S and I love to travel and explore. When in India, we roam around anywhere and everywhere – from nowhere to nowhere. It is thrilling to see such contrasting new cultures as you step in from one Indian state to the other. After we moved to The States, S and I have combed 38 out of 50 states so far, including arctic Alaska. But I would rather keep my exotic and extreme travel stories for later. I promise. I will write more. And you would read about them in good measures, going forward.
If any other eminent thing there is, which could match our gigantic road trips in finesse, it would have to be our frequent dine-out dates. We relish those ethnic morsels and cherish the happy moments they make. Yes, we are good at eating – eating out! Up to now, we’ve had authentic native cuisines from 20 plus countries, and more than once each. This is one of the perks of living in a nation of multitude cultures – where you get to “EAT” the best of all worlds!
Amid exclusive cuisines, Afghan food is among the ones that stand out exceptionally. Their style of cooking is distinctly unique and is unlike any other in the Greater Middle East. Mild, warm, flavorful, not much spice, not much heat and with a good dose of dried fruits and nuts. Afghanistan has withstood epochs of war, turmoil and atrocities……and yet, this country has evolved some of the most amazing dishes through centuries. They’ve imbibed from several Asian cuisines and have got it all…dumplings, kebabs, noodles, rice, peppers, saffron, spices.
Mixed gyro platter was my first ever tryst with this cuisine. And it was love at first taste…I’ve been madly in love with it ever since…and ‘m well into the 4th year of our romance! Afghans make the best lamb kebabs in the world. And if you haven’t had their intensely flavored and layered Kabuli Pilaw, you’ve seriously missed some real bliss in life. Ask me anytime and I can go flying like a kite high up in the sky chattering about this gourmet cuisine. Someone once told me, “It is often wise to hold back your kite and to hold it down”. And so is what I will do now. I shall leave the rest to your taste-bud’s unfathomable fantasy!
Here’s my classic and easy recipe of making Paneer or Cottage Cheese in the Afghani manner. Hope its dreamy, subtle, warm nutty taste and the aroma of fresh ground cardamoms entices you in love. Inshallah!
- 14 oz (400 gms) Paneer or Cottage Cheese
- 1 heaped tbsp white Poppy seeds (Khus-khus or Posto)
- 1 heaped tbsp dried Musk Melon Seeds (Magaz)
- 2 tbsp fresh white onion paste
- 25-30 cashew nuts, halved
- 1 tsp Garam Masala powder
- 1 tsp red chilli powder or paprika powder (optional)
- 1 cup whisked plain yogurt
- 1.5 cup heavy whipping cream
- 0.5 tsp ground cardamom (or 3-4 green cardamom pods)
- 10-15 golden raisins
- Salt (per taste)
- 3-4 tbsp Clarified butter (Ghee) or Olive oil for frying
- One handful of Kasuri Methi (dried fenugreek leaves) to finish
- Heat 1 tbsp of ghee in a pan and fry about 5-7 halved cashews till slightly reddish brown and keep them in a bowl for later use
- In same oil, fry all the raisins till they swell up and keep them with the fried cashews.
- Soak poppy seeds, melon seeds and remaining cashew nuts for 10 minutes in 4-5 tbsp warm water and grind to a fine paste in a blender.
- Slice cottage cheese into lavish 2 inch squares (about 0.3 inch thick).
- If using cardamom pods, hull and dry roast the fragrant seeds for half a minute. Crush and coarsely grind the seeds in a mortar pestle. (Skip this step if you are using ground cardamom.)
- Heat remaining ghee or olive oil in the frying pan and saute onion paste. Stir and fry for a minute or two until the paste is cooked nicely and the onion paste looks transclucent. Keep stove at medium-low to avoid onion paste from burning
- Add the poppy seed paste and quickly stir to mix. Let cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add whisked yogurt into the pan. Cook for 5-7 minutes with frequent stirring (so the sauce doesn't burn).
- Add Garam Masala powder, red chilli powder (optional) and salt. Mix them with the sauce in the pan.
- Add the heavy whipping cream, ground cardamom and kasuri methi. Mix and let the sauce simmer for about 1 minute. The sauce shouldn't be too thin or runny. (If it's too thin, let simmer for another minute or two.)
- Switch off the stove. Add paneer pieces to the pan, and dip/drown them in the white sauce. Immediately cover the pan for 5-7 minutes for the paneer to soften in the hot white sauce. (Alternatively, after adding the paneer pieces, you may also simmer them with the sauce for a few seconds until they soften.)
- Garnish with the ghee-roasted cashew nuts and raisins. Serve hot with Nan, Tandoori Roti or steaming Basmati rice!