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This ‘cheesy’ affair originated in Bengal and travelled to TN
The world has really shrunk with all the modern communication channels and tools and food has taken on a whole new dimension.
No more is Greek food Greek to us, or Indian food covered in a cloud of mystery. Back in the day, we didn’t have much technology to expose us to world cuisines. I was interested in learning about some heritage cuisine of India too apart from that of Europe or America’s — over the years, I’ve managed to travel to various nooks and corners of the globe to learn about it, but before the advent of the Internet, my friends and their families came to my rescue.
Reflecting upon this I remembered three of my acquaintances from Chennai, Shyam, Malliga and Bharat, who completed their schooling from Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB) school. They were ardent foodies. Malliga, the niece of the late illustrious politician Karunanidhi, was a small bundle of energy and laughter. When I was invited to organise and choreograph a show for their school, I got the opportunity to taste various dishes that made their way into the rehearsal hall thanks to these youngsters. It was during one such session that I got to taste paneer kurma for the first time — it was Malliga who brought this great-tasting yet unusual dish.
I always presumed that paneer was used only in the northern half of India, but the interesting tale behind this dish showed me that paneer was made amongst certain community in the south also.
Though cottage cheese was first introduced in the West and East Bengal and its neighbouring states, it made its way to the rest of the country through travellers, invaders and bawarchis or cooks. One such cook, who had gone to see the Kali Temple in Calcutta, was so fascinated with paneer that he learnt how to make it then and there. Hot milk was split with lemon juice; the water discharged would be discarded and the rest kneaded to make soft cottage cheese or paneer. He came back and started making a kurma with this, adding a southern twist to it.
The recipe failed to spread across many homes due to orthodox South Indians, who viewed any new food with suspicion, so it was soon forgotten. Malliga, however, had relatives near Coimbatore and they reintroduced this dish, which became popular in their house. It eventually reached the rehearsal venue in PSBB and the touch of tamarind that was added to the kurma was simply magical. Rajinikanth and Y Gee Mahendran, who happened to be chief guests on the day of the event, were also served this dish with hot pooris and they loved it!
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of Festive Offerings to the Gods
- 500 gm paneer (cottage cheese)
- ½ cup chopped onion/shallots (mixed)
- 2 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 tsp degi mirchi (more for colour than spice)
- ½ cup hung yogurt
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- ½ cup groundnut oil/pure ghee
- ½ tsp haldi powder for spice Paste ½ cup grated coconut
- 4 dried red chillies
- 1.5 tsp poppy/khus khus seeds
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- ½ tsp mace
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 6 black peppercorns
- 4 cloves
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 1 small bay leaf
- ½ tsp white sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp cashew nuts
- Cut paneer into cubes and dip into hot water to which ½ tsp haldi (turmeric powder) has been added. Set aside for a while.
- Add one tsp ghee to a pan and place on medium flame. Sauté coconut and all the spice paste ingredients. Cool and grind to a paste.
- Heat oil in another pan, add degi mirchi and 20 seconds later, add onions and sauté till they turn medium brown.
- Add ginger and garlic paste and sauté well.
- Add the ground masala paste, sprinkle some water and gently cook (covered) till oil rises.
- Add tamarind paste, hung yogurt and stir well for five minutes. Make sure you stir continuously to avoid lumps being formed.
- Add drained paneer into the masala and cook for five-six minutes. Gradually add coconut milk and cook for about 8-10 minutes and then take it off the stove. Ensure the paneer is cooked well.
- Garnish with coriander leaves before serving.
Always use fresh paneer. Make it at home as per the method stated below — split the hot milk with lemon and once it curdles, tie it up in a cloth. When the discharge has been drained, knead it well