simla mirch paneer

This – red (bell) pepper and cashew curry with paneer — was one of the first things I made out of Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries, the cookbook I ended up turning to most this past fall. I’ve made it twice, once roughly as written and another time with a variation I’ll get to later. It’s ridiculously easy and extremely tasty and, despite the flawed presentation above, very pretty to look at.

Simla Mirch Paneer (adapted from 660 Curries)

(in the book, it’s Cashew Cheese with a Bell Pepper Sauce, which I found impossible to remember as what I was looking for)

2 cups water
1/4 cup raw cashews
2 large red bell peppers (1 lb) trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cardamom pods
2-4 green chiles (jalapeno, serrano, Thai, etc.) coarsely chopped — don’t seed
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (a little less if you’re using table salt)
1 teaspoon cayenne/lal mirch/chile powder (not the mix) of choice
8 ounces paneer, cubed and pan-fried
1-2 waxy potatoes, cooked and cubed, or a handful of fingerlings, cooked and cut to uniform size (optional)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped for garnish (optional)

Paneer: if you haven’t cooked with it before, treat it like tofu – it’s cheese, but it won’t melt. It’ll be found in the refrigerated section of your local Indian market. Cut it up and brown it in a skillet and you’re good to go.

Throw the water, cashews, both peppers, and cardamom, in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Puree the contents, either in shifts with a blender or, much better, in the pot with an immersion blender. Make sure the cardamom pods get properly destroyed or else you’ll get an unpleasant surprise.

Add the salt, chile powder, paneer, and potato (if using) and simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro garnish, if desired.

Notes

The addition of potatoes is entirely my invention. I found the ratio of liquid to solid not what I wanted and had a few fingerlings lying around. Feel free to omit.

Okay, so here is where I confess that the first time I made this, I used extra-firm tofu instead of paneer. My Bengali friend accused me, not without cause, of disrespecting the curry, but I have to say that it was perfectly fine. So, you know, feel free – especially if you don’t have any judgmental Indians you can horrify with your culinary confessions. Or maybe especially if you do.

paneer

Cut your paneer smaller than this. It wasn’t unwieldy, but I’ll go smaller next time. That said, you can see that it’s not saganaki – it’ll stay in shape.

peppers_cashewsThis is actually a picture from my first attempt, since I realized after this that I didn’t need such a large pot. Chasing the peppers down with the immersion blender is much easier in cozier confines.

pcc_done Paneer and potatoes, ready to go.

This curry does have some kick, especially if you’re like me and have a tendency toward a free hand with the chile powder. Which is why in addition to rice or roti or naan or whatever your accompaniment of choice is, I also suggest this:

relief

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you bought it, you eat it: wheat berries

In trying to expand my grain horizons beyond rice, barley, and the quinoa that I feel I ought to love more than I do, I picked up wheat berries. Which did not cook as per Fairway’s instructions stuck to the side, but eventually acquired tenderness. What they failed to acquire was purpose. You — or at least I — can’t really eat them by themselves.

On a whim, I combined them with some leftover navy beans and, since it was time to trim the mint plant, some mint. And it was pretty good, especially when I dropped a little bit of ricotta salada on top. Nonetheless, I could see room for improvement.

Take two got fancier the more I pondered it. First, there would be two kinds of beans. And then maybe something in the diced veggie category for color, maybe use crumbled feta instead of the ricotta salada, possibly try it with basil since the basil plant needed a trim…

Wheat berry and bean salad There was too much feta, although it wasn’t as overwhelming as it looks in the picture. And I ended up with green pepper instead of red because it was $1.50 cheaper. And there are no pictures of the last meal I made of this, which involved slicing up some tart strawberries to make a juicy counterpoint to the cheese.

But, all that said, for an off-the-cuff composition, it really didn’t turn out too badly. It was tasty, it was toothsome, and it was filling, which made it perfect to take to lunch in one of my smaller bento containers.

What’s in here: navy beans, pink beans, wheat berries, green pepper, feta, fresh basil.

I used ~1.5 cups dried beans — any would work, but this is what I had 3/4 cup left each of — and 1 cup wheat berries, a moderate sized pepper, too much feta, and basil to taste (probably under a cup). It made a lot. Too much for one person to finish over time, really. But I’m definitely going to do it again.

Berry good?

Berry good?