This dish holds several memories of my time in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Its a stunning campus, with loads of green spaces. I spent the best two years of my life there, while doing an MA in Sociology! I also made some of my best friends there. JNU is known for its famous dhabas. Many a night have I spent under the stars eating hot egg parathas with chai at Ganga dhaba and drinking Maamu’s famous mango lassi, eating those finger-lickin pakoras at the Godavari dhaba. I tried the political thing too, but it wasn’t for me and that’s another story :-)
Anyway, coming back to the food, I hated the food that we got in the hostel mess. So most nights would find me wandering off to one of the dhabas or to the many cheap eateries dotted around the campus [what was I doing during the day, you ask? Sleeping is the answer; those nocturnal wanderings came with their price, and studies, what studies? :-)] One of my favourite eateries was Teflas, a round non-descript building with some good food and dirt cheap prices for those with a cast iron tummy of course :-) My favourite food here was the shahi paneer (or a damned good version of it) and butter naans. I had other favourites which I will talk about in later posts, but this was my ultimate comfort food! So about nine years after having been a not-so-starving student (parents were very generous, thanks ma), I remember the food there fondly, and I had a real craving for it. So I decided to try and make my version of the paneer and naans, and they came out bloody good! And no Delhi Belly afterward either :-) Can’t ask for more than that surely??
2 packs of paneer, cubed
3 medium sized tomatoes, chopped (or 225g can chopped tomatoes)
½ inch piece of ginger
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 inch piece of cinnamon
½ tsp or more if desired, hot chilli powder
25 gms blanched almonds or cashews
100 ml greek yoghurt or 150 ml single cream
1 medium onion, diced
About 2 tbsp butter (replace with oil, not olive oil, if desired)
Salt to taste (or about 1 tsp)
Chopped fresh coriander to garnish
In a shallow pan, heat the butter gently and fry the onions till soft and light brown. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, and fry for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are mushy.
Toast the coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cloves for about 30 seconds.
In a blender, whizz together the friend onion and tomatoes, toasted spices, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, and almonds or cashews to a fine and not grainy paste. You may have to add some water to the blender to get a smooth paste.
Meanwhile, fry the cubed paneer in a little butter or oil for about 2 minutes until golden, and don’t worry about getting the cubes evenly golden.
Put the ground paste into the pan, and cook until any rawness disappears. Again, keep adding a little water if the sauce gets too dry. Turn the heat off, and let the sauce cool for a little bit. Then add the yoghurt or cream, and fold it in gently.
Season to taste, and then add the paneer pieces to the sauce. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, and serve with the naans.
2 tsp yeast (dried is fine, but you’ll need to reactivate it. I use Allinsons)
1 tsp caster sugar
3 cups plain flour + a little more, if required
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp caraway seeds (optional)
2 tbsp or less oil (I use sunflower, olive or vegetable also works)
6 tbsp Greek or natural yoghurt
1 cup (250 ml) warm water
[Optional garnishings (fresh coriander/ garlic/ nigella seeds/ sesame seeds etc)]
Put the yeast and sugar in a warmed bowl and pour over 50ml hand-warm water. Don’t make the water too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast. Stir with a fork until the yeast is dissolved and leave in a warm place for about 5 minutes or so. The yeast should start frothing.
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder into a large bowl. Add the cumin and caraway seeds.
Make a well in the middle and add the yeast mixture, yoghurt and oil. Add just enough water to knead into smooth, soft dough. Knead well.
Grease a large bowl lightly; roll the kneaded dough into a ball, put into the bowl. Cover with a dishcloth and leave in a warm place for about 1 or 2 hours until the dough has risen and almost doubled in size.
Punch down the risen dough lightly and divide into 6 or 8 balls. Roll out the naans into a bicycle seat shape, or if you can’t be bothered, just round. They should be roughly around 1/4 - 1/2 cm thick. Don’t do too thick, or it will be doughy, too thin will make it crispy. The proper size will come with practice, and it’s a personal preference too.
Grease a baking sheet, and put one or two naans on it. Pop them under a preheated grill for about 2 minutes each side (keep a sharp eye on them, when they start getting light brown spots and puffing up, its time to turn them over)
Make the rest of the naans the same way. Brush a tiny bit of salted butter over them so the butter melts on the hot naan.
Wrap all the naans in aluminium foil and put them into a warmed (not too hot) oven and they will stay warm until eating time.
PS – If you want any garnishings on the naans, add them at step 5, rolling them gently into the naan. Continue cooking them as before. For peshwari naans, chop some nuts and raisins finely and add a little grated coconut to make the filling. Take a ball of dough and stretch it out, put a little filling in the middle and close the dough around the filling, rolling it out into a ball. Then roll the dough ball out gently so that the filling doesn’t escape the naan and cook as before.
PPS - You can also make the dough in a bread machine. Once the dough has had its first rise, take out and shape naans by hand.