Kosher Dairy Indian Food

The Lazy Knitter is traveling once again, which means it’s time for Mr. Lazy Knitter to bestow – or inflict – another cooking guest post on you. This time, the topic of the day is Indian food. Indian food is a great cuisine to translate into kosher cooking. It’s very vegetarian friendly, making it perfect for dairy meals. And while it’s impossible to completely recreate the meat dishes, a few substitutions – olive oil for butter or ghee, blended silken tofu for cream or yogurt – make for passable non-dairy versions for meat meals. The fact that the cuisine rarely if ever uses pork means there are few dishes that can’t be finagled. Given that this weekend is Shavuot, where dairy meals are traditional, I’m going to focus on those for the day.

Paneer is one of the key ingredients for tasty dairy Indian dishes. This firm farmer’s cheese fries up nicely, providing a great contrast to the creamy curries it goes in. But hechshered paneer can be difficult to track down. The only hechshered brand seems to be Verka, which is carried only by Costco. Even at Costco it’s regionally dependent and can cycle out of the stores that carry it. You can order it directly from Verka with two day free shipping on orders over $50 ( https://www.verkausa.com/shop/Paneer ).

I’ve run into multiple misadventures trying to acquire Kosher paneer through other means, including an afternoon spent scouring no fewer than eight Indian grocery stores in a two-block radius on Devon Ave in Chicago and an ill-fated attempt to make my own where I misinterpreted the directions and tried to boil off all the whey. But if you can acquire it, there are multiple ways to prepare it.

My favorite is mattar paneer, also known as “cheese and peas”. It uses a standard tomato curry base along with cubed paneer and plentiful peas. For those who aren’t a fan of the little green legumes, they can easily be left out, which is then called paneer tika masala. The other standard is palak or saag paneer, which is the Lazy Knitter’s favorite. In American Indian restaurants, saag paneer is made with a pureed spinach-based curry, but it was originally developed using kale. I’ve found that to be a superior option, especially since I don’t like spinach in any shape or form.

When we serve an Indian meal, I make mattar paneer, palak paneer, and a lentil dish to round it out. The lentils are also Zee’s favorite. My current go-to involves a combination of both green and red lentils, simmered with turmeric until the red lentils break down, forming the base of the curry. Making three dishes at once may seem like a daunting task, but it actually allows you to efficiently cook ingredients that are shared between them. While the lentils are simmering, I like to brown a huge pan of garlic and onions, which I then puree down into a paste to add to the curry base of each dish. I also like to fry the cheese for both paneer dishes in one go, cutting the large paneer block into a small number of manageable slabs, browning both sides in olive oil or butter, and then cubing them after they’re browned.

Mattar Paneer

4-6 tablespoons olive oil or ghee

500g paneer

2 cups frozen peas

1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes or 2-3 medium fresh tomatoes, pureed

1 large onion

6 cloves garlic

Garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom

1/2 cup cream, milk, yogurt, or blended silken tofu

Green chilis, if spice is desired

Cilantro to garnish

Cube the paneer and brown it in olive oil or ghee. In a separate pan or after paneer is browned, saute onion and garlic until they start to brown, 10-15 minutes. Puree onion and garlic and return to pan, adding spices and tomato. Simmer another 5-10 minutes, then add paneer, peas, and cream or cream substitute. Simmer a few more minutes until the peas are tender, then add diced green chilis to taste and garnish with cilantro.

Serve with rice and/or naan.

Kale Palak Paneer

4-6 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee

500g paneer

1 large bunch kale

1 large onion

6 cloves garlicGaram masala, turmeric, coriander

1/2 cup cream, milk, yogurt, or blended silken tofu

Cube the paneer and brown it in olive oil or ghee. In a separate pan or after paneer is browned, saute onion and garlic until they start to brown, 10-15 minutes. While browning the paneer and onion, briefly boil kale leaves, then puree. Puree garlic and onion and return to pan along with the pureed kale and spices. Add cream or cream substitute and paneer, simmering all together for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and/or naan.

Dal

1 cup red lentils

1 cup green lentils

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee

1 large onion

6 cloves garlic

Turmeric, cardamom, garam masala

1/2 cup cream, milk, yogurt, or blended silken tofu

Boil lentils with 6 cups of water and turmeric, reducing to a simmer and keeping there for 45 minutes to an hour, until red lentils start to dissolve and become creamy. Saute onion and garlic until they start to brown, 10-15 minutes. Puree and add to the lentils along with cardamom and garam masala, then cream or cream substitute. Simmer all together for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and/or naan.

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