On day 3 of my Indian adventure, we set off to our offices to meet with our Indian colleagues. There were about 50 of us travelling together. You can imagine the planning that took. Upon arrival at our offices, our hosts set up a beautiful Indian welcome where they gave us a flower garland, aarti (oil lamp), and tilak (red dot).
The morning was spent in meetings and presentations, then we had lunch, then did some more meetings and presentations. For dinner that night, the hosts in our Delhi office had arranged for a catered dinner at the hotel next to ours. They had a sitar playing as we arrived, and then Indian dancers told us a series of stories. A 4 course meal was served, and concluded with a dessert of vanilla nut pudding swimming in dry ice. I began to notice that no meal in India occurs in less than 2 hours.
On day 4, we again had several meetings in the AM, then lunch, then we all headed to the Delhi airport. We needed to make it to Hyderabad by 7pm for dinner at Taj Falaknuma Palace. “The Palace” is a sprawling estate built in 1895 by one of the (then) richest men in the world. It was then gifted to the local Nizam (or king). The dining hall hosts the longest dining table on record and seats over 100 people. Again, we had a multi-course meal of Indian specialties. My favorite, which appeared on virtually every menu, was the paneer. It is a warm square of cottage cheese (firm, no whey) which has been fried with various spices. You then dip it in mint chutney. It’s delicious, and not fattening at all, I’m sure.
On day 5, we finally made it to our Hyderabad offices, where we had (yes, you guessed it), more meetings! I finally met my colleague I’ve worked with since 2007, and have only spoken to via phone and email. By 5pm, our day was over and it was time to make our way to the Hyderabad hotel, through gridlock, to catch our plane back home. Most of us flew through Dubai, and I (Lucky me!) got upgraded to first class on my first leg. So much for sleeping! I was going to take full advantage of this flight. Besides, I had an 8 hour layover in the Dubai International Hotel to catch up on sleep.
8 Hours in Dubai, and about 18 hours later, I was back on the ground in Los Angeles, just in time for Friday traffic! Two hours later I was home. Never has Home been so Sweet.
Paneer was a popular dish on our visit. We had it at every restaurant. It’s a fried and spiced cheese. Think of it like an Indian version of fried mozzarella. It’s a great appetizer, and (bonus!) it’s vegetarian friendly.
- 14-16 oz homemade paneer or queso fresco, cut into 1 inch cubes (***)
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 Tbsp canola oil
- ½ onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (*)
- 1/tsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp California (mild) chili powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp garam masala
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- ½ c half & half
- 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
- Mint sauce, for serving
Toss the cheese in the flour to lightly coat the cheese. Dust off excess flour and set aside. In a mortar & pestle, add the coriander seeds and crush. Add the chili powder, turmeric, garam masala and combine. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onions. Allow the onions to brown. Add the ginger/garlic paste and allow it to cook for a minute to soften the raw garlic flavor. Add the spice mix and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Now add the cheese to the pan and allow one side to fry in the spiced oil for about 2 minutes. Then turn the cheese over to fry the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with the fenugreek and add the half & half, which will bubble aggressively, and stir to combine. Place in a serving dish and serve with mint sauce.
Indian Mint Sauce
- 2 bunches mint
- 1 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (*)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp ground dried lemons (**)
- 3 Thai chili peppers
- ½ c plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
Put all ingredients in a blender (Vitamix preferred) and blend until all lumps are gone. If the mix is too thick, add up to ¼ c water, if needed.
(*) In a food processor, combine equal parts ginger root and garlic until finely minced
(**) Available at Indian stores. If you can’t find this, use more lemon juice
(***) Paneer is an Indian cheese made from milk. You can buy it, but the texture is not quite right, so I wouldn’t use it. For those of us in Southern California, Queso Fresco, the Mexican cheese, is a VERY good substitute. If you want to make your own paneer, here’s how you do it:
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
Boil milk, stir occasionally so that the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once the milk has started to boil add lemon juice. This milk will begin to look yogurt-like and will separate the curd and whey. Pour into a colander lined with a cheese cloth. Allow the mixture to cool down and the water to drain. Make a knot around the cloth and squeeze the excess water through it. Leave the mixture to dry. Once the mixture has dried out the Paneer will be ready.