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. :)

Enchilada with Chard, Olives, and Chickpeas

Enchilada with Chard, Olives, and Chickpeas

This large enchilada, prepared with a burrito-sized flour tortilla rather than the traditional corn, is a modification of my earlier recipe for Olive and Chard Enchiladas.

I added chickpeas (for protein), a bit of feta cheese, and ground whole, dried oregano to the filling and added chopped stewed tomoato to the cheddar cream sauce. Otherwise it’s as described there.

This is a really tasty combination of ingredients, and I think it could be done with a tomato-based sauce as well.

Thanks to a local pub for the idea to make one ginormous serving-sized enchilada rather than so many smaller ones!

A tip: unfortunately with sauces made of cream and cheese, the oil tends to seperate when reheating. I experimented with reheating both slowly in an oven and quickly in the microwave and didn’t see a substantial difference; in both cases the sauce separated. To rememedy this, I suggest microwaving, and then mix in a bit of milk with the sauce afterward, and blend the sauce with a whisk or fork.

A Tale of Two Enchiladas

A Tale of Two Enchiladas: Olive and Chard Enchiladas, Chicken Enchiladas

Rick Bayless’ website says: “The word `enchilada’ simply means `in chile’ and in Mexico, the most beloved version is actually a street snack: a corn tortilla dipped in chile sauce that’s a far cry from the limp, stuffed tortillas swimming in a sea of red sauce and molten cheese that we’re familiar with in the U.S.”

This is the first time I’ve made enchiladas, so I made the familiar latter, molten, swimming variety. :-)

The vegetarian Olive and Chard Enchilada (center of plate) is a corn tortilla wrapped around a filling of sautéed chopped red swiss chard, sliced jalapeno-stuffed olives, finely diced fresh jalapeno (seeded), sliced scallion, minced garlic, cumin powder, and a pinch of salt. The sauce is a cheddar cream sauce made with whipping cream, sharp cheddar cheese, garlic powder, and a touch of cayenne powder.

For the Chicken Enchiladas, chicken breasts were boiled in strained tomatoes (a purée/juice in a box; V-8 juice would be a reasonable alternative) seasoned with salt and pepper, then cooled and shredded. Corn tortillas wrap a filling consisting of the shredded chicken combined with black beans, grated cheddar cheese, and a sautéed mix of finely diced white onion, diced fresh jalapeno and serrano (with seeds), minced garlic, seasoned with minced fresh cilantro leaves, crushed whole oregano, and cumin powder. The sauce is a smoky tomato sauce, based on the strained tomatoes used to boil the chicken, seasoned with smoked spanish paprika, salt, and a touch of cayenne powder.

Some enchiladas were topped with both sauces. The enchiladas were placed in a baking dish (sauce also in bottom), sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese and sliced scallion greens, then baked at 350°, first covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes to slightly brown the top.

Served with sliced avocado, sour cream, and salsa.

Whew, that’s enough of cooking for today.

This recipe was inspired by some enchilada recipes on Epicurious using either green olives or chard, and these video recipes:

“Beef Enchiladas”

“Chicken Chimichanga”

Sesame Swiss Chard

Sesame Swiss Chard

Here’s a simple, tasty Korean or Japanese-inspired vegetable dish that I served with the aforementioned Firecracker Chicken and Rice.

To prepare: roll washed and trimmed swiss chard leaves, leaving some stalk pieces intact, and cut across the leaves in perhaps 1.5 inch strips; tear these in half to manageable eating length if necessary. Sauté chard with minced garlic in oil. Add a splash of soy sauce and bit of freshly ground black pepper. When done (stalks a bit translucent but still slightly firm), mix in some toasted sesame seeds; splash with a bit of sesame oil and top with more sesame seeds to serve.

(This is based, I think, on something I saw on a favorite cooking show: Simply Ming.

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.

Sourdough Bread Pizza and Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard

Sourdough Bread Pizza and Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard

Thanks to a visit to my friend’s community garden plot, I got some great veggies! Here I used the fresh oregano and sun gold tomatoes to make a sauce for the pizza topped with fresh basil; green swiss chard is mixed with the squash that had been on my countertop for at least 6 months!