Monday, June 22, 2009

A Potluck of Spice & Everything Nice

Today, more than 25 foodbloggers are gathering at Monica Bhide's blog, A Life of Spice, where we're testing recipes from Monica's latest (and quite possibly her greatest) cookbook, Modern Spice and bringing them to the first ever (or so we believe) virtual potluck dinner. I'm bringing hors d'oeuvres!

Monica asked me to test, taste and bring her Paneer with Apricot-Orange Chutney. I'm always looking for cocktail or dinner party treats, especially deceptively easy dishes like this one that make your friends think you killed yourself in the kitchen. I mean, homemade Paneer cheese? Seriously, who knew you could whip that up in 20 minutes! When sauteed lightly in a little vegetable oil and topped with this sweet-tart chutney, it's just about the most refreshing hors d'oeuvre I've ever had. On Friday, we hosted an impromptu get-together to find out what my friends thought about the newest, and I daresay permanent, addition to my recipe box. They liked Monica's dish so much that after a couple sips of wine and usual 'oh no, you go aheads,' all politeness flew out the window as they edged in for seconds, thirds, fourths and so on until the last bite was gone.

Try it yourself and see what other recipes are being shared today at A Life of Spice.

Paneer with Orange-Apricot Chutney
(From Monica Bhide's new and fabulous cookbook, Modern Spice)

What you'll need:

  • 1 14 oz. piece of paneer cheese
Paneer Ingredients (If you want to make it yourself):
  • 1 gallon of whole milk
  • The juice of 4 lemons
  • A piece of cheese cloth
Chutney Ingredients:
  • 1 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh diced apricots (or mango if you can't find ripe apricots)
  • 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
  • 1 small green serrano chile
  • 2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp red chile powder or red pepper flakes
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 c. chopped dates
  • Salt to taste
For the Paneer:
Pour the entire gallon of milk into a large stockpot and set over a medium-high heat. Stir frequently to avoid scalding and bring the milk to just under a boil. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat. Watch as the milk curdles and the curds separate from the whey.

Drape a cheese cloth over a large bowl, large enough to catch both the curds and the whey, and pour the pot contents through the cloth straining the whey and separating the curds. Pull out the cloth with the curds inside and press out as much of the whey as you can. Fold the cloth tightly around the curds and place in a very shallow dish. Set as much weight as you can on top (I used a frying pan with two bags of rice on top) and put in the fridge to cool and set.

*You can throw the whey out. Briefly, I excitedly thought I could make ricotta cheese, which is traditionally made from boiling down whey leftover from cheesemaking. However, it can't be made from acid-activated whey.

For the Chutney:
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pot over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. Cook for just a few seconds (be careful not to let them burn) and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir and bring up to a boil. Turn down the heat to a vigorous simmer and cook uncovered until the chutney has thickened and the apricots are mostly dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste.

To Serve:
The beauty of this dish is you can make the chutney and the paneer a day or two in advance and then, just before guests come over, put it all together. When you're ready, cut the paneer into 1 inch cubes and set aside. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Once the oil starts to shimmer, toss in the paneer cubes and brown on all sides. The cheese browns very quickly so keep an eye on it.

Drain the paneer cubes on a plate covered in a couple of paper towels then move the cubes to a nice platter. Top each cube with a teaspoon or so of chutney and set a container of pretty toothpicks alongside for easy eating.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $18.00
• Leftovers – Expect 10 servings of about 4 pieces per person at $1.80 per guest!

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  1. Would you believe I just had Paneer yesterday (with creamy spinach)!? It's my sister's go-to dish at all Indian restuarants. The menu at the Indian restaurant I was at said it was "cottage cheese" is that accurate? I didn't know it was so easy(ish) to make. Will have to try it very soon. Good luck today! I am sure this will be a hit!

  2. Yes! Essentially it is cottage cheese that's been pressed rather than kept in its curdsy form! It is so easy to make and a really nice vessel for bite-sized nibbles.

  3. It never occurred to me to serve paneer this way. Love how innovative Monica is!

    Wish we could have had a real in-person pot luck to taste all the dishes. My roasted cauliflower was pretty darned tasty!

  4. What a great idea! I love how you describe the food you make, and you always make me feel like i can do it! I really want to try this!

  5. It was one of the most insteresting and the best-tasting homemade hors d'oeuvres I've ever had! I especially liked the hint of lemon, which gives you refreshing after-taste. I simply couldn't stop eating!

  6. Thank you everyone! Just trying this one recipe of Monica's has made me hunger for more spice in my life.



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