How Weather Changes Our Food Habits:
The scorching summer in Lahore forces us Lahorites to change our lifestyles drastically. In many households lassi (a cool yogurt drink) replaces tea and coffee at breakfast time , sweet and salty lemonade becomes a necessity to stay hydrated and evenings are incomplete without a refreshing snack of water melon. One of the fondest memories of my childhood is that after siesta my family used to sit around one big bowl of watermelon cubes, sprinkled with salt and mixed with ice cubes. The lucky person used to get the juice that remained in the bowl.
The biggest change is that the weather makes us Punjabis (who are essentially carnivorous) to turn to vegetables as eating too much meat makes one more thirsty. And when it comes to vegetables, there are a few names that you will find popping up again and again on Punjabi tables – potatoes, daikon, cauliflower, mustard greens and spinach.
The Many Delicious Ways to Cook Spinach:
Honestly, I can’t understand people who don’t like spinach! There are literally a million ways to cook this humble but power packed vegetables in our South Asian cuisine. Dip the leaves in besan/gram flour batter to make super crispy fritters or chop them and stir into rice to make a one-pot wholesome spinach pulao spinach pulao meal or blanche and puree them to add to an infinite variety of curries, like palak paneer.
What Is Paneer and How It’s One of The Best Meat Substitutes:
Paneer is a fresh, un-aged, rennet free cheese, traditionally made of cow or buffalo milk. It is a popular substitute for meat in South Asian dishes. The taste is really subtle and mild sweet with a hint of acidic. It is made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or vinegar. The process is similar to queso blanco or cottage cheese, except that paneer does not have salt added to it.
You can enjoy it on its own – just by lightly frying it in olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but when used in curries or sauces, it soaks up all the flavours and spices from the dish, basically changing into whatever you want it to be. It’s quite rich in protein and the firm, tofu-like-chunks provide excellent textural contrast with vegetables and gravies. The best thing – homemade paneer is so quick & easy to make.
Healthy Homemade Palak Paneer:
Palak Paneer is one of the most favourite of vegetable dishes in the region, the chunks of delicious cottage cheese somehow provide solace to the non vegetarians in the absence of meat. Besides the taste factor the dish is loaded with health benefits from both spinach and cottage cheese. Spinach is not only a strong source of iron but also improves skin health and protects from stomach ulcers. Cottage cheese is not only tasty and filling but also high in protein and calcium and low in carbs and fat.
2 kg spinach ( only use leaves removed from stems )
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, diced
2 pods black cardamom (Bari alaychi)
2 sticks cinnamon ( dar cheeni)
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
2 green chilli peppers
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup milk or 2 table spoons cream
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1+1/2 cup paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
This Is What You Do :
Heat oil in a deep pan over medium heat.
Add cardamoms and cinnamon, fry for a few seconds, add onions and caramelise.
Add tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, turmeric and coriander.
Reduce heat, add 1/4 cup water, cover the pan and let simmer for 5 minutes or till the tomatoes are soft and oil gets separated from the masala.
To blanche the leaves drop them in a pan of boiling water for 20 seconds, spoon them out with a slotted spoon. Immediately drop them in a bowl of iced water. This helps keeping the colour fresh and green.
Leave till their temperature drops to room temerature level. Squeeze all the water out of them.
Make a purée of spinach leaves and green chilli peppers in a blender.
Add the purée to the tomato masala. Let simmer for 2 minutes. Add salt and milk/cream, mix and let simmer another 2 minutes.
In a lightly greased frying pan, fry cottage cheese cubes till they are golden on the outside but still soft from inside.
Add to the spinach mix. Serve hot with flat bread ( roti ) or steamed rice.
To reduce the bitterness in spinach blanche the leaves for 20 seconds.
Dairy products like milk and cream also cut through the bitterness.
You can add cottage cheese without frying, I prefer the crispy fried outer layer.
Serves – 4