This time round on KCC we’ve been inspired to take on a curry house favourite of ours, matar paneer, cubes of fresh white cheese cooked with peas in a spicy tomato-rich gravy.
We’ve been in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for the last two weeks to polish off the final chapter in a gruelling two-year run of Central Asian elections. While browsing around the supermarket, we came across a pack of locally made Ricotta cheese. Its dry, crumbly texture immediately reminded us of fresh paneer cheese from the Indian sub-continent, bringing to mind matar paneer.
This white cheese does not taste of much on its own so it needs to soak up some flavour. We prepared a tomato gravy and then marinated the cubes of cheese and the peas in the sauce overnight before heating it through just before serving. For any vegans reading, substitute chunks of plain tofu for the paneer cheese – tofu is another ingredient that benefits from being marinated for a while. Serve with our pumpkin dhal and rice or flat bread.
Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
3 medium tomatoes (approx 250 g)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic
200 g paneer cheese or tofu
250 g peas (tinned, frozen or fresh if you can get them)
25 ml olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cm knob of chopped ginger
1 small bunch fresh coriander
Finely chop the onion and cook for five minutes in the oil over a medium heat in a heavy-based pan. Turn down to a low heat and add the spices and the minced garlic and stir well. Cook for another two minutes and then add the chopped, peeled tomatoes. Cook for 20-30 minutes over a low heat until the tomatoes have formed a smooth gravy with the onions.
Allow the sauce to cool and then add the white cheese (paneer) or tofu, cut into 1 cm cubes, and the peas and mix well. Leave to marinate for an hour or two at least – overnight in the fridge is better, and then heat through. Sprinkle with fresh coriander before serving with our pumpkin dhal and rice. Also goes well with a flat bread of your choice.
Greetings from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where KCC has been based for the last three weeks on a foodie fact finding mission. Uzbekistan is the land of plov, but is also home to a wide range of pasta dishes such as manti (dumplings), laghman noodles and many cousins of ravioli.
The autumn pickling and preserving season is in full swing with vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and aubergines cheap and abundant. Our friend gave us a jar of her homemade lecho, a pepper, tomato and onion stew, with herbs and spices added according to your taste. Lecho originated in eastern Europe, so you should be able to track down a jar in your local Polish shop.
We decided to cook up this lecho with some courgettes and protein-rich red lentils to make a tasty laghman noodle sauce. One of the advantages of being in Central Asia is the ready availability of fresh, hand-pulled noodles in the shops, but if you don’t have access to laghman noodles where you are, then try making your own. Check out this laghman recipe here – it’s a bit time consuming but rewarding!
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
125 g fresh noodles per person
2 small courgettes
1 large red onion
100 g red lentils
250 g lecho
50 ml olive oil
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then soak for around 30 minutes. While the lentils are soaking, fry the thinly sliced onion in the olive oil and add the cumin seeds. Cook over a medium heat for ten minutes and then add the courgette that has been grated or cut into 1 mm thick, 5 mm long slices. Cook for ten more minutes over a low heat.
Take the red peppers from the lecho and cut into thin slices and add to the pan with the onion and courgette mix. Cook for another ten minutes over a low heat and then drain the lentils and add to the pan along with the red chilli flakes and the liquid from the lecho. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are chewy not mushy.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then turn off the heat and put the noodles in for a few minutes, Drain and then add the noodles to the sauce and stir well. Serve straight away with a flat bread of your choice.