Dal, Saag “Paneer”, Raita & Naan

As you know well by now, Alex and I like making different cuisines in our kitchen. Sometimes we try to make it as authentic as possible and sometimes we try to incorporate different ingredients for the sake of experimentation or for using up what we have in the fridge. I think it is important to give yourself flexibility and room to breathe – do not hold yourself to such high standards that you are scared to try cooking the food of other cultures. Having said that, Alex and I are very aware that when we are preparing food from cultures other than our own, we will never be experts and our food will never be authentic. So when we made this feast, we were very conscious of the fact that it is simply Indian-inspired. We did not have all the traditional ingredients, so we have simplified the spices. I hope that makes these recipes accessible to you and that you are encouraged to try making these dishes.

When we go to our favorite local spot for Indian food, Radhika, Alex and I know we are going home with leftovers. It is one of those cuisines where we can’t help but order too much because 1) everything looks amazing and 2) the combinations of various plates is crucial to the experience! Like Thai food, when we go out for Indian we expect to get lots of plates and share. I cannot imagine going to an Indian restaurant and ordering Lamb Vindaloo and then sitting across from someone who ordered Veggie Korma and not getting to taste it. Ah, that would be torture! For me, the meal is made by the combination of the spicy, sweet, creamy, or tangy dishes on top of rice and bread.

With this in mind, Alex and I decided to make a full meal of Indian-inspired dishes. We have experimented with a few dishes in the past but had never made a full homemade feast. We had a great time preparing everything and an even better time eating it. Whether you want to try out just one dish or you want to go big and make the whole meal – enjoy!

Timing your feast:

  1. Prep your naan dough and let it rise 2-4 hours.
  2. In the last hour of dough rising, begin your Dal and let it simmer.
  3. Make your raita and pop it in the fridge so it’s ready when everything else is.
  4. Prep your ingredients for saag paneer and begin cooking the onions.
  5. Form and roll your naan so they’re ready for cooking. Melt butter.
  6. Add the other ingredients for the saag paneer and finish cooking – turn off heat and keep it warm!
  7. With everything else done – it’s time to cook your naan!
  8. Serve dishes and eat! 🙂

 

Naan

Since I’ve been having fun baking bread, we decided to try out Naan for the first time! It was so fun to make and it turned out amazing! It wasn’t quite as thin and crispy as we wanted it, so we’re excited to try it out again – but it bubbled up and had blackened bits just like in the restaurants, so we were thrilled and proud of ourselves.

Here is the naan recipe we used for guidance. Our notes and suggestions:

  • We left out the seeds.
  • Prep your dough earlier and let it rise for 2-4 hours. We didn’t plan in advance so we only let our dough rise 1 hour because we were hungry (it turned out great but we will try longer next time to see the difference).
  • Cook other parts of your meal during the last half hour of the rising process. Then roll your dough before you make your saag paneer and cook your naan last, once your saag is complete. That way it will be piping hot when you get to the table!
  • The hardest part for us was getting the dough to form a “teardrop” shape like they call for in the recipe. It was hard to control the dough and get it narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. We ended up using our hands to kind of push it into that shape but we also just decided it wasn’t our priority and kind of let it be whatever shape it wanted as long as it was thin!
  • Keeping it in the towel lined basket was perfect for keeping our breads piping hot until they were all ready and our dinner was served!

Dal

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, diced
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp cumin + more to taste
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper + more to taste
  • 1 sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes + juice
  • 4 cups veggie stock
  • salt + pep to taste

Directions

  1. Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and let cook for a few minutes until softened but not brown. Note: a lot of recipes call for Ghee (clarified butter), I have never used this. You can juse olive oil or vegetable oil just fine.
  2. Add ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper (& japapeño if using), sugar, bay leaf, salt, pepper and lentils to the pot. Stir to ensure the lentils get coated in the oil and spices. Sauteé for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and rice vinegar, then pour in the vegetable stock. Bring it all to a boil and then lower to a simmer and cover. Let cook while you prep your other dishes!

Raita

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain yogurt (we use a Greek variety)
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 medium cucumber finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Sprinkle of cumin & coriander (optional)

Directions

Combing all the ingredients in a medium bowl (we use a tupperware so if we don’t eat it all we can easily cover it up and pop in fridge). Chill in the refrigerator until other dishes are done!

Saag “Paneer”

This dish of spinach, indian cheese, and spices is a favorite! My sister-in-law Jessica fell in love with Saag Paneer at her longtime favorite restuarant in DC, Masala Art because it is without fail a bright & fresh green color. However, she hates that when she and my bro try to make it at home it turns brownish! Alex and I aren’t as turned off by the brown as she is so it hasn’t bothered us in the past. BUT this time, it stayed green! I think it’s because we used a food processor to get the spinach really finely chopped and then we didn’t cook it for very long at all. We’ll see if using those same methods next time work magic again!

A lot of recipes give you instructions for how to make your own paneer (Indian cheese) at home but we have not yet attempted it! Instead, we use feta – not authentic but still delicious! We stick to a sheep’s feta that comes in a block and we cut it into small cubes. It has worked well for us but we are excited to make paneer at some point and try that out too!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4-6 cups fresh spinach, chopped VERY finely or blended in a food processor
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, finely diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • sprinkle of cardamom & cinnamon
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Directions

  1. Use a food processor to finely chop the spinach. If you do not have a food processor, chop it as finely as possible with a knife.
  2. Heat a large sauteé pan with olive oil over medium heat and add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes stirring occasionally so the onion softens and gets aromatic without browning too much. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Add a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook 5 more minutes, stirring to keep the spices from sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the spinach and stir. Then add the tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Turn off the heat before the spinach turns brown!
  4. Add the yogurt by the tablespoon, stirring after each one and stop when you achieve the desired creamy green appearance. Then add the feta blocks and stir.
  5. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, or cayenne pepper as needed!

After completing the Saag Paneer, put the top on to keep it warm and continue working on your naan! Once all dishes are done – plate your meal and serve! 🙂

IMG_9178

Have fun! 🙂

Spice Recommendations: We have enjoyed buying different Indian Spice Mixes from a spice store near us. It’s fun to add a bit of these mixes to these dishes. Right now we have Vindaloo VooDoo from SpiceStation. We have also purchased other curry mixes. However, the basic necessities are Cumin, Coriander, a pinch of Cinnamon & Cardamom, a little sugar and a little spice. So stick with those if you don’t have other mixes!

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