Today while we were walking to Hasini’s class in the morning because we were uncharacteristically and shockingly early and the gates were still open, Hasini’s buddy joined us.
Hasini’s buddy: “Hasini didn’t finish her oothappams yesterday”
Me: “Yeah, she didn’t. She doesn’t finish her lunch, keeps bringing back leftovers these days. She shouldn’t right?”
Hasini’s buddy: “Maybe you should make what she likes” (Palaar – slap sound)
Me: “Bae.. Bae – ” (thinking Who have you been talking to? My Maamiyaar?)
After this most humbling conversation I felt grateful that I had packed Hasini Vegetable fried rice and Chinese style hot and sweet potatoes today.
In my defence, Hasini likes oothappams and I had exactly 27 minutes that morning to pack lunch, make breakfast, bathe the kids and ready them for school. That I got up late is besides the point. I had to somehow make do in 27 minutes. And you wouldn’t believe but every time we go to a Saravana Bhavan or Vasanta Bhavan Hasini orders the seven taste oothappam ever since she tried it during a trip. She wouldn’t trust us that they’re out of oothappams. She likes to confirm with the waiter herself. But yesterday, the little rascal wasn’t in the mood for oothappams it seems.
My fundamental principle, the absolute core of my faith is that children need to appreciate all kinds of food. I don’t want them turning up their noses to Upma, away from Adai and kanji or being reluctant to try Lasagna or Risotto. I want them to give everything a try. So In-spite of that most chastening advice from Hasini’s friend (and domestic cold wars nothwithstanding), I’ll still send Hasini the beetroot rice or cabbage stuffed parantha or Thinai Kichadi.
I do make it a point to mix it up with some of her favorites. Like this Paneer Pasandha and ghee pulav (She loves paneer). She polished off her lunch that day and had the leftover Paneer Pasandha for dinner too. She licked her fingers clean. If you’ve always been frying paneer cubes and tossing them into gravies, then you’ve got to try this one. You’ll want to make it for guests, for dinner parties. It is lovely.
All said and done, Oothappam smeared with milagai podi and gingelly oil is a perfectly acceptable lunch, don’t you think. That’s what I thought for very many years.
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Ingredients – Paneer Pasanda
For the stuffed paneer
Paneer – 200 gm
Cashewnuts – 6 soaked in 2 tbsp milk for 15 minutes or so
Green chillies – 1 chopped roughly
Coriander leaves – 2 tsp
Onion – 2 medium sized chopped roughly
Tomatoes – 2 medium chopped roughly
Green chilli – 1 chopped
Ginger-Garlic paste – 1 tsp
Bay leaf – 1
Green Cardamom – 1
Cinnamon – 1 inch piece
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder – 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
Coriander powder – 3/4 tbsp
Oil – 3 tbsp + 2 tbsp
Cornflour – 3 tbsp mixed in water to make a thinnish batter
Sugar – ¼ tsp (adjust as per your taste)
Butter – 1 tbsp (optional but I insist)
Fresh cream / Whole Milk – a dollop or a couple of tablespoons (optional but I insist)
1. For the paneer pasanda, first prepare the paneer. Slice 4 thin slices off the wide side of your paneer block (like slicing bread) and set aside. Mash up the rest of the paneer and set aside.
2. Grind together cashews soaked in milk along with 1 chopped green chilli, coriander leaves and a little salt to a coarse paste. Mix this ground paste with the mashed up paneer and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.
3. Now you need to make paneer sandwiches – Lay out the 4 paneer slices like bread on a cutting board. Divide the mashed up paneer mixture between 2 paneer slices spreading gently. Place the remaining 2 slices of paneer on top of the paneer topped paneer slice. You’ll make 2 sandwiches. Now use a knife to cut the 2 sandwiches diagonally into small triangles.
4. Mix cornflour in water to make a thin batter.
5. Heat a tawa and add 2-3 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, quickly dip each of the paneer triangles into the cornflour batter and place on the hot tawa. Repeat with more paneer triangle but don’t crowd the tawa. Shallow fry in batches till golden brown on both sides. Set aside.
6. For the gravy, take the chopped onions, tomatoes and the remaining green chilli in a small pan. Pour about a cup and half of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes. Switch off. Drain the water reserving it for later. Cool the boiled onions and tomatoes slightly and then puree them.
7. Heat the same pan. Add the remaining oil and when hot, drop in cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaf. Fry till fragrant. Pour in the pureed onion-tomato-green chilli mixture. Add the spice powders and salt and mix well. Add in the reserved liquid from boiling the onions and tomatoes now to thin the gravy. Bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes or till the oil separates and shimmers on top.
8. Now for the most important part, stir in the sugar and butter. Switch off. Stir in the cream as well. Plonk the fried paneer triangles in the gravy or fold them in gently. Serve hot with roti or pulav.
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Basmati rice/Long grain rice (or even regular short grained rice) – 2 cups
Coconut milk – from one coconut (about 2 cups)
Garlic – 3 cloves chopped fine
Onion – 1 large sliced fine
Ghee – 2 tbsp
Oil – 2 tbsp
Cloves – 3
Cinnamon – 2 inch piece
Salt to taste
Green chillies – 2-3 slit lengthwise
Bay leaf – 1
Corainder leaves – a handful chopped
1. Rinse rice in 2-3 changes of water and soak for about 15 minutes.
2. Heat up a pressure cooker and add oil and ghee. Add in the whole spices – cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf and fry till fragrant.
3. Throw in the sliced onions, garlic and green chillies and fry till the onions are translucent. Drain the liquid from the rice (reserving it for later) and add the rice to the cooker. Fry on low heat for 7-8 minutes or till the rice grains are golden here and there.
4. Pour in the coconut milk and the reserved water doing the finger test to measure the amount of liquid you’re adding. If you dip your index finger in and the tip of your finger hits the rice the liquid level should be just above the first line on your index finger. Add salt, mix well, taste the liquid and adjust seasoning. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to minimum and cover with the pressure cooker lid. When steam starts coming out, plug in the weight and cook for 12 minutes. Switch off and let stand for 15 minutes. Open, fluff with a fork and throw in the coriander leaves. Serve hot with Paneer Pasandha or any spicy gravy.