Hasn’t food in the UK come a long way? We now know what an aubergine is. Most of us enjoy trying new dishes, and Indian food is now our most popular cuisine. Yes, paneer is now to be found in almost every supermarket cheese cabinet. Our culinary horizons have expanded from the traditional meat and two veg of yesteryear.
Talking of that paneer, we find it on every Indian restaurant menu, we have all passed it in the grocery store and lots of us have stopped to buy. This little book, Paneer Snacks, is replete with recipes to make the best of this versatile food and there are even instructions for making this pressed cottage cheese in your own home. It’s simple to do and a great project for kids, who will also enjoy eating the fruits of their labours.
Tarla Dalal is the author of this little volume. Not a name familiar to many of my UK and American readers but she is India’s best-selling author in any field, with over 5 million books sold to date. Mrs Dalal also has the best-selling food magazine in India, called “Cooking and More”. A prolific and celebrated writer.
Sure, this is an Indian author writing for an Indian audience in India, but the culinary universe is such that the non-Asian reader based in London or New York will be able to find all the ingredients. The recipes are well-written and the cooking techniques are common to all these days. Nothing too taxing but the finished dishes have an authentic Asian bias and are undiluted for the European audience.
Paneer is bland in its unembellished form. There is no disguising that fact. It is, however, its greatest strength. It is a carrier for spicy marinades, coatings and stuffings. Its texture is flexible, being used in cubes or grated. It doesn’t melt when heated so it’s easy to create dishes that are truly vegetarian but hearty and substantial. This cheese is unique: it is suitable for strict vegetarians as it uses acid to separate the curds rather than animal rennet, which is the more common European approach.
But on to the recipes. These are a fine bunch ranging from vibrant and spicy to aromatic and delicate. There are soft and silky spreads and robust grilled cubes. There are some contemporary applications and many exotic yet simple snacks. Something for everyone no matter what their taste.
My favourite recipes from this book include the Chinese-inspired Chilli Paneer with its mahogany-coloured lacquer of soya sauce. A lovely starter or side dish. The Paneer and Corn Burger will tempt youngsters and the amount of green chilli can be reduced for the timid, although there is nothing in this book which should cause alarm to even those more inclined to eat plain British food.
Grilled Hot-n-Sweet Paneer is a mouth-watering recipe which will be welcomed by vegetarians when the barbecue season returns. A delight to look at and those kebabs will vanish as soon as you remove them from the grill. My vote for the most enticing Paneer recipe goes to Tandoori Paneer Tikka. No, you don’t have to invest in a tandoor and you won’t need to ask your local restaurant for the use of their kitchen for half an hour. You can grill or fry these cubes or wait till the weather warms and use the barbecue again.
Paneer Snacks by Tarla Dalal is a delight of easy and practical recipes which will be appreciated by both non-meat-eaters and card-carrying carnivores alike. There is a simple reason why this lady is so popular: her recipes work. Her writing has wide appeal and has stood the test of time. I’ll introduce you to more over the next weeks.
Asian cookbook review: Paneer Snacks
Author: Tarla Dalal
Published by: Sanjay & Co.
Price: Rs. 99/-, UK call 020 8002 9533, USA call 213-634-1406
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018