Sunday, March 27, 2005

Royal braised vegetables in cardamom nut sauce (shahi sabz korma)

Last week my SO and I made some paneer, and this weekend we're using that paneer to make a dish called royal braised vegetables in cardamom nut sauce. This luxurious dish is packed full of vegetables and paneer, all of which are coated in a creamy yogurt-based sauce studded with whole spices. This dish is vegetarian (though not vegan), and is this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

This is a fairly time-intensive recipe, as it requires the paneer to be made ahead of time, and then involves a lot of chopping and stirring, but it's time well-spent. However, having a cooking partner can speed up the preparation, the dish can be cooked using just one pot, and, once you start cooking, the time will fly by as you smell the intoxicating aromas coming out of the pot.

This recipe is slightly modified from Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking;" our primary modifications were doubling the recipe, reducing the amount of oil used for frying, and replacing hot peppers with cayenne (since we don't usually have peppers on hand).

Paneer made from 8 cups of whole milk (see the recipe here)
Flour for dusting the paneer
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or 4 green chilis, seeded and minced)
24 green cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon (6" long total)
48 whole cloves
10 tablespoons (5/8 cup) ground almonds
2 cups plain yogurt (we use whole-milk yogurt)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped into approximately 1/4 x 1/4 x 1.5" pieces
1 pound turnips, peeled and chopped into approximately 1/4 x 1/4 x 1.5" pieces
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into approximately 1/4 x 1/4 x 1.5" pieces
3 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
1/2 cup frozen (or fresh) green peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
Rice or Indian bread to serve along with the dish

1. Chop the potatoes, turnips, and carrots, and put them in a bowl of cool water until needed.
2. Slice the paneer into pieces approximately the same size as your vegetables, and dust the paneer pieces with a little flour. Slicing paneer can be difficult because it can be crumbly, so take your time. When we make the cheese it usually forms a number of natural cracks; I try to slice the cheese following these veins. I typically end up with a wide variety of cheese cube sizes.
3. Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed, non-stick pot over medium-high heat, and then add the paneer and brown it lightly on all sides (~5 minutes), using tongs or a wooden spoon to turn the cheese pieces while cooking. Depending on the size of your pot, you may have to brown the cheese in multiple batches. Remove the cheese to a plate once it has browned.
4. Add 1/2 cup vegetable oil to the pot, increase the heat to high, and add the onions, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Cook until the onions have turned light brown, ~10 minutes, stirring frequently. We typically press the garlic and grate our ginger (frozen ginger is very easy to grate), so we add the onions to the pot first, and cook them for a few minutes before adding the garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper.
5. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves to the onion mixture, and fry for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
6. Add the almond powder to the pot, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. To make almond powder, we either grind whole almonds in a mortar and pestle (I knew graduate school would come in handy for something), or process them in a food processor, and then filter out the larger pieces using a strainer.
7. Stirring constantly, add the yogurt ~1/4 cup at a time, waiting until most of the water evaporates from the prior yogurt addition before adding more. Adding the yogurt should take about 5 to 10 minutes.
8. Drain the potatoes, turnips, and carrots and add them to the pot along with the boiling water and salt. If you are using fresh peas, add them here. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer (probably on low heat) until the vegetables are tender (~30 minutes).
9. Once the vegetables are tender, add the browned paneer, frozen peas, and cream, and simmer uncovered (probably on medium heat) until the sauce has thickened (~15-20 minutes).
10. Serve over rice or with Indian bread.

Sahni reports that the dish tastes better the day after it's prepared, and we've found that the flavors do improve after a day in the fridge, but we've never had the patience to wait that long before we try it; we usually just let it rest on the stove for an hour or so before diving in. This recipe makes more than enough for six people, and we usually enjoy the leftovers for several days after we make it.

You'll probably want to avoid eating any of the whole spices; we just pick them out as we eat, and then throw them away. Leave any whole spices remaining in the leftovers so they can continue to flavor the dish.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 269-271.

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