Ever since I was little, I remember, our house had constant visitors… family, friends, distant relatives, dad’s work colleagues. They’d come over for lunch, dinner or drop by for tea. My grandfather’s oldest friends would come by every Sunday for breakfast. We had Diwali (the Hindu New Year) & Raksha Bandhan (a festival celebrating the bond of brothers & sisters) dinners for the entire family… aunts, uncles, cousins. My grandmother & mother would cook traditional Gujarati delicacies… Ghugras (whole wheat crescents stuffed with green peas or green beans & deep fried)Undhiyu (a mixed winter vegetable dish with green beans, raw banana, purple yam, with a special baby garlic & turmeric chutney) in winter, Puran Polis (flatbread stuffed with a mixture of jaggery & lentil) during the rains, Ras (fresh Alphonso mango juice) & Dhokla (soft & fluffy steamed triangles made with fermented rice batter) during the mango season, my mother’s famous, fresh & deceptively light Shrikhand (thick sweetened yogurt with saffron & cardamom) all year round… a special Mango version for my birthday in May every year!
It was a different story when my parents’ “gang”, their oldest, dearest friends or people from my dad’s work-place came over. Mum would then make Pizza from scratch (my paternal grandmother taught her to bake bread & pizza base at home… She was quite ahead of her times), Mexican, Chinese, cuisine from other parts of India. It was at these dinners that my sister & I, as a couple of 10-12 year olds were allowed to contribute to the menu.
At first Ma entrusted us with simple stuff, like a yogurt dip or salad or toppings for crackers. Then gradually as her confidence in us grew, we made dessert or a main course once in a while. If there was one thing she was very particular about back then (actually even now!) is, “Please don’t experiment on the guests!” So we had to make something we had made before AND/OR follow the recipe to the T… which worked for me, at times, when I would make a particularly boozy Chocolate Mousse & get very stern looks from Dad! “It’s in the recipe Dad! See there it says TABLE not TEAspoons!”
But they would always, very proudly tell their friends, “Nandini (my sister) made the dip!” or “Shivani made the pasta salad!”
Of course now that Nandini & I have our own homes, own kitchens, own parties, we experiment away on our guests! This also means that we don’t really cook at too many Vakil dinners anymore.
Last week, though, I had a chance, after a long time, to cook once again in my mother’s kitchen. I happened to be around the day my mum was organizing a dinner party for a friend from France & her Italian friend & a bunch of my dad’s old colleagues. She planned an Indian menu of course, with a mix of our native Gujarati dishes & some North Indian ones, with her signature aubergine dish.
My contribution to the menu was Kadhai Paneer, a Punjabi cottage cheese dish, from Nita Mehta’s recipe book. And yes, I did follow the recipe to the T… almost!
- 250 gm Paneer (Cottage Cheese, cut lengthwise)
- 2 Capsicums (cut in strips)
- 2-3 Tomatoes (chopped)
- 10-12 cloves Garlic (minced)
- 1 inch piece Ginger (chopped finely)
- 1 ½ inch piece Ginger (grated)
- 2 Green Chillies (finely chopped)
- 1 ½ tablespoon Dhania Seeds (coriander seeds)
- 2 dried Red Chillies
- 1 tablespoon Kasoori Methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- A pinch Methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)
- 4 tablespoons Oil, plus more for Deep Frying the Paneer
Since I was cooking for a European palate, I cut down the quantity of the chillies (both green & red) & deseeded them to cut down the heat.
I am not too fond of biting into ginger, so I used 2 inches, grated.
- Dry roast the red chillies till brown & crisp. Coarsely grind the roasted red chillies & dhania seeds together.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil & sauté the capsicum for about 5-7 minutes till done. Keep aside.
- In another wok, heat the oil & deep fry the Paneer pieces till golden brown. Keep aside.
- Heat the rest of the oil & cook the minced garlic till brown.
- Add the red chillies-coriander seed powder & stir fry for 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, followed by methi seeds, salt, green chillies & grated ginger. Cook till the oil separates & tomatoes soften.
- Add the capsicum, paneer & dried methi leaves. Give it a good mix.
- Serve hot with parathas / tortillas
If you want to go a little healthier, you could skip Step 3. The cottage cheese could be added directly to the tomatoes. Just be careful while stirring it in & don’t over stir as the paneer might crumble.
This recipe serves 6 people
Jazz Up The Leftovers
The Kadhai Casserole
Grease a small but deep microwave/oven proof bowl generously. Arrange some tomato slices in a neat layer. Season with salt, pepper & any other herbs/spices you might want to use. Cover the tomatoes with buttered rice & top it with some paneer. Continue making the tomato, rice & paneer layers till you run out. Grate some cheese over it & pop in the microwave / oven till the cheese melts or browns.