Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Bengali ful kofi and North Indian saag paneer with methi

There is something about the onset of autumn and winter that makes me crave Indian food. Which is strange really as it comes from completely the opposite climate to the UK's grey and dull weather. On the menu last weekend were Bengali-style cauliflower with ginger and cumin, North Indian/Punjabi spinach with paneer and fenugreek seeds, and tandoori-style prawns. More on the prawns later, but this post focusses on the vegetables. Oh and before I forget kudos to my mother for the recipes.

So traditional Bengali Hindu cooking generally doesn't use onions or garlic when cooking vegetables, instead mostly favouring ginger and a variety of different spices. This ful kofi (cauliflower) recipe is incredibly simple and can be eaten with either rice or an Indian bread like naan or chapattis.

Recipe (enough for 2-4 depending on what else you're eating)
1 tbsp oil
1 medium cauliflower
1 dried bay leaf
1.5 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 green chilli
0.5 inch piece of ginger
About 0.5 tsp salt or enough to season

Peel and crush the ginger into a paste and fry gently in the oil for a minute or two. Add the bay leaf. Pierce the chilli a couple of times with the tip of a knife, and add to the other ingredients to achieve flavour without heat. If you do want more heat, slice the chilli up, and leave the seeds in for extra hotness. Chop the cauliflower into medium florets and add to the pan with the cumin seeds and salt. Stir everything well and cover with a lid. I like my cauliflower au naturel, but if you'd prefer some colour add a little tumeric too. This should take around 10-15minutes to cook through on a low heat, but give it a stir every now and again. If it looks like things are sticking to the pan, pour in a spoon or two of water.

The Punjab region of India is known for its fondness for all things dairy, including paneer, but the combination of green leaves with this plain 'cheese' is something that is popular across North India. If you find them you could use fresh methi leaves instead of spinach in this dish, but I much prefer cooking with the uniquely fragranced methi or fenugreek seeds. I remember my mother making paneer from scratch back in the day, a process involving cheese cloths and various stages of boiling and straining milk. Luckily (as I don't own any cheese cloths) ready made paneer is pretty widely available in supermarkets these days.

I also use frozen spinach for this recipe. It comes blanched in little blocks so it's much easier to see how much you're getting, compared to bags of the fresh stuff which always seem to shrink down to about a teaspoon's worth no matter how much you start with.

Recipe (also enough for 2-4 depending on what else you're eating)
1 block of paneer (c.225g)
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cumin
0.5 tbsp oil for frying

500g frozen chopped spinach (defrost overnight or in the microwave)
3-4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1.5 tsp whole methi (fenugreek) seeds
1 green chilli
0.5 tbsp oil
About 0.5 tsp salt or enough to season

Cut the paneer into smallish pieces (as in the above picture), and combine the tumeric and ground cumin. Lightly dust the paneer pieces with this coating and fry until they're slightly browned. Once this is done set the paneer to one side.
Heat the remaining oil and put the fenugreek seeds in. Stir and cook gently until they just begin to colour and then add the spinach. Also add the whole green chilli, following the same procedure as with the cauliflower dish above to adjust the amount of heat. Stir everything well and then add the crushed garlic. Cook on a low heat for around 10minutes, add the paneer back in, mix well and return to the heat for another 10minutes or so. Scoff with rice or an Indian bread, ideally with some Bengali cauliflower on the side too.

Clawson Dairy paneer
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £2.00 per block

Chopped frozen spinach
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £1.00 for 1kg


theundergroundrestaurant said...

Woah, we are veering off the junk food here..
sorry haven't sent the book yet...head up arse...x

TheFastestIndian said...

hehe- well I do try and do some proper cooking in between scoffing instant noodles and crisps!
Re book- I blame you entirely for me not cooking any tofu or enoki mushrooms recently. Know you've had a lot going on so no stress!

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Unknown said...

That's my favorite dish. I taste it with my Indian friend while we are on trekking trip.