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Homesick for Life on the Road: Mutter Paneer


Making paneer reminds me of the brief time I spent in Nepal. Not of the streets I walked and the music I was there to study, but the many quiet hours I spent in the kitchen with the family who had taken me in, cooking alongside the “sister” who had adopted me into her household, welcoming me with an infectious smile and a cup of tea. I miss watching Hindi soap operas with her to this day, and I didn’t understand of word of them (so that’s saying something).

Our kitchen corner (left) and a view down onto wedding feast preparations (right). When cooking for 50, I guess it's easier to work outside.

Aside from your basic college survival budget cooking (lots of rice and beans and steamed carrots, in my case) I was not all that sophisticated when it came to food prep at that point in my life, and it showed painfully in this sparely equipped, two-burner kitchen. By the time I left a few months later, however, I could make curries and dals and chaats and momos…well, if not like a pro, then at least like an over-enthused novice. Paneer was another of these new delicacies, the construction of which was introduced to me in Kathmandu, though I’ve only made it a few times more in the ensuing decade.

On my last trip to NYC, however, I grabbed a bite at a little Indian lunch counter where the food was as divine as the shop was covert. The mutter paneer spoke to me through the glass. It was so tasty that once I got home I found myself fixated on the taste of it and the desire to revisit that simple cheese making process. It got me a little homesick for life on the road (if that’s possible), but the resulting dish itself was so tasty I consoled myself with quite a few spoonfuls before the paratha was even off the griddle (no recipe for those here, because I cheat and buy frozen).

*The lovely aluminum serving dish pictured above is from Don Drumm’s studio.

For the paneer

1/2 gallon whole milk
3-5 T lemon juice (best to have more than enough squeezed and ready before you start)
1 piece fine cheesecloth

In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk up to a gentle boil. Add lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition, until milk separates. Remove from heat.

Line a sieve with the cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through to separate them. Rise the curds under cold water then drain well, gathering the curds together into a ball. Twist the cheesecloth together and gently squeeze to remove some of the excess water, then leave to hang for 30 minutes. To further press the curds into a more solid cheese that can be cubed and fried for dishes such as the one below, twist the cheesecloth closed gently but securely and place on a counter or cutting board with a weight on top to further press out liquid (I use my marble cheese board). Check the cheese after an hour and continue pressing until it has reached the desired texture (if it becomes too dry it will crumble, so take care). Use right away or wrap well and refrigerate.

For more beautiful instructions than mine, see this tutorial.

For the mutter paneer
Adapted from Manjula’s Kitchen

3 T olive oil, plus more as needed
paneer (see recipe above), cubed

1 T ginger, chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 inch of cinnamon stick
Pinch of asafetida

Here I must admit that I went a little cross-culture crazy and omitted the remaining spices, instead using a few spoonfuls of that amazingly delicious berbere paste I made a little while ago. However, recognizing that you probably won’t have that on hand, the original recipe indicates:

1 T coriander powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt or to taste

16 oz. frozen peas

Heat enough of the olive oil to thickly coat the bottom of your skillet and fry the paneer cubes. When they are golden brown, spoon them out onto a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil and set aside.

Puree the tomatoes and ginger together.

Add a little more oil to your skillet if needed and, when hot once again, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and asafetida. Stir and fry for a few seconds, then pour in the tomato and ginger mixture, plus remaining spices. Once the sauce begins to sputter, reduce the heat and allow to reduce a bit.

Add peas, stirring to combine. Cover and continue cooking until peas are tender. Toss in the paneer and heat the dish through, adding salt as needed.

Serve with flatbread or over rice.

It’s Getting Hot In Here: Yemisir Kik Wot


There is just not a beautiful way to serve a scoop of lentils. No matter how amazing they taste, how perfectly they are spiced, the visual is just not that inspiring. Or maybe that’s just me. Do you have a secret you’d care to share?

Anyway, as I mentioned a couple days ago, I was infatuated with the Yemisir Kik Wot I had tasted recently and wanted to try my hand making it at home. Thanks to a favorite cookbook of mine and some internet research, I made a plan. It wouldn’t be 100% authentically Ethiopian, perhaps, but that mattered much less to me than that it be really, really good.

First, I made my berbere paste.

one pot

And then I made a Yemisir Kik Wot that was only a slightly tweaked version of this recipe, adaptations based on what I had on hand, the potency of my spices, and the fact that I could not seem to pry the lid off my canister of turmeric (!!) more than any serious reason I saw to alter the original.

The kitchen being absent of any freshly baked injera, I served mine with a pile of kale sautéed in oil, garlic, and ginger, with a dab of harissa on the side, since I just happened to have some on hand (ahem).

Yemisir Kik Wot
variation on this recipe from Marla in the Kitchen

1/4 cup olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. ginger, minced
2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1 1/2 tsp. berbere paste
3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
12 oz. small red lentils
4-5 cups vegetable broth, as needed

Heat the oil in a 4 qt. soup pot and sauté the onion until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for several minutes more. Next, add all the spices to the pot, stirring continuously to prevent burning. After a minute or two, add the tomatoes and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.

Finally, add the stock and lentils, and simmer until they are very soft and have melded together, about 45 minutes.

Haluski (The Hazards of History)


There is perhaps nothing in my cooking repertoire more contrary to presentation here than the shapeless and nearly monochrome combination of cooked cabbage, onion, butter, and noodles that make up haluski. Even with a bit of black pepper and Hungarian paprika, no dressing up for the camera will really make this dish shine (or, frankly, make it appetizing if you don’t already love the tastes you’re anticipating). However, particularly if your grandma used to make it for you, there is really no protection from the winter cold more secure than this supper.

To keep the oven and stove top cranking while I steamed and sauteed my pot of cabbage and onion, I paired the cooking of this noodle dish with the creation of a loaf of soda bread and a buttermilk broccoli soup (to use up the rest of the buttermilk, though I recommend treading carefully with this recipe if nutmeg is not your thing).

Irish Soda Bread

It occurred to me halfway through the cooking that perhaps there were “better” ways to make haluski and that maybe I should have done a bit of Googling before I began cooking. Pretty much every post I turned up after the fact, however, was exactly the dish I had made. (Aside from the one that also included Crisco–yikes! Though if you grew up with a lard version, this may help get you there.)

So fill your kitchen with the aroma of cooking cabbage and think of grandma with love. You’ll be all the warmer for it.

Family Recipes

Guessing Game: The hazards of family recipes

Helen’s Haluski
based on the “um, maybe?” instructions of gram, via my mom

1 medium head of white cabbage, cored and shredded with a knife
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped or thinly sliced in half moons (cook’s preference)
1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
1/2 cup butter
3/4-1 lbs. wide egg noodles
salt, pepper, and paprika to taste


Place cabbage, onion, and water in a large pot. Cover almost completely with lid and heat to steam vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed. Add butter and continue cooking to brown vegetables, about 30 minutes more. Cabbage and onion should be soft and tasty. Remove from heat.

About 15 minutes before vegetables are done, cook noodles according to package directions. Add noodles to cooked vegetables and toss well to combine, seasoning with salt, pepper, and paprika. A dollop of sour cream or some cottage cheese might not be amiss either. (Don’t give me that look.)

Serve with crusty bread, vegetable soup, and pickled beets (or sausages, if you swing that way).

Haluski meal

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler


Not long ago, I enjoyed a particularly fantastic supper at Woodberry Kitchen which consisted of navy beans, torn bread, kale, turnips, and smoked red chile, all baked up in a petite cast iron pan and garnished with fresh pea shoots. It was delicious top to bottom, but those torn bread chunks studding the dish–so crisp, so well seasoned, so tasty–have haunted me ever since.

Though I have no wood-fired brick oven here at home, nor any cast iron pans for baking such a dish, I decided to try for an approximation with the ingredients I had on hand.

The stew I came up with was hearty and comforting, but it was ultimately a dish quite unlike the original, of course. It was plenty tasty, sure, but disappointment encroached at the dinner table. I had failed to capture the bread–both in texture and taste. It was good, but it wasn’t that bread. How did they do it?

So it’s back to the drawing board on that part. I’m not even sure what I’m looking for exactly–more of a crouton, perhaps? even drier and spicier than what I made?–but I’ll let you know when I find it.

Meanwhile, this is a dish that would warm and welcome any visitor arriving at your door on a cold night.

Traveler's Stew: Process

Traveler’s Stew

1 1/2 cups crowder peas, cooked
4 T olive oil, divided
1 sprig rosemary
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, cubed
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
28 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp paprika
2-3 cups swiss chard, de-ribbed and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Several slices of crusty bread, cubed (an 8-inch portion of stale baguette works especially well here)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Traveler's Stew: Process

In a 4 qt. oven-safe pot, heat 2 T olive oil and sizzle rosemary to infuse. Add onion and saute until softened, then stir in mushrooms and continue cooking until they release their juices. Remove and discard the rosemary and add the carrots, celery, beans, tomatoes (with their juice), wine and spices to the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the carrots have softened. Add the swiss chard, and continue cooking 10-15 minutes more, until greens are wilted and flavors well merged. Season with salt as needed.

While you wait for the greens to cook down, preheat the broiler and heat the remaining 2T olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic to infuse the oil and then add the bread cubes, tossing to coat with the oil. Continue to toast them in the pan, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the cubes are golden, about 7 minutes.

When ready to serve, layer the bread on top of the stew. I decided to push the chunks down into the liquid just slightly to soak them into the tomato broth somewhat, then I placed the pot under the broiler for a few minute to recrisp the bread and actually burn it just a bit (personal preference).

Remove from oven and garnish with parsley. Serve piping hot.

Traveler's Stew

Epic Feast: Giving Thanks in Advance


I’d like to slip in an early “I’m thankful for…” acknowledgement to say that I’m thankful for cozy weekends at home with family and friends. It probably seems like a ridiculously simple thing, but a concentrated stretch of “closed laptop/turned off work life” and some steady human interaction provides powerful recalibration in life. My own priorities realigned, I was back at my desk this morning with fresh focus and a smile on my face.

That in our house the embrace of these warm and comforting times usually centered around the kitchen is probably not a shocker, and Brian and I decided to throw a little pre-Thanksgiving feast on Sunday evening to cap it all off. There was food and food and more food, plus three wines to pair it up with. We may just have to make a habit of this: Sunday Suppers in Wonderland, anyone? I think I smell a 2012 project coming on…

So anyway, a plan was hatched.

The Menu

The food:

Spinach Salad with Bosch Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion, and Toasted Pecans w/goat cheese rounds rolled in pepitas (a riff off of this)

Kaddo Bowrani (Baked Pumpkin) from The Helmand Restaurant (secret recipe revealed to the world thanks to this)

Roasted Parsnip and Pear Soup (a decadent, non-vegan variation on this)

Cheddar and Dill Biscuits (pretty much these, but sans bacon)

Roast Chicken Provençal (Brian made this as outlined, while I subscribed to the blog that provided the recipe, because it’s amazingly lovely.)

Simmered Root Vegetables with Swiss Chard (more or less this, though we only used kale, carrots, and potatoes. It was fairly plain, so next time I think I’ll do a version of the the pot pie gravy and filling instead)

The wines:

2011 Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau
2009 Perrin & Fils Cotes de Rhone Villages
2008 Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Not a dud in the bunch. We enjoyed them all and they complimented the food (right down to the Lake Champlain truffles we ended the night on) perfectly.



And now, a sampling of the recipes. The rest were so close to the linked originals above that they don’t seem to bear repeating.

Roasted Parsnip and Pear Soup
adapted from Vegan Workshop

3 large parsnips, peeled and cubed
2 medium pears, cored and cubed
1 small onion or a few shallots, peeled and quartered
2 T hazelnut oil
1/2 cup whole milk
2 T maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place parsnip, pear, and onion chunks on a large baking sheet (I line mine with foil first for easy clean up). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat.

Roast the fruit and vegetables for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway through for even browning.

About 15 minutes before roasting is complete, bring 5 cups of vegetable broth and 1 bay leaf to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add roasted fruit and vegetables and leave to simmer 10 minutes more. Remove bay leaf and puree the soup. Stir in milk and maple syrup. Add additional vegetable broth or milk to thin to desired consistency, and adjust seasoning to taste.

Kaddo Bowrani (Baked Pumpkin)
from The Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore (via the Baltimore Sun)

1 small pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar (Overwhelmed by this amount, I used a lot less sugar–a 1/4 cup, if that–but then found the dish lacking. Still, that’s a lot of sugar, so more experiments will be needed. I think I’ll give brown sugar a try next.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Dash salt

Remove seeds and peel pumpkin. Slice remaining flesh top to bottom into 2-inch crescents. In a large, oven-safe sautée pan with a lid, heat oil and add pumpkin. Cook on medium covered for 10 minutes, flipping slices over with tongs halfway through. Remove from heat and sprinkle the pumpkin with the sugar and cinnamon. Replace lid and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until soft.

Stir yogurt, garlic, and salt together until smooth. Plate warm pumpkin, drizzle with yogurt sauce, and serve immediately.

Cheddar and Dill Biscuits
adapted from Bon Appétit

3 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 3/4 cups chilled buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Cube up the butter and add to the flour mixture, pulsing again until butter is reduced to small bits. Place this mixture in a large bowl, along with cheese and dill. Toss with fork to evenly incorporate. Pour in buttermilk while stirring and mix just enough to wet all ingredients and produce a sticky dough.

Pull off small handfuls (approx. 1/4 cup) of the shaggy dough with your fingers and drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake biscuits until golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.

A feast shared and well enjoyed.

A feast shared and well enjoyed.

Making the Connections


I opened the refrigerator in search of dinner last night and was confronted by leftover portions of ingredients that seemed anxious to be combined together into one epic dish. Seasonal produce conveniently seems to work that way, doesn’t it? As I pulled various items out onto the counter–half an onion, some mushrooms, half a box of spinach–a dish started to materialize in my mind. The freezer coughed up half a bag of frozen sweet potato cubes and the pantry matched that with half a pound of whole wheat pasta. I was itching to stir.

I should pause here to point out that while I’m no slave to a recipe or a measuring spoon, when I try to cook completely without a net, well, result may vary. But I was feeling bold, plus I was home alone, so I just kept crashing forward. The cat looked worried, but I figured I could cook the various pieces and then pull the dish together with a little cream and butter. In the end, I was mostly hoping it looked good enough for me to plate it and try out my new photo lighting system.

Though I was nagged by the thought that this impulse I was following was completely ignoring some essential thing that I would only realize once the meal was prepared and I tried to actually eat it, no drama ensued. I just ended up with a nice autumn pasta dish that effectively consumed all my leftovers into something classy. Mission accomplished.

Considering how the dish was made, there are obviously no hard and fast ingredients or proportions. However, this was my approach:

Autumn Pasta with Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, and Greens

1 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen sweet potato cubes
4 cups spinach or leafy greens of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta

4 T butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp chopped sage
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion until softened and translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms release their juices. Add sweet potatoes, greens, and broth to the pan and, without stirring, place lid over top and allow vegetables to steam for six minutes. At this point, the greens should have begun to wilt and the potatoes to soften. Toss the vegetables and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. When complete, drain and return to pot, adding the cooked vegetables and any cooking liquid in the pan. Stir to prevent pasta from sticking together.

In your (now empty) saute pan, melt the butter and add the sage, cooking for a minute or two. Add the cream and cheese and stir until melted and heated through. Return pasta and vegetables to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce and rewarm the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste as needed. Garnish with a few chopped nuts (I had a few toasted hazelnuts on hand–leftover, of course) and enjoy.