Monday, June 25, 2012

Daily Special: Punjabi Bhaaji

When my mother stayed with us last year when Lila was a newborn, she often made something that she termed "Punjabi bhaaji"- a most enjoyable medley of paneer cubes and mixed vegetables in a tomato sauce. Far from being anything with an actual Punjabi pedigree, this dish is simply a Maharashtrian home cook's homage to vegetables cooked in the style of popular Punjabi restaurants everywhere. 

Since then, I make my own version of Punjabi bhaaji almost every other week. This dish takes as much (which is to say, as little) time to make as any other quick vegetable stir fry. However, it feels like such a change from everyday meals, so much like take-out from your favorite Indian restaurants, and that's why I am calling this a "daily special". Unlike restaurants where they have to keep an eye on the bottom line and be sparing with the vegetables, making this dish at home allows you to splurge and add lots of juicy seasonal vegetables. This recipe is simple enough for anyone to make, so if you are new to Indian cooking or new to the kitchen altogether, I hope you'll give it a try. 

Simple Punjabi-Style Bhaaji (Subzi)

  1. Cut half a block of paneer (8 oz or 200 grams) into bite size chunks.
  2. Cut vegetables into chunky bite size pieces for a total of 6 cups or so: cauliflower, green beans, carrot, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, peas. 
  3. Cut 1 onion into medium dice.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a pan and fry the paneer until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
  5. In the same pan, add 1 tsp. cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds.
  6. Add the chopped onion and let it cook on medium-high heat until the edges start browning.
  7. Stir in the spices: 2 tsp. kasuri methi (dried fenugreek), 1/2 tsp. red chili powder and 1/2 tsp. turmeric.
  8. Add the vegetables and stir fry them for a few minutes.
  9. Add 1 cup tomato puree and salt to taste. Cook uncovered, stirring once in a while, until the vegetables are just tender. Add the fried paneer cubes. Turn off the heat.
  10. Stir in a handful of minced cilantro and 1/2 tsp. garam masala.

This basic recipe can be modified in a few different ways with great results:

1. The Julienne Version: By simply changing the way you cut the vegetables, you can alter the taste quite a bit. The version I've given above calls for fat chunks of vegetables. Another way I make it is with long, thin strips of vegetables. In this version, I grate the paneer coarsely instead of cutting it into chunks, and add the raw paneer into Step 9.
2. Vegetables Only: The paneer is optional. You can certainly make the dish with vegetables alone.
3. The Curry Variation: To make a thick luscious curry, powder 1 tbsp. white poppy seeds with 1/4 cup roasted cashews and add this powder into Step 7. You will want to add some extra water in Step 9 and simmer the curry for a few minutes.
4. Sweet Sensation: If the tomatoes are a bit tangy, smooth out the taste by adding a dash of sugar in Step 9.
5. Flavor Max: Add 2 tsp. ginger garlic paste (or 1 tsp. each of minced ginger and garlic) to Step 7.
This was our lunch this Saturday in between looking at real estate websites and playing with the baby on the rug. I buy whole wheat tortillas and use them as rotis. With a little imagination, whole wheat tortillas heated on a naked gas flame (resulting in a few charred spots) can taste just like rotis right out of a dhaba's tandoor. Just close your eyes and savor the taste! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summertime, and the livin' is easy

Three out of four food bloggers agree that time speeds up in summer. OK, I just made that up, but really, right on cue starting Memorial Day weekend (the unofficial start of summer in the US), life in the One Hot Stove household has been a happy whirlwind of barbecues and brunches and visits to and from out of town family and friends. In our case, there's also that minor matter of preparing for a move and buying a home while living three states away.

Instead of a real proper post, what I have for you today is a (very) random chat about 10 life highlights and food highlights from the past month.

1. Baby boom: Our extended clan celebrated a baby boom in May with the birth of three new babies in one week. My sister has a baby boy and my cousin and his wife have twin baby girls. I promptly knitted/crocheted a hat for each of them- every baby deserves a hand knit, after all.

2. Tres leches cake: I like learning how to cook and bake signature dishes from different cuisines. They are always beloved and crowd-pleasing. My friend Claudia made tres leches (three milks) cake which is a classic celebration dessert in many South American cuisines. We oohed and aahed over each bite. A few weeks ago, I made it myself using primarily this recipe but with some tips from a secret family recipe from Claudia's late aunt (I promised I would keep it a secret). Tres leches cake is eggy (in a good way), rich and sweet and deeply infused with vanilla. It is drenched in milk making it moist and tender as can be. I'll be making this again.

3. Spinach dip: This is one of those omnipresent appetizers but I made it for the first time only a few weeks ago. I found this recipe and it looked promising for several reasons. For one thing, it has the word "best" in the title and I will fall for that every single time. For another, it is a no-cook recipe which can be whirred together in a couple of minutes in a food processor. I liked the method of wringing out thawed spinach in a clean dish towel to remove excess liquid (I was alarmed at how much liquid was wrung out). This is a good recipe to have on hand for summer potlucks and picnics. I would use it as a sandwich spread too.

4. Marinated mushrooms: One of my biggest splurges is the olive bar at Whole Foods. Apart from all kinds of olives, they have marinated peppers and mushrooms- I pile them into the little container and the $$ add up. Imagine my delight when I found this recipe for marinated mushrooms. It is so easy and so so tasty. You just boil mushrooms in salted water, then marinate them in oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. I used red wine vinegar, minced garlic and a dried herb mix instead of fresh herbs and the stuff was still completely delicious. These mushrooms are wonderful to nibble on, and equally at home in green salads and pasta salad or atop pizzas. I'll be making them again and again all summer.

5. Doctoring photos: For some years, I used a free photo-editing website called Picnik to crop and resize photos for the blog and add text to them and so on. It worked so well. Then Picnik closed down (edit: not closed down but moved to Google's picasa and is no longer a stand alone website, as a couple of readers pointed out) and that was sad-making to say the least. But that was for the best (isn't it always this way) because I found PicMonkey. Can I just say that I love this website? It is unbelievably easy to do basic edits (cropping, resizing), to add text and to add several cool special effects. They have a new collage functionality that I love playing with. And no, they're not paying me to say any of this. I just wanted to share the link with anyone who is a strictly OK photographer (like me) but would like use some easy tricks to make their photos look cool(er).

6. A summer photography project: It is Lila's first summer and her days are full of all sorts of new experiences. Unfortunately, V and I are not very good at recording every minute of our child's life. She doesn't have one of those baby books to record her first word or the date her first tooth erupted. And I hate taking videos. But I'm doing a little photography project where I try and take more pictures this summer and write little captions for them that start with "Summer is...".

7. Baby food: At nearly 9 months, Baby Lila is eating quite a variety of foods. I keep a few jars of baby food handy for travel and emergencies but otherwise, we fix all her meals at home. She enjoys sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, carrots, banana, applesauce, pears, yogurt, moong dal and many other foods. Recently we discovered that she loved mango. I got home a bag of frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe's. I partially thaw the chunks by letting them sit on the counter for 20 minutes, then puree them into a "mango sorbet". The kid loves it. If she loves this fairly watery and unremarkable mango so much, she's going to flip out when she (someday) tastes the mangoes fresh from her grandparents' tree.

Lila's first taste of mango
I know I broke my own rule about posting family pictures online, but I just couldn't resist sharing this one. And yes, this little collage was made using PicMonkey. And yes, this photograph is one from Lila's summer series.

8. Father's Day is coming up this Sunday. V's all "Father's Day is just an excuse to sell Hallmark cards and razors". That cracked me up. Why, yes, this whole holiday is nothing but a conspiracy to sell more hair removal products. As a small gift, I made these Father's Day chocolate bars wrappers using this tutorial. All you need is an envelope, scissors, and a scrap of colorful paper or fabric. Instead of downloading the template, I simply cut the ties out freehand from some fabric scraps.

A quick gift to whip up for Father's Day

9. Summer reading- long lazy hours in the company of a book- is such a juicy concept. So what if I have no summer vacation and not even a remote chance of bumming on a beach? Reading is like breathing and I've got to make time for it somehow. This evening, I got home this pile of books to sink my teeth into- have you read any of them?

10. Dale's Tales: We had family from India visiting this weekend- aunt and uncle, cousin and niece. My 13 year old niece was delighted to meet Dalu. At night, she was impressed that he methodically ate his food, then lapped at his water bowl, then made a round of the home to check on everyone and finally settled into his bed for the night. "But how does he know that this is his bed?", she wondered. What can I say? Dogs are smart. They know where their beds are and a LOT more besides.

With food, books, babies, dogs, summer projects and crafts, this post pretty much captures everything I love about my life. Your turn- tell me what you're up to these days!