Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Chanar Dalna

The secret to good cooking is good, fresh ingredients, everyone knows that. But with our hectic nine to five lifestyles it is not very easy to implement. Case in point being jeere-dhone-ada-bata which is a simple spice blend used in most Bengali cooking. Equal quantities of cumin seed, corainder seeds and fresh ginger are ground together into a paste and used for flavouring vegetable dishes as well as fish preparations. The seeds are first soaked in a little warm water for about fifteen minutes to soften them up before being ground with the ginger. But it takes both time and effort to make the fresh paste everytime so most home cooks improvise. Even my Mom makes do with powdered cumin and coriander seeds mixed in with ginger paste for every day cooking. She does make a batch of the fresh paste whenever she is cooking something a little special, because the aroma of freshly ground spices is totally worth the extra effort.

Last night, I decided to make chanar dalna the way I remember Mom making it. I did not have her exact recipe so I tried to replicate what my tastebuds remember. Chanar dalna is your basic matar paneer but without ginger and in a much lighter gravy. It has always been a winter comfort food for me. But first I made myself a batch of jeere-dhone-ada-bata. For jeere-dhone-ada-bata:
Take one tablespoon of cumin and coriander seeds each and soak in enough warm water to cover the seeds. Chop a two inch piece of ginger into small pieces (to help the blender do its job). After fifteen minutes, blend the cumin and coriander seeds along with the ginger in a small blender or food processor. Add more water sparingly to get a paste like consistency. This keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week.

Paneer - 400gms or 1 package, cubed
Green Peas - 2 cups, frozen
Tomato- 1 medium sized, cubed
Tomato Paste - 2 tbsps
Jeere-dhone-ada paste - 2 tbsps
Onion - 1 medium, minced
Green Chillies - 3, deseeded and slit
Cloves - 2
Green Cardamom - 2
Cinnamon - 1, one inch peice
Turmeric Powder - 1 tsp
Salt - To taste
Peanut Oil - 2 tbsp+ for frying
Cilantro - 3 sprigs, chopped for garnish

1. Fry the paneer pieces in oil till golden brown and remove.
2. In the same oil (if remaining or else add more) add the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Once its fragrant add the onion and sautee till translucent.
3. Add the jeere-dhone-ada paste and fry till the raw smell is gone. Add the tomatoes and cook till mushy. At this stage add the turmeric powder, salt and tomato paste and continue to cook for a minute or two. Make sure the masala does not burn.
4. Add the peas and paneer cubes and mix with masala. Add two cups of water and the green chillies.
5. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes till the gravy thickens a little. Check seasoning and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm with chappattis.