Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just for the party: Shimla Mirch and Paneer :).

Yeah, there is an actual new post here :). Gone are the days (months?) of being greeted by the same old batata-vada, in case you happened to visit this blog in the past year ;). I'll be honest, it's not been an easy post to write-there is more than year's worth of laziness to shrug off :).

But, the occasion demands it. A Mad Tea Party has been organized and our gracious hostess has been kind enough to allow late comers to be a part of the fun fiesta. After having two crazy parties which involved lots of frying, she has chosen the theme of instant gastronomic gratification, desi ishtyle. Make something quick, easy, delicious. Something that does not exotify Indian cooking, but rather highlights the vast variety that Indian food boasts of, with the myriad regional twists and flavors.

I debated a lot on what to prepare for this event. It had to be simple, amenable to adaptations and quick to make. I chose a simple combination of bell peppers and Indian cottage cheese, the two ingredients i had available at hand. The dish is very quick and easy, and you can play any number of combinations on it. The main reason, though, is that this was one of the first few dishes I ever prepared :). Besides, there is a lot of nostalgia factor involved. This is also the dish that a dear teacher of mine fondly mentioned in several conversation.

Trivia: Since this recipe involves paneer, it has some Punjabi flair. This is a slightly unusual combination for a Punjabi meal though. Bell peppers in Punjab are a summer vegetable, while paneer dishes are usually either reserved for special occasions or winter/autumn/spring season. So this is not something you would typically find in rural Punjabi homes for an everyday meal, though it does make an popular choice for special occasions. However, where I currently live, bell peppers are available all year round and the weather is usually mild, making this an appropriate everyday dish for my kitchen.

As for versatility, the bell peppers and onions combination is one of my favorites. I have tried this dish replacing paneer with tofu, eggplants, zucchini and crook-neck squash, and replacing cumin with mustard seeds/nigella/panch-phoron and the results have always been delightful! Sometimes I've just used ground Sichuan-peppers/Teppal and enjoyed it immensely. I recommend each of these variations.

Here is how we prepare this dish:

Key ingredients:

1 onion,sliced thin
2 bell peppers, diced
20-25 bite size (1") cubes of fresh paneer
Seasonings: 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp. turmeric, salt to taste
1-2 tsp. oil

Optional ingredients: Kashmiri red chilli powder (for color), 1/4 tsp. amchoor or one tomato (cubed) for a tangy twist, crushed garlic/garlic salt or garam masala for a different flavor.

Preparation: Let's begin with the stereotypical "heat oil in a pan". While the oil is heating, we cut the onion into two halves and chop each half into thin slices. Next, we splutter the cumin in hot oil, saute' the onions for 2-4 minutes. During this time, we chop the bell peppers and prepare paneer cubes. Add the paneer cubes and pan fry them next on medium to high heat. They should turn golden. Next, we add the bell peppers and stir-fry some more (4-5 minutes). We then add salt and turmeric, reduce the heat, cover and cook an additional 10 minutes (or till the bell pepper pieces are tender). This is the basic version of the recipe and can be jazzed up with additional seasonings mentioned in "optional ingredients". Total time involved in preparing this dish was close to 25 minutes or so. This is a great everyday and party dish. I enjoyed this dish along with a simple matar kadhi and plain rice, for dinner with my friend Ms. AK and sent some over to buddy MD via pictures. My friends loved it, and that's what counts :). I hope you will love it too.

Here's to fun-times! Thank you, Anita!