, Punjabi cuisine is ubiquitous. People who know absolutely nothing about India will nevertheless be familiar with aloo gobi and saag paneer. In the 80s and 90s in places where I lived, when families went out to eat, it was almost always to restaurants serving Punjabi cuisine. It was also the cuisine of choice for celebratory dinners, such as birthday and wedding buffets. It is hardly surprising that I associate Punjabi food with good times, and crave it every so often.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of restaurants serving Punjabi food, it is quite a challenge to find a place which does a good job with it. Tired of eating lurid orange curries that are too greasy and salty, and with slim pickings of paneer and vegetables, I decided to try making something at home that satisfies my longing for restaurant style Punjabi food. This stuff should not be confused with real Punjabi home-style cuisine, which I'm only just starting to learn about. It is just my recreation of that lovely rich taste of restaurant curries that I remember from "eating out" over the years. Health food it is not, but I promise you: this dish is a lot more wholesome than anything you would find in the India Palaces and Curry Houses of this world.

I am giving this rather generic curry a suitably non-specific name: I'm just going to call it a korma for lack for a better term. The stars of this dish are paneer cubes and juicy vegetables. Here, I used onion, green pepper, tomatoes, peas and carrots. Sweet red, yellow and orange peppers are also wonderful in here. The curry base is made with tomato puree, along with a cashew- poppy seed powder that adds the requisite thickness, richness and flavor, turmeric adds a subtle flavor and a lovely hue and red chili powder throws in a fiery kick. A generous pinch of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek) lends an indescribable flavor which does much to spike up the "restaurant taste". This dish would be incomplete without the use of the aromatic spice mixture known as garam masala. Here, I use my mom's magic masala, a blend of equal parts of cinnamom, cardamom and cloves, and nothing else. It is heady stuff. In most recipes, cashews and poppy seeds are ground into a paste for such curries, but in my food processor, this never works well. Instead, I make a powder in a spice grinder, which works beautifully.

Vegetable-Paneer Korma
(serves 3-4)
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Ingredients:
1 heaped cup paneer cubes
1 large onion, cut into large cubes
1 green pepper, cut into large cubes
1 large ripe tomato, cut into cubes
1/2 cup green peas
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. oil, divided
1/4 C cashews
1 heaped tbsp. white poppy seeds
1 t kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
1 t garam masala (I used "magic masala": see recipe introduction)

Method:
  • Cashew-poppy seed powder: In a dry skillet, roast the cashews and poppy seeds until toasted and a shade darker. When cool, grind together to a fine powder.
  • Heat 1 T in a saucepan and shallow-fry the paneer cubes. I find that if paneer is fried to a dark brown, it gets too chewy, so I prefer to leave it barely golden. Remove paneer and set aside.
  • Putting together the dish: Add 2 T oil to the same pan, on medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry until it starts to brown around the edges. Add the pepper and fry for a couple of minutes more.
  • Now add kasuri methi, turmeric, red chili powder, salt and ginger-garlic paste. Stir around until the spices are aromatic.
  • Stir in the tomato cubes, peas, carrots, tomato puree, sugar and cashew-poppy seed powder. Add 1-2 cups of water (depending on how thick you want to korma to be) and simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring once in a while.
  • Add paneer cubes and garam masala. Stir for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat.
Garnish with a dollop of cream and some minced cilantro, if desired. Serve with sliced onions and lemons on the side.

To soak up with flavorful korma, this is my first attempt at home-made naan. I shied away from making naan for two reasons: one is that naan uses all-purpose flour, something that I'm trying to avoid eating a lot of, for nutritional reasons. The second is that the really awesome naan requires a super-hot tandoor oven. I had my doubts about using the oven at home.

But I've seen lots of gorgeous naans in the food blog world in the past several months. The ultimate temptation was this olive-onion naan from the Cooker, using this recipe from Evil Jungle Prince. To simulate the high heat of the tandoor, a pizza stone is used. A pizza stone is nothing but a flat piece of stone or ceramic. It makes beautiful crisp pizza crusts by (a) absorbing the moisture from the dough and (b) retaining a very high temperature and creating a very hot surface to bake on. I own an inexpensive pizza stone that is a permanent resident of my oven. I just leave it in there even when the oven is being used for other purposes (it makes no difference to the stone, and take care of the problem of storing such a large and heavy object in a small kitchen), and use it every few days for home-made pizzas.

I also liked the Cooker's idea of using white whole wheat flour to make the naans. This recently-developed flour has more of the pale look and the mild taste of all-purpose flour, but has the nutritional profile of whole wheat flour. Just what I was looking for! I believe traditional naan is simply kneaded with yeast and allowed to rise naturally, but here, some baker's yeast is added to speed the process along.

Naan
(makes 5 naans, inspired by these recipes)
1. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup warm water, 1/2 tsp honey and 1 tsp active dry yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and bubbly.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the dough blade, place 2 cups white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp melted ghee. Pulse until well-combined. Process, adding a few drizzles of water as required, so that the dough comes together in a slightly sticky ball.
3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise for a couple of hours, until doubled in size.
4. Pre-heat oven to 450 F, with pizza stone inside, for at least 30-40 minutes, to allow the pizza stone to get fully heated.
5. With oiled hands, divide the naan dough into 5 portions. Flatten each one into a roughly triangular shape. Sprinkle with your favorite toppings: I used black poppy seeds, onion rings and a sprig of cilantro. Drizzle with a few drops of ghee or melted butter.
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6. Place on the hot pizza stone and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown. I found that the baked naans could be lifted off the pizza stone quite easily with tongs, even without sprinkling the pizza stone with any flour or cornmeal beforehand. Serve the hot naan right away.
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The combination of home-made korma and naan was quite a treat!
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The naan tasted so wonderful...I am going to be making it quite often. It is much easier than rolling out rotis!

The korma lends itself to lots of variations. These days, I often make an All-Vegetable/ Vegan version by skipping the paneer and using mixed vegetables instead. My favorite combination, with Red and Yellow Peppers, chunks of sweet Carrots and lots of succulent Mushrooms, made more "saucy" than the paneer version above. These vegetables all have a sweet and juicy profile and they go together very well. The picture shows what I do with the leftover korma when all the naans are gone and there is no rice left- sop it up with some crusty bread!

VeganKorma


Other Punjabi-inspired dishes I have posted before:
Gobi Paratha
Aloo Gobi
Paneer Pilaf

Love Punjabi cuisine? Here is Richa's delicious Round-Up, featuring 130 delectable Punjabi recipes.

54 comments:

  1. I am in total agreement: lots of 'eating out' at home this month and next!

    Your paneer korma looks absolutely moth watering - and it is healthy - less than a tablespoon of oil per person occasionally is not unhealthy at all - okay so there is some in the paneer too...look to the French! If the food is tasty, we don't need to eat too much to be happy. :-D

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  2. Korma looks absolutely delicious.... and so simple to make as well... and what better combo than naan! :)

    I agree with you... internationally india food is knownmore so because of north indian cuisine.

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  3. Yay, you're back! I've missed you these past few days, although you deserve a huge break (and massive kudos) for the amazing job you did with the Maharashtrian food round up. This recipe looks great - I think I will try it for dinner tonight. Thanks!
    Kamini.

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  4. Oh wow naan with whole wheat flour.... sounds too good. thanks for sharing Nupur.

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  5. ur korma looks so YUM, will take paneer anytime :) i too can never get the cashew paste in my blender, have tried all including pressure cooking kaju :) powdering it is the only way out for me as well heh!heh!
    shud try the naan sometime, looks so good.
    thanks!

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  6. I was thinking of making Naan at home this weekend for guests. I will try this recipe. Also Paneer looks awesome.

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  7. shilpa(Aayisrecipes)July 11, 2007 9:38 AM

    Wow..this looks very good Nupur. I agree with you...In India I always loved the punjabi food in restaurants, but here, I eat it only if I am tired of cooking or eating pizza/burgers. I too feel making it at home is better than eating out. I will surely give this a try soon....

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  8. I like that paneer :) yummy!

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  9. oh! Nupur and i agree with your comment on how the retaurants have mutilated some food! always better to make that stuff at home, like you did-you get the taste minus the unhealthy stuff. he he, the names like "Taj" , India Palace".....they seem to be everywhere!!

    Doesn't kaju paste give a yummy flavor :).

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  10. Both Kurma and Naan combo are looking too good. I liked the way you garnished the naan with onion rings :)
    Even we are having a gala time enjoying Punjabi food at home courtesy RCI :D

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  11. Hi kajal!
    vegetable paneer korma looks delicious! and naan using whole wheat flour!!!!! that's a very nice idea!got some versions of korma too!

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  12. Sounds delicious...just like all your recipes. I'm going to try it out this weekend!

    Veena

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  13. Hey Nupur. Glad to have you back. Love the kurma. I am seeing naan everywhere. Someday I should motivate myself to try it myself..hmm..

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  14. Hi nupur! the Korma and Naan look awesome! and u r so right about restaurants using too much food colour, oil... home made stuff is 1000 times better!
    must try this! ok, now a query.. I have a pkt of Firm Tofu @ home, do u think I can experiment with tofu instead of Paneer?

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  15. Hi Nupur,

    This recipe looks gorgeous. I also used to have so many doubts naan and dont feel comfortable to do that coz of all purplose flour.

    But, u made it easy and healthy way! Thanks for sharing... I will try this!

    Btw, can I use Tofu instead of Paneer coz we try to avoid it for fat??

    Cheers,
    -rekha.

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  16. Anita...yeah, this is a once-in-a-while treat for sure :) Can't wait to try your kadhi-pakoda!

    Coffee, I am thrilled though, now some cities like New York have all kinds of regional Indian cuisine that is becoming popular too!

    Kamini, Thanks so much :) glad you like the RCI! Let me know if you try this one :)

    Priyanka, glad to pass along a good idea :)

    Richa, yeah the spice grinder is a saviour in the absence of a decent "mixie"! Thanks for hosting!

    Lata, let me know if you try it!

    Shilpa, yeah, I miss all the good Punjabi restaurants in Bombay. St. Louis has some pretty scary stuff in the name of Indian food, I hear. Have not had the courage to try it myself :)

    Musical, your blog is a wonderful place...I am finally learning how "real" Punjabis cook :)

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  17. Archana, thanks :) I love raw onion, and the combo with this korma is delicious!

    Usha, thanks!

    Veena, let me know if you like it :)

    Suganya, I can't wait to try the other naan versions :) I am now wondering why I did not start making naan earlier.

    Manasi, in my opinion, tofu and paneer have different flavor profiles. Having said that, if you squeeze out all the water from the tofu, lightly fry the pieces and use them, I think it will be very tasty indeed! (But don't expect the milky rich paneer taste, that is all). Would love to have your feedback about how it works, if you do try it. I'd like to try this version myself.

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  18. Both look gorgeous.I love RCI too,what a great concept!:))

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  19. Both are looking great. I too made some naans and posted in my blog.

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  20. This looks like a wonderful party dish! I've been meaning to try to make my own naan, one of these days.

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  21. Good to see you back Nupur!
    Your Korma and Naan look absolutely tempting! Everybody making Naans makes want to make some too, just waiting for the mercury levels to drop a little :)

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  22. Hi Nupur - welcome back! Hope your trip went well! I can't wait to try both of these - I love that you can switch the veggies around in the korma so easily (and it looks fantastic!) and you know I'm dying to try making naan. So glad to hear that it worked well with the white whole wheat flour! Do you think the atta flour would work as well?

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  23. I can see that I am going to enjoy the punjab cuisine.

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  24. Welcome back Nupur :-)

    Hope you had a good holiday. This one's a keeper... will definitely try it in a few months' time when I can be sure I want to spend that long in the kitchen :-)

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  25. Hi, kurma looks delicious. I want to prepare this. Thanks for sharing. Great Entry too.

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  26. Nupir,I have always been a huge fan of paneer and naan and this is ridiculously delicious!!

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  27. The korma looks fantastic!
    BTW, I've been using your mom's magic masala quite often. Thanks for sharing.

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  28. wow.. u back with a bang! :)
    Love Paneer dishes n this one is a crowd pleaser.. thx for sharing...

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  29. Nice to see you back Nupur. Hope you enjoyed your break. The paneer korma and naan are looking great. Perfect match. Beautifully presented. Have a great weekend. Viji

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  30. Asha, true, RCI rocks :)

    Hima, I have got to check your version out!

    Lydia, it is totally a party dish! Add some peas pulao and couple more entrees and you have a feast!

    Tee, oh yes, I sweated it out when I made these. But anything for the blog :)

    Cathy, you know, white ww flour does look like atta, but I don't think all-atta would work, it just would not become stretchy enough. I can't decide whether it is worth a try or not. All I can say is, in India, atta is used all the time, but I have not heard of it being used in naan.

    Cynthia, :) do you have many Indian restaurants in Barbados? I'm wondering if you can find Punjabi restaurant cuisine there!

    Raaga, I know...a hot pizza stone...the whole kitchen becomes an oven in a while :)

    Jyothi, glad you like it!

    Meeta, we licked the pan clean :)

    TC, glad to hear that! Your naans worked so well!!

    Arts, you are a paneer lover too, eh??? I have been looking longingly at all your paneer dishes!

    Viji, thanks, glad you like it!!

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  31. Nupur,

    Such lovely combination, naan looks perfect never dared to make naan, I should now try it with your recipe.

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  32. ok, after all those ready to bake naan mix disasters, I can't wait to give your home made naan a try!

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  33. what a beautiful plate. another one for the bookmark folder.

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  34. Heyyyyy looks nice & delicious too.
    thax for sharing this.

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  35. Hi Nupur, your korma looks mouthwatering, and so too, the naans! Now that it has your endorsement, I will have to try some of that white/wheat flour. As usual, you've got me anxious to get into the kitchen :)

    Looking forward to "W"!

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  36. that nan and gravy marry so well with each other. your pics rock. yummy!!

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  37. wow! you have totally excelled yourself.
    wonderfull, mouthwatering food.

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  38. Hi Nupur
    Loved the Naan recipe. i even tried it today and its turned out Gr8. i added some cheese and garlic to it as toppings.. yum.. its tasting good thanks!
    hey.. do you make pizza at home as well.. am sure you do.. will be good if you post a pizza recipe (with the crust and toppings)
    :)
    sharvari

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  39. Sreelu, it is surprisingly simple...and the fresh-off-the-oven naan is delightful!

    Dhana, I had no idea you could get ready to bake naan mixes!!

    Bee, thank you :) Your mint naan is next on the agenda!

    Aparna, glad you like it!

    Linda, I am eager to use the white ww flour for other recipes now!! will try to make even rotis out of it, just to see how it works.

    Sharmi, thanks!!

    Saju, thank you :)

    Sharvari, thanks for trying it, and glad it worked!! Cheese and garlic sound like the most delicious toppings!
    I do make pizza at home all the time, will definitely post a recipe for you.

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  40. Hi Nupur.. great photo of the korma.. love the raw onions decoration on the kurma.. and kudos on making naan at home..
    Mary

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  41. Hi Nupur,

    That looks lovely!!

    Had a disastrous attempt at making Naan at home before. Never tried my hand at it every again. But this sure makes me want to try :).

    The RCI round ups were amazing. Looking forward to 'W now. :)

    Hope you had a nice trip!

    _Prajakta

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  42. Hi Nupur,

    I've been following your blog for about a month now, always drool looking at the seeming easy recipes!
    Did try out your Korma and I must say its the best I've ever eaten: restaurant or not!! Thanks a ton for the recipe:)

    Ranjini

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  43. Oh my gosh! This all has my mouth watering. Beautiful. I love paneer. I like to put it on top of rajma (not my original idea, of course!), when I make that.

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  44. Oh, and I meant to say: Your mom's magic masala sounds incredible!

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  45. Mary, glad you like it!

    Prajakta, this recipe is quite an easy one, I'm pretty sure it will turn out good :) Why was your first attempt a disaster??
    Glad you liked the RCI round-ups!

    Ranjini, you tried the korma already?? So glad you enjoyed it :) I appreciate the feedback very much!

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  46. That's a wonderful combo, Nupur. I loved the onions rings garnishing. The korma looks mouth-watering. I have never tried naan at home, don't have a pizza stone.

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  47. *Drooling* The Naan-Korma combo in the last picture looks so good Nupur.

    I tried your Lubia Polo recently - the moment I saw the recipe on your blog, I knew I had to try it but it took me this long to gather the ingredients - er, the dried limes, but it was so worth the wait. I can't believe how something made with regular ingredients like green beans and tomatoes looks so gorgeous and tastes so scrumptious. Thank you so much for the recipe and for introducing Jaffrey's book to me.

    Mamatha

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  48. Rekha, sorry I skipped your comment before!! You could certainly try tofu, but my preferred way of making a low-fat version of this dish is to use all-veggies and leave out the paneer. I just made a mushroom-based version last night, and will try and a post a picture.

    Lisa, Thanks :) Never thought of putting it on rajma...that sounds yummy! The magic masala takes only minutes to make, but it takes so many dishes to the next level with its incredible flavor.

    Swapna, glad you like it :) If you get a pizza stone, I think you will use it often...it turns out such wonderful crispy pizzas, and now I use it for naan as well. I bought a "pizza set" (stone, pizza peel and pizza cutter) for 15$ at Bed, Bath and Beyond! So, it is very affordable.

    Mamatha, So thrilled to know that you got a chance to try the Lubia Polo!! I made it recently for my parents and they were quite impressed by the presentation of the dish, and the flavor. It is such a great dish, and like you said, made with simple ingredients! Jaffrey rocks :) Thanks so much for the feedback!

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  49. I love this recipe for its rich flavour! The naans seem great too!

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  50. The naan looks delicious :-)

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  51. There is really nothing like the combination of a hot buttered naan with an equally piping paneer dish by its side, missing all those punjabi dhabas back in India....!!
    Made them my style today,will post the recipes soon!

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  52. I actually made Naan! I can't believe it! I always felt it was beyond the reach of beginner cooks like myself but thanks to you I can have fresh- out-of-the-oven-Naan....Thanks again!!!

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  53. Vaish, I am so glad it worked!! Thank you so much for the feedback :) I appreciate it!

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  54. I just finished making this vegetable korma a few minutes ago and I must say this is totally the yummiest korma I have ever made! It truly does taste like the one we order in a fancy restaurant. So tasty! Thanks a ton! A recipe to treasure!

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