Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Taste of India - Punjabi Style

Naan (left) and chana masala.

I love having vegetarian friends over for dinner. First, because our vegetarian friends are awesome. Second, because it forces me to think a little outside of the box when I am planning a meal. Indian cuisine is very vegetarian friendly and I had made chana masala with some success in the past, so I decided to build my meal around an Indian theme. The majority of the Indian food that we eat in the U.S. is Punjabi cuisine. Punjab is a very fertile, agricultural state, known as the "Granary of India" or "India's bread-basket". One of the most popular breads is naan. I saw a recipe for naan in Bon Appetit magazine that piqued my interest. So with chana masala and naan on the menu, I chose saag paneer to round things out and provide some greens. 

Naan cooking in my cast iron skillet.
Some notes on the naan first. Leavened breads are always a little intimidating, especially ones that are cooked in a tandoor, but I like a challenge. This recipe is made like typical bread recipe, but only requires one rise. To mimic the clay oven called the tandoor, the recipe recommended using a cast iron skillet. I recommend seasoning your skillet the day before, not while you are trying to make the dough (woops). Luckily, the skillet browned the bread nicely. The bread was soft with a little chew, but I felt like it was a little denser than what you find in restaurants. However, when I made these two days later I cooked them using a pizza stone with better results.

Saag paneer (literally spinach cheese)
The chana masala and the saag paneer utilized many similar ingredients: coriander, cumin, ginger, and chiles. This masala (spice mix) provided similar flavor profiles, but the tomato sauce in the chana masala gave it an acidic spin, whereas the saag paneer utilized paneer (or in this case tofu) and yogurt which mellowed the spice and heat a bit. Both dishes were tasty and I could easily have doubled the chana masala for our dinner party of four. To help with the heat, I made my own raita using whole milk yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, and mint. 

Happy diners!
Three hours later we served up our Indian feast with a delightful Jarvis Merlot. So maybe my menu was a little ambitious for a weeknight, but it sure was fun! I really enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying some new recipes.

The final product. Amanda brought some delicious green beans!