Asparagus & Paneer Masala

Asparagus & Paneer Masala with potato and swiss chard, accompanied by Saffron Rice

It being springtime in my hemisphere, asparagus is de rigueur.
This dish is my melding of that favorite, oven roasted, and combined with a new challenge for me: paneer – a fresh, Indian cheese, that I hoped would complement the asparagus.

First, I prepared the paneer. As it happens, I signed up for a cheese-making class this coming weekend and was looking forward to trying my hand at a fresh cheese such as queoso fresco. Coincidentally, Tahmina post Paneer – 101 just in time for me to give it a try.  I prepared the paneer just as she described, using the juice of a bit more than 2 lemons, and similarly pressed it at room temperature under a cast iron skillet for about 3 hours before using it.  Once the paneer was kneaded smooth, I also added toasted cumin seed (1 1/2 t.) and salt (3/4 t.), that I’d crushed a bit with a mortar and pestle, and distributed it evenly throughout the paneer.

Paneer with Toasted Cumin Seed

I prepared the saffron rice, first, by soaking perhaps 10 saffron threads in a few teaspoons water for an hour or two.  Then I prepared rinsed jasmine rice in a rice cooker; when it was done, I separated half of it into a bowl, and thoroughly mixed it with the saffron and the yellow water in which it was soak.  Lastly, I combined the yellow and white rice, and mixed them until approximately evenly distributed.  (Chopsticks are a good choice of tool to mix rice if it is somewhat sticky.)

I prepared the masala roughly according to these two recipes: Squash, Potato, and Chard Curry and Subzi Paneer Masala.  I used a large red onion and 2 cans of diced tomato for the sauce, puréed in a blender with minced garlic and ginger.  I diced multi-colored small potatoes (brown, red, and purple) and partially cooked them in oil (left from frying the paneer) before adding them to the masala. I cut the chard stems into bite sized pieces, and the greens more coarsely, adding them sometime after the potato, since they need less time to cook.  Also, rather than fresh hot pepper, I used a bit of cayenne powder.

While preparing the masala, I roasted the whole asparagus spears under the oven’s broiler on a foil-lined baking pan, with olive oil, being sure to turn them occassionally and not allow them to burn.  (If you were to serve roasted asparagus as a side-dish, you’d likely add, salt, pepper; since I was preparing it to top the masala, I used only the oil this time.)

To serve, rather than mixing the asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces, and fried paneer into the masala, I simply tossed them together, keeping them warm in the oven, and placed them atop the masala so that their textures and colors were retained.

All in all, I wasn’t completely happy with this dish.  The tomato and yogurt-based sauce didn’t have the smooth consistency nor the bright orange color that I expected and had seen, for instance, in butter paneer masala dishes at restaurants.  I used a low fat greek yogurt, rather than the usual [high fat] greek yogurt that I buy at Trader Joe’s;  that may have been part of the lack of smoothness to the resulting sauce.

Here are a few things that I learned:

  • Making fresh cheese is not difficult, but practice may be necessary to get the desired consistency.  Mine was a bit on the soft side for pan frying;  I should have squeezed just a bit more water from the paneer before pressing it.
  • To present the beautiful colors of vegetables such as various potatoes and rainbow swiss chard, don’t cover them in a tomato-based sauce.  Next time I think I will either use the potato and chard or the blended tomato sauce, but not both. :)
  • I used whole coriander seed, that I toasted lightly with the cumin seed.  In this dish, however, the whole coriander seed was a bit too much of an occassional flavor explosion, so I would grind it next time.  (I have had a shrimp and broccoli dish that is perfect with whole coriander seeds, so it works with some things and not others.)
  • Bright yellow saffron-rice and white rice mixed doesn’t provide quite enough contrast to be as visually dramatic as I wanted.  Some Indian restaurants must use red food coloring as well.

I was quite happy with the paneer, and now I do have plenty masala left-over for meals this week… back to work. :)

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Here’s a delicious side item that I made them to accompany Peruvian Baked Chicken.
It is said that Peru is an incubator of vegetable genetic diversity, with some 8000 varieties of potato alone (although not so many are sold as produce) and the Sweet Potato being one variety found to have been there for thousands of years.

Ingredients (to serve 4):

  • sweet potatoes (4, medium to large, well-shaped)
  • scallions (2, whites minced, greens chopped coarsely for topping)
  • butter (1/2 stick)
  • egg yolk (1)
  • queso fresco (6 oz., crumbled, with some reserved for topping)
  • paprika
  • ground pepper (to taste)
  • salt (to taste)

Wash the potatos and scour, but do not remove skin, except were blemished; also remove and root fragments.

To prepare for baking, poke holes in the potatoes with a fork and place them on a foil on baking sheet or jelly roll pan; the foil will prevent burning and mess from the sugary syrup that may drip from them while baking.

Bake the potatoes until tender, 1 hour or perhaps slightly more at 400°F.

Sweet Potatoes, prepared for baking

Once baked, allow the potatoes to cool somewhat, and carefully cut a slit in the top of each potato and use a spoon to scoop out the potato, being careful not to tear the potato skin.

In a bowl or pot (such that you might prepare mashed potato in), combine potato, butter, egg yolk, most of the queso fresco, pepper, and salt, and mash until smooth and well combined.  (Queso fresco is crumbly by nature, so it will not completely mix in with potato.)

Carefully refill the potato skins with the potato filling.  Top the potatoes with a sprinkle of paprika and a bit of crumbled queso fresco, and return to the oven to melt the cheese, and perhaps just slightly brown the potato tops.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, preparing to return to the oven

Remove from oven and top with scallion greens to serve these sweet and delicious potatoes, perhaps as I did with Peruvian Baked Chicken!

Twice Baked Sweet Potato accompanying Peruvian Baked Chicken

Here’s a similar recipe that I used as a reference (I prefer using queso fresco or feta rather than cream cheese): Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Potato and Chickpea Masala Dosa

Potato & Chickpea Masala Dosa

I selected the ingredients for this masala mostly from the recipe below: Russet potato, cumin seed, jalapeno, fresh ginger, garlic, garam masala, curry powder, cinnamon, turmeric, canola oil, water, yellow onion, chickpeas, green peas, cilantro, but I also stirred in about 3/4 cup of goat milk yogurt at the same time as the frozen green peas.

This one was SPICY!

For the dosas, I used half all-purpose flour and half rice flour and added a bit more water until the batter spread thinly in the pan. Also, it was easier to spray the pan with cooking spray than to brush it with oil.

Some restaurants prepare a similar delicious dish, presenting a crispy dosa impressively as a tube larger than the dinner plate.

“Rava Dosas with Potato Chickpea Masala”

Spicy Cornmeal-crusted Catfish

Spicy Cornmeal-crusted Catfish

Pan-fried catfish fillets are one of my favorites. Here the catfish is dipped in an egg/milk wash and coated with cornmeal, seasoned with crushed rosemary, oregano, thyme, turkish paprika, cayenne powder, salt and pepper and pan-fried. Topped with a sauce of mayonnaise, hot pepper sauce, minced cilantro leaves, and lime juice.

Accompanied by roasted potato stacks (sweet and russet potato, with olive oil, garlic, salt and peper, sprinked with thyme leaves) and sautéed red cabbage and spinach, with pine nuts, and tossed with a mustard vinaigrette dressing (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, garlic, and black pepper).

Here are some related recipes:
“Roasted Potato Stacks”

“Red Cabbage and Warm Spinach Salad” 

Certified Yummly Recipes on

UPDATE: The recipe search site Yummly selected this recipe of mine and dubbed my blog “Certified yummly.” :)

“Kickin’ Catfish Recipes for National Catfish Day”

UPDATE (March, 2014): Here’s another nice version from!
Southern-Style Fried Catfish

Squash, Potato, and Chard Curry

Squash, Potato, and Chard Curry

This is one of the first Indian-style foods that I’ve made – a vegetarian dish that is both spicy and sweet; its inspiration was simply to make use of the fresh vegetables at hand and the Garam Masala I’d bought a couple months ago but had yet to use. :-)

Starting with one acorn squash, cut it in half, remove the seeds, but do not remove the squash peel; the peel will keep the squash from disintegrating during cooking, yet will become tender enough to eat. Cube the squash into approximately 1″ pieces and one medium potato to about 3/4″ pieces, and one coarsely chopped tomatillo. First, toast about two tablespoons of cumin seed in a pan (large enough to hold all ingredients), and remove them from the pan. To the pan, on medium heat, add a few tablespoons of canola or other oil and return the cumin seeds to the pan. Then add a coarsely chopped red onion and sauté it until the onion begins to turn translucent. In a mortar or bowl, mix four crushed garlic cloves, a finely chopped jalapeno and thai pepper (both with seeds), perhaps a teaspoon each of these spices: garam masala, turmeric, ground ginger, ground cloves, curry powder, and make it into a paste by stirring in about a quarter cup of water. Next add the squash, potato, and tomatillo to the pan and thoroughly stir in the spice paste, then cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and simmer on medium-low heat until the squash and potato is tender – about 20 minutes, stirring about every 5 minutes to check tenderness and add a bit of water as necessary to prevent burning. Lastly, add chopped green swiss chard, and cook for a few more minutes until the chard is cooked tender.

Serve over rice cooked with cumin seed. Enjoy!
I like this with tzatziki too; that’s arguably very similar to raita (Indian yogurt sauce), e.g.,

I took some hints from the following recipes:
“Vegetable Masala”:
“Rava Dosas with Potato Chickpea Masala”:
“Acorn Squash Masala Fry”:

Olive Baked Chicken

Olive Baked Chicken

I prepared the chicken based on a dish I recall from years ago at a local mediterranean restaurant: I chopped kalamata and green olives, mixed them with thyme, tarragon, and garlic… then pushed the mixture under the skin of the pieces of a whole chicken. I drizzled the chicken pieces with olive oil, and spiced with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika and baked it in a greased pan, with pieces separated, for about an hour at 360°F. Nice!

Served with sautéed green swiss chard, and garlic mashed red potatoes.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Garlic Mashed Yellow Potatoes

OK, this was an easy to prepare, so perhaps not worth describing, but I’d never made it before and it’s always been one of my favorites.

I bought the brisket already brined and used the included pickling spices so can’t take credit other than taking it out at the right time: ~3 hours total at 350°F (4 lbs). The cabbage was in just for the last half hour.

I prepared half the cabbage separately with cumin seed and smoked paprika… if you like cumin, that was a pretty good addition.

Served with Garlic Mashed Yellow Potatoes.

Oven-fried Chicken

Oven-fried Chicken with Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes and Green Beans

This is one of my favorite comfort foods and it’s an easy recipe that I’ve been making for years and everyone seems to love.

Select your preferred chicken pieces, e.g., I used one whole chicken (~8 pieces), cut up. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces to reduce fat content. A really easy way to do this is to pull it off by grasping the skin with a paper towel… it’s a simple tip that works great.

In a large zip-lock bag, break about one and a quarter sleeves of saltine crackers into crumbs; don’t pummel them into dust, just into perhaps ~1/4 inch crumbs. Add spices according to your taste: e.g., ~2 tsp thyme, ~1/2 tsp oregano, black pepper, and ~2 tsp paprika. I like to use smoked paprika, but you can use any… even a spicy paprika (or a pinch of cayenne too) if you like it hot.

Dip the chicken pieces one by one in a wash (beat one egg in milk), and place each in the bag, coating them as best you can. Place the chicken pieces in a greased baking dish, leaving space between the pieces. Sprinkle remaining cracker crumbs over the chicken pieces and drizzle with melted butter (~1/2-3/4 stick). Alternatively, you can drizzle with a couple Tbsp of vegetable oil or olive oil.

Bake at 370°F for ~1 hour.

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

If you’re in need of a respite from foul weather and misery, try making comforting Cornish pasties. History has it that these originated in Cornwall, UK, and were popular with miners; subsequent immigration seems to be the basis for their popularity in regions of the U.S. Some sources claim that a miner would hold the pasty by the crimped crust, eat the center, and then discard the crust as it may have been poisoned by tin ore dust from the miner’s hands.
Here are two varieties I just made:

Traditional: beef, rutabaga, potato, and onion
Traditionally, the crust is filled with raw ingredients then baked, e.g.:

Beef with Caramelized Onions and Stilton Cheese

These shown are halved as they were unusually large with 10″ pie crust. Next time I’ll try the pastry on my own and aim for serving-size. Feel free to have your own debate about whether the crimp should be on the side or the top. I used this video as a reference: but there are lots of others on youtube involving people recording their grandmum’s version. :-)