Monday, 23 April 2012

Paneer Frankie, Mumbai Style

For those of you who have ventured down to Chapati Beach in Mumbai, you may well have had your eyes delighted with the colourful sights of neon lights, funfair rides, sparkly toys, and of course the street food. But as you may also have experienced, these all come with some kinda risk factor… and I don't think I need to explain why. The absence of sea-foods and meat is probably assuring for weary travellers, but dangers still lurk in and around the masala stained stalls. Pani Puri is probally the most risky of all street foods, due to the “pani” (water) component. The iffy tangy, spicy, brown, chut pani could be anything. But, in the eyes of most Indians, you haven’t lived till you try it. Find a Pani Puri Valla, place your order, watch in amazement as your puri is prepared for you, douse with the pani and quickly pop the soggy bottom beaut in your mouth. Once you pop, you will not be able to stop, the pani puri valla will be your best chum for the night.

Mumbai is known for its fast pace of life and for the huge diversity of people who call the city home, for this reason, it has probably the best variety of street food in the country. Mongolian barbeques, club-sandwhiches, dosas, pau bhaji, dhai vadas etc etc. All available 24hrs a day, on every street corner. The only time and place when rich and poor share the same taste. One such dish I have a close affinity to is the Paneer Frankie. Soft, slightly charred paneer cooked in the tandoor, along with peppers, onions, and tomatoes, wrapped in a light fluffy chapatti with a concoction of tangy, spicy and sweet chutneys. It isn’t just paneer that makes a Frankie, you can get a lamb Frankies, aloo Frankies, egg Frankies, chicken Frankies, or even aloo-egg-chicken Frankies. A simple but genius idea and a great way to use up left-overs, wrap the curry form last night in the chapatti from last night and sell it for lunch. Indians are very resourceful people…

… So being a resourceful Indian, I decided to ask my mum how to make home-made paneer, and to use the paneer in making a Mumbai Paneer Frankie. Instead of using peppers and onions, I chose to use local seasonal ingredients that my pure-vegetarian granddad could eat. I substituted onion with celery and radish, and the peppers with rocket, spinach and watercress. I also made two home-made chutneys: once tangy, spicy tomato chutney; and a cool dill and yogurt sauce.  So, I kinda pushed the boat out a little, but it was so very worth it, and now that I have learnt to make paneer, and have actually come to realise the difference in taste and texture, I will never… and I swear by this… I will never buy shop bought, pre-made paneer ever again.    

To Make the Paneer:
5 pints of milk
Juice of two large lemons

Marinade for Paneer:
2 cups Greek Yogurt
3 Chillies
½ inch of Ginger
 Small handful of Coriander
1 tbsp of Garam Masala

Frankie Salad:
6 medium sized Radishes
3 stalks of Celery
Handful Spinach
Handful of Watercress
Handful of Rocket

Yogurt and Dill Dip:
½ cup of Greek Yogurt
Small handful of finely chopped Dill
Chopped Chilli

Tomato Chutney:
20 Plum Cherry Tomatoes, quatered
2 tbsp of Sunflower Oil
2 Cloves
Small Dried Chillies
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Coriander Seeds
1 tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
1 tbsp Tomato Puree
1 tbsp Tamarind Paste
2 tbsp Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Rock Salt

Wrap of your choice. Chapattis are ideal, but flour tortillas are just as good. I used Swedish flat bread, just cause I had some that needed to be used up.

To make the paneer, heat up the milk in a non-stick pan, and wait for it to boil. Once it starts to boil, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Leave for ten minuets. Get a small holed strainer ready, and pour the milk mixture over. The curds will stay in the strainer and most of the whey will pass through. Transfer over to a muslin cloth (I just used an old cut up t-shirt) and squeeze out as much mater as you can. Leave it to hang over the sink if you can, or in a strainer till the paneer starts to firm up.
Take it out of the muslin, it should be slightly crumbly.

Place it into an appropriately shaped container and pack in tightly. Most of the water should have been removed before doing this. Weigh the paneer down with some tins of beans and place in the fridge for about three hours or even better over night to set. 

Whilst the paneer firms up, make the marinade. Grind the chilli, ginger and coriander together. Mix into the yogurt, the mixture should turn a light, almost pea green colour. Add the garam masala. I love the colour contrast of the cool green of the yogurt and the dark brown of the spicy powder. Taste the marinade. It shouldn't be too hot, if it is, add some more yogurt.

The chutneys can be made at this point as well, giving them enough time to sit in the fridge to cool down. The yogurt sauce is simply, the finely chopped dill and chopped chilli mixed into the Greek yogurt. To make the tomato chutney, heat up the oil in a saucepan, once the oil is hot, add the spices and dried chillies, and wait for the seeds to pop. Add the tomatoes and resist poking them, just swirl the pan around, so they hold their shape and don't realise too much liquid. Add the tomato puree, tamarind paste and the sugar. Once the tomatoes start to naturally break down add about a quarter cup of water and the vinegar. Bring to the boil then turn down and allow to simmer for about ten minuets, or until the chutney thickens. Seasona and taste. If the chutney is tangy, sweet and just slightly spiced, then it’s done. Leave to cool down, then place both sauces in the fridge.

The paneer, once firm, can be cut up into the ideal size, although, too large and they will not absorb enough marinade, and too small, they may just fall apart. It depends on how the paneer has turned out. In the image bellow you can see two different types of paneer, the ones on the right, are slightly yellow and look more crumbly, this is the home made paneer. The ones on the left are white and shop bought. I did this as an experiment to see if I could notice any difference in cooking and tasting. 

Marinade and place in the fridge for about 2 hrs. When ready to cook, heat the oven to 220° and place the marinated paneer pieces on a baking tray and on the top shelf of the oven. The aim is to get them slightly charred on the outside, but soft on the inside. As expected, the, shop bought paneer, being firmer, didn't have as much water content as my home made paneer. Becauce of this, the intense heat made the shop bought paneer rather dry. The home-made paneer released what I though was either fat or whey/water which when mixed with the marinade and turned the bottom side of the paneer crispy. This meant there was a very fine line between slightly charred and very charred. They were in the oven for about 15 minuets, and came out perfectly charred.

I very quickly and generously assembled the Frankie whilst the bread was heating up over the griddle. I rolled it up and chowed it down even faster. It’s great fun to make, and there are short cuts you can take if you don't have time to go through all the steps I took… although, if you love paneer as much as me, I highly recommend making it at home, it keeps in the fridge for a few days… and that only means an excuse to have paneer the next day as well! 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Older the better, Yogurt Culture

Being back home is great. Of course there are a few downsides to moving back home with my mum… in Milton Keynes, but there are way more upsides… for example: my granddad is staying with us for a couple of weeks, due to an injury sustained from me encouraging him to walk a balancing beam in the park. Very foolish on both our behalves, but me more so. But anyways, he’s a pure vegetarian for religious, so that means no meat what so ever, including eggs. Dairy is fine. Garlic and onions, and any other vegetables from the onion family, like chives and leeks, are strictly prohibited also. Even worse… strictly no alcohol! As a family we all believe that the same food should be eaten around the dinning table, and so for this reason, the things that my granddad doesn't eat are also off limits to us. I found this to be rather frustrating at first, a great annoyance, especially for someone who likes to cook and eat whatever I feel like. I had a list of things I wanted to cook when getting back home since being in the Philippines… Like a Lamb Roast…. Oh….a lamb roast…. Gosh!… but, yeah, that’s not gonna happen for anther a while now…

…The up side? Being re-introduced to home-made Gujarati cooking… my MUM’s homemade Gujarati cooking. And oh my days, have I missed it (without even realising). I forgot about all those strange ingredients my mum used to get from the Indian grocers, like mulanggay pods, dudi (bottle gourd), methi (fenegreek leaves), tamerind, … the list of obscurity goes on and on. I think my absence away from my family has mad me appreciate my culture even more. I’m now paying attention to what’s happening in the kitchen when my mum cooks veggie Guju food, something I wouldn't have done five years ago.  My taste buds have been brought back to life with the flavours of my childhood. I’m now eating dishes I refused to eat as a little girl, always opting for the mac and cheese instead of split pea Khitchdi and potato curry…. Now I know.

The one thing I have grown to admire and love so very much is my mum’s home made Dahi (yogurt). She has been using the same yogurt culture for years, and ever since I can remember, there has always been a steel bowl of cool yogurt in our fridge, or a bowl of thriving bacteria sitting in our airing cupboard or microwave (which used to be an inconvenience when I was younger, but now is rather exciting). I don't have to tell you about the benefits of live yogurt on the digestive system, but I do have to tell you, home-made yogurt with active pro-biotic is a whole lot better then the stuff you buy in the supermarket in plastic tubs. Doesn't take a genius to figure out why.

There is a misconception that yogurt is difficult to make, I don't know why exactly… I think anything involving LIVE bacteria can be scary, like bread… people are very sacred of baking bread. But trust me, making yogurt is a lot less scary then bread-making. And it’s super duper easy, once you’ve made your own yogurt and you continue doing so every time, the culture just gets better and better and better!

2 tbsp Yogurt Culture – either borrowed of someone who makes yogurt at home already, or the last 2 tbsp of old, sour yogurt from a bought brand. It’s vital the yogurt is pro-biotic
1 ½ Pint of Full Fat Milk

Heat the milk in a heavy based sauce pan, non stick preferably so the milk doesn't burn. Don't allow the milk to simmer - turn the heat off as soon as the milk starts to steam and bubbles begin to form around the edge of the saucepan.

Leave to cool down for about 20mins. Ideally, the yogurt should still be warm. If you have a thermometer, the ideal temperature should be about 46°. Stir in the yogurt culture, cover and leave in a warm place (airing cupboard is pretty good) for about six hours, or overnight. Once alive, place in the fridge, and consume when cool.

Yogurt’s cooling properties are really great and super effective. It can be used to make refreshing drinks on a hot day by simply whisking with some water and rose extract if you have some, otherwise some honey and cardamom is equally delicious. You can even make frozen yogurt! But today for lunch, I made a Turkish yogurt and feta dip with mint and cayenne, and also an Indian yogurt dip with crushed cumin and coriander powder, topped with toasted sesame seeds and green chillies. This was to be accompanied by some old Indian flat bread, and some stale wholegrain brown bread that needed to be consumed.

I really would like to encourage people to make yogurt instead of buying it, it saves a great deal of money as yogurt can be rather expensive now days, as most health foods are. You will eat more of it, but that does no harm what so ever… just remember to keep some behind for the next batch!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Two Take a Trip to Taal & Tagatay

In my last week in the Philippines, I decided to make most of my little time left in the country and visit Tagatay, a popular country retreat for Manilites, and only a couple of hours away from the capital.  I’d been told of the town’s beauty, nestled along a ridge, overlooking the active Taal Volcano in the centre of lake Taal. The climate's cooler, the air is significantly fresher, the agriculture of the area is almost entirely organic and fancy holiday houses dot the lush landscape. With some of the country’s best hotels, resort and restaurants , Tagatay is a rather exclusive destination. I’m not an exclusive kinda gal, but as it was coming to the end of my stay in the Philippines, I decided to treat myself.

Unfortunately, we decided to go on a rather dismally wet evening. The “cool” climate was bitterly cold, and we were extremely under prepared. Clothes, bags and shoes soaked, we sipped our expensive beer and contemplated how we were to pass the next couple of days. We were told a trip to the Taal Volcano would be P2500 each, way more then we budgeted for. We were also unconfidently told that the Banka (traditional Philippino boat) ride to the volcano during the rough weather would be safe, as it’d be unlikely to sink with only two passengers - not really very re-assuring. Dismayed and cold, we planned on heading back to the city the next day.

On awakening the next day, the weather was much better although the beautiful view was still fogged over by thick clouds. We decided to make the trip to the volcano any way, turning down expensive guides, and making the journey by ourselves. We found a decent fisherman who took us over to the island in his tiny motor powered boat. On arriving to the Taal Volcano we raced up to the top, and watched (and giggled) as lazy overweight tourists with facemasks passed us on tiny horses led by “tour guides”.  As shameful as that was, even more shameful was a man at the top who offered us a 9iron club and 50 golf balls with the aim of swinging the balls straight into the mouth of the volcano!  When I asked him what happens with the balls, he told me he goes and fetches them out of the sulphuric lake with a friend every weekend... not very likely... Anyways, we stopped at the top, munched on a banana and took in the stunning view (which is way better on a clear day). 

View at the top of Taal
The banka journey back to main land was a race to beat the approaching storm… as the storm clouds approached, the water was wild and rough, the wind blew against our direction an it seemed like we were getting further away from our destination. This was probably the scariest, and wettest, boat journey I have ever made… and I’ve made a few. The boat bounced and rocked and groaned with every wave, the water slashed and slapped my body and face. The journey that took us initially 20mins to get to the volcano, took us an hour and 15mins to get back! We were extremely glad to get back on dry land. We tipped well and made tracks to the nearest drinking establishment to get over the traumatic journey.

Entrance to Sonya's Garden
The next day, we took things easy, our sore legs and cold bones deserved some TLC. We decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Sonya’s Garden, a well known B&B and Restaurant. Probably the only truly successful establishment in Tagatay that doesn't have a view of Taal Lake and Volcano. The attraction though, is their extensive garden and organic farm. I had been recommended to go here by many Manilites who all claim Sonya’s Garden to be the hidden gem of Tagatay. And that it was; a 20min jeepney drive out of town, then a 10min tricycle drive away from the ridge and down towards Bantangas, Sonya’s Garden is in a very unassuming location. 

Colours at Sonya's Garden
We had booked for lunch, but decided to explore the gardens before sitting down to our feast. The gardens seemed to roll on and on, with hidden green houses, relaxing water features, and a huge variety of exotic flowers and colourful birds.

Beautiful blue hanging flowers
We stumbled into some gardens that were strictly of limits to guests, and came across some dinning tables, which, I can only assume was for bookings for more intimate special occasions...

Private dinning in one of their many conservatories
Sony’s Garden has accommodation, starting from P3000 (£44) per person to P5000 (£73). The houses/rooms are dotted around the gardens and are traditional Philippino designs with caprice windows and wooden interiors.

Accommodation: traditional design
They also have a lovely spa, a bakery and a shop selling lovely organic beauty products and some local crafts.

We must have been walking around the gardens for nearly an hour when the hunger kicked in…

Sonya’s Garden is known for their set lunch. A three-course meal that uses and shows off their ingredients straight from their farm and garden for only P600 (around £9). The dinning area is in a large, light conservatory with exotic birds flying free and chirping overhead… this nerved me a little, I’ve had bad experiences of seagulls when by the seaside in the UK, and pigeons in London, and was expecting a similar experience… but for some reason, the birds seemed docile and uninterested in all the food spreads below them.

The service was brilliant, and so very swift: Calamansi (small Philippino lime) juice was immediately brought out to our table, and this was quickly followed by our first course of flower salad, an array of toppings, and a basket of freshly baked bread.

Large salad spread
The choice was huge… fruit, nuts, cheese, pesto and even sundried tomatoes. It was all so very delicious, that we forgot to keep space for our second course…

…Our salad was promptly replaced with pasta: tagliatelle and a selection of sauces and toppings: including salmon, olives, roasted vegetables, rich tomato sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and chilli flakes, all topped up without even asking. 

We literally had no more space, and both agreed a coffee would be a more then sufficient end to the meal. But when deep-fried banana rolls, chocolate cake and sweet potato cakes were placed in front of us, we just could not resist a try. Sweetly delicious, but a little too heavy especially after our indulgent meal, it’s a Philippino’s delight, but my idea of too-much-of –a-good-thing = a case of servere indigestion. Instead of coffee, we were given Taragon tea. I had never had this before, and was pleasantly surprised at the pleasing taste and digestive quality. This is something I have taken away with me and now make after near death, decadent meals.

Happily stuffed, we headed back to Manila on the bus. A trip that started of rather bleak ended unexpectedly chirpy. It’s funny how the most unassuming place can have the most memorable lasting effects… especially when food’s concerned.