My grandma would have been mortified at any efforts to play around with her tried and tested Chhanar dalna recipe (a paneer dish with a tomato gravy), but then it would have come on the heels of her shock at my fiddling around in the kitchen for the amount of time I do, so it would have been a wash I guess.
But fiddle I did. After reading up on a recipe for a ricotta gnocchi recipe from J Kenji Lopez Alt, I figured, that would be an interesting way to modernise the chhanar dalna. Note – modernise, not upgrade – there is absolutely nothing to be fixed in a great chhanar dalna. But we’ve found adding an element of novelty and an anchor to a familiar dish, while staying true the flavours of the dish, tends to create a positive surprise, especially for the non-Indian diners.
The best adjective I’ve heard to describe a good gnocchi is pillowy, and while I love the more common potato gnocchi, this recipe with ricotta worked pretty well, and got to within shouting distance of what I’d like to think is pillowy. A strained dalna sauce on top (think of an arabiatta with Indian spices for an approximation) and we have another dish for our supper club!
In an attempt to push myself and see how I could make Indian food look more modern, I took inspiration from a dish presented in the recipe book of 11 Madison Park. A friend of mine, who is a fabulous cook, had attempted something similar and so I too decided to give it a shot.
The recipe inspiration came from a simple cauliflower curry made with curry powder, pithla which is a thick gravy made from gram flour and yoghurt and a dry paneer preparation.
I first heated some oil and fried the cashews and raisins. In the same oil I added curry powder, salt and brown sugar and garlic slices. I cut the cauliflower into thick slices and first seared them on both sides to get a nice brown colour and then put the pan into the oven at a medium temperature and roasted them for about 10-12 minutes.
After removing the cauliflower I used the same oil to pan fry the paneer cubes with a dash of curry powder and curry leaves. Therefore ensuring the flavours carried through every element on the final dish.
Deciding to serve both with a white sauce, I decided to modify a classic roux and replaced the flour with gram flour, added a dash of curry powder again and a nice big green chilli to get some heat. Then added milk and a little yoghurt to make the sauce.
To the remaining cauliflower florets, I added some chopped carrots and boiled them. After straining I added black salt instead of regular salt, to get added flavour.
It then took me a good 10 minutes to plate everything! But I must say it tasted really nice. And with some improvements in the next attempt, this is a delicious way to eat vegetables. And my respect for the cauliflower has gone up after this!