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Curries Without Worries: Indian Food for Christmas Eve

paneer do piaza, dam aloo, cachumbar ka salad, rasmalai

IndianFoodPlated2Curries Without Worries is subtitled “an introduction to Indian cuisine,” and it’s well set up to offer that. Author Sudha Koul explains principles of Indian cooking, details both vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes, and suggests a number of set menus to try. I’ve owned this book for a while but have never used it before, so decided that I should do it up right and prepare a full RasmalaiCloseUPdinner. So for Christmas Eve we decided to make Indian food and watch “Twin Peaks.”

I started the night before by making dessert, rasmalai: ricotta cubes in cream sauce. I mixed together ricotta cheese and sugar, then baked the mixture until it was set but not browned. Once it had cooled, I cut it into squares, which I put into a glass dish. RicottaInPanThen I mixed together half-and-half, saffron, cardamom and slivered almonds, and poured the sauce over the cheese; I sprinkled on some chopped green pistachios, covered the dish with plastic wrap, and put it into the fridge. That night’s viewing: series pilot.

The next morning I started early on the paneer, a homemade PaneerCookingcheese. Paneer takes a fair amount of time to make, but not much of that is hands-on. I started by bringing some whole milk to a boil, which gave me the opportunity to learn once again that a watched pot of milk will not boil but the second you look away, sploosh! Once I’d pulled the pot off the direct heat I stirred in a mixture of whole-milk yogurt and lemon juice, which caused PaneerDrainingthe mixture to curdle; as directed, I covered the pot and left it to sit for half an hour. Then I poured the curd mixture onto a layer of cheesecloth (as in, “oh, that’s why they call it that”), rinsed it and let the bulk of the liquid drain off. The cheesecloth was showing signs of weakness at this point, so I tied up the cheese curd mass in a linen napkin and hung it above the kitchen sink for PaneerSqueezinganother 30 minutes to drain out more liquid. Then I took the cheese, still tied in its napkin, and pressed it with a weight for another half hour or so. Finally I untied the napkin and cut the paneer into cubes.

To make paneer do piaza, I fried the cheese cubes in hot oil, then set them aside while I prepared a sauce of onions, ginger, garlic, PaneerFriedtomatoes, cumin, coriander, more onions (yes! “twice-onioned is twice-blessed”), cayenne pepper, cardamom, garam masala, cloves, nutmeg and water. Once I had that ready, I added the fried cheese and let it all cook for about 20 minutes.

The dam aloo took some preparation as well, though not as much. I started by boiling some PotatoesFrying2small whole potatoes, then pulling off the skins. These were a bit green, so I actually pared away the green bits, then pierced each potato repeatedly with a toothpick. Then I fried the potatoes until they were reddish-brown, then set them aside. I then sauteed some onions and added yogurt, cayenne, fennel, ginger, cumin, cloves and water; when that was at the right stage IndianFoodIngredientsof simmering I added the potatoes and let that cook for about 10 minutes.

The final dish was cachumber ka salad, or cucumber salad. This was the simplest preparation of all (other than the rice, for which I used a rice cooker). I mixed finely chopped cucumber, onion, tomato, and cilantro with some DamAloosalt and lemon juice, then let it chill while I finished the rest of the cooking.

The full meal was quite a bit of work, but was really delicious. The spices were distinctive but not overwhelming, though I discovered today when I brought the leftovers for lunch that they do intensify with time. (Luckily there were not many people in the office DicedSaladto be offended by my breath.) I followed the set meal as laid out in the book, except that I substituted the rasmalai for a frozen dessert (similar composition but there wasn’t room in my freezer), and my only complaint was that it was a bit heavy on frying and whole milk and a bit light on green vegetables. But all the dishes went well together. (I believe we got to the end of the first season that evening.)

Verdict: Success. It was a fair amount of work but it was really good.

I took many more photos than I had room for in this post; be sure to visit my 107 Cookbooks set on Flickr.


  1. Samantha says:

    Ah ha! That is one of my favorite cookbooks! I made an Indian feast out of it for Christmas three years ago (plus palak paneer from the Tea & Cookies blog). I’ve never gone for one of her suggested menus, but I have made pullao, tandoori chicken, whispering windows butter chicken (reduce the butter or bring on the heart attack), shami, khulla keema, tikka kebabs, saag gosht, saag paneer, tandoori fish, vindaloo, dal, and razmah out of it.

    I’ve discovered that you should half the amount of peppers she recommends. For example, the vindaloo as written is too hot to eat without rice, milk, and ice cream.

    Cook’s Illustrated this month has a recipe for the multi-culti chicken tikka masala which is pretty good.

  2. […] time for Indian food again! Unlike Curries Without Worries, The Spice Box is a fully vegetarian cookbook. Author Manju Shivraj Singh provides introductory […]

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