Indian restaurant paneer makhani is next level comfort food…creamy tomato sauce, mild spice in the background and pillowy cubes of chewy paneer. It’s not surprising that paneer makhani has become Surya’s go to Indian food.

Of course, this means that any paneer makhani that I make at home has very strong competition to measure up to restaurant paneer makhani. Like most 9 year olds (happy birthday to my newly minted 9 yo!), she’s not persuaded by  my rationale argument that my recipe doesn’t call for heavy cream and loads of butter.

But this version of paneer makhani has elicited a “restaurant worthy” response from the family. It uses a cashew sauce for creaminess. My original recipe calls for almond butter or cashew butter plus yogurt to get that creamy consistency. Both are winners but this version is tops in our house for right now.

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Removing the skins from the tomatoes is another key step to achieving a smooth, restaurant style sauce. It also helps to bring out the juices in tomatoes which is great if you have a few less than plump, red tomatoes on hand.

To skin tomatoes, you simply cut an “X” into the bottom of the tomato like shown above. You only need to go an inch or so deep, not all the way through. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes until the skins start to peel. Take them out and place in a colander then run cold water over them. When they are cool enough to handle, the skins slips right off.

You can easily substitute tofu, seitan or chicken for the paneer in this dish. Chickpeas would also work well.

Let’s talk about paneer for a minute because I get a lot of questions on this front.

Do I make my own paneer? I generally do not make my own paneer sheerly out of a lack of time and pre-planning. Also, it take a lot of milk to make not a lot of paneer.

Where can I buy paneer? You can find paneer at any Indian grocery store. I recommend buying it from the refrigerated section rather than frozen section if possible because it is softer when it has not been frozen.

What brand of paneer do you buy? I used to buy Nanak brand paneer, but more recently I have found that Swad brand paneer is softer and tastes fresher. It has a long shelf life so I buy a few packages and keep them in the refrigerator. If the paneer does not feel fresh and soft when I take it out of the package, I cut it then drop it into a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Do I have to fry the paneer? I often am asked if the paneer needs to be fried before putting it into the curry. While I do fry it for some curries, I find that it is not needed for this thick, rich tomato sauce. So I cube it up and drop it right into the sauce. See above for my note about putting it into boiling water to soften it up if needed.

Paneer in a Creamy Cashew Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 block paneer cheese, cut into cubes
  • 4 juicy, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 2-3 inch stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black poppy seeds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar

Instructions

  1. Soak cashews for 15-20 minutes in enough water to cover them. Puree with the soaking water in a food processor or blender.
  2. Boil enough water to cover the tomatoes.
  3. Cut an "X" into the bottom of each tomato. Place into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes until the skin on the tomatoes start to peel.
  4. Remove from boiling water and run under cool water. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the tomato skins.
  5. Quarter the tomatoes and puree in a food processor or blender with the green chilis.
  6. Add cooking oil to a deep skillet on medium heat. Add ginger -garlic paste and cinnamon stick and cook for about 15-20 seconds. The paste will splatter so keep a lid nearby.
  7. Add the tomato-chili puree and cook for about 10 minutes until some liquid has evaporated and oil separates.
  8. Stir in all of the spices and the cashew sauce. Cook for another 8-10 minutes.
  9. Add salt and sugar.
  10. Gently add the paneer and stir until well coated. Cook on low heat for another 5 minutes.
  11. Serve hot with rice, quinoa or your favorite grain or with roti.

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Thai food is a food I hate to love. Mostly because vegetarian Thai curries are incredibly challenging to find. Stop reading here if you are vegetarian and a lover of Thai food. I’ve ruined Thai curries for plenty of vegetarians and am not looking to add more people to the list.

But if you are like me and ask way too many questions, then you probably already discovered that most Thai curries use fish sauce. And most Thai restaurants use pre-made curry paste which contains fish sauce. On occasion, we’ve found a Thai restaurant that makes their paste from scratch and will omit the fish sauce for us but this is rare and those restaurants seem to have come and gone.

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Although I’m still on a near constant hunt for vegetarian friendly Thai restaurants, I’ve also learned to make a solid red curry paste at home thanks to Bowl by Lukas Volger.

Learning how to make a good curry paste recipe is in the category of “very useful kitchen basics to master.” Once you have a good curry paste recipe and a batch of the paste on hand, cooking the rest of the dish becomes very straightforward.

This red curry paste recipe can turn out very spicy depending on the chiles you use, which is perfectly acceptable in my book because it means I always end up with some curry paste to freeze for later. Translation: leftover curry paste for a second meal makes it worth getting out  the spice grinder and the food processor.

Once you’ve made the red curry paste, you can use it in a lot of different ways from a big vegetable curry served over rice or ramen or soba noodles or add a bit to scrambled eggs, a marinara sauce or soup base to kick it up a bit.

A hearty vegetable curry is my favorite. I generally pair up whatever vegetables I have in the fridge but focusing on combining vegetables which are a mix of colors and textures will help provide a good balance. I also generally limit it to 2-3 vegetables to avoid overwhelming the curry. Some of my favorite combinations are cubes of tofu or seitan with:

  • Broccoli, red bell pepper and mushrooms
  • Carrots, potatoes and kale 
  • Eggplant, broccoli and mushrooms  

Bonus points if you top the bowl off with a slices of a hard boiled egg, diced cherry tomatoes and a handful of toasted peanuts.

We usually buy a high quality seitan as an alternative to tofu as a protein and texture add for curries and stirfry. After making this seitan – or chickwheat shreds – from Avocado and Ales, I’m not sure we’ll go back to the storebought version. The homemade version was softer, more absorbent of the curry sauce and way more cost efficient than buying seitan.

Here’s the recipe for Lukas’ red curry paste from his book, Bowl, which is one of the most used cookbooks in my kitchen right now. The pictures are beautiful and the book is full of fresh, flavorful vegetarian recipes to make ramen, pho, bibimbap, dumplings and other one-dish meals.

Red Curry Paste

Servings: Makes about 1/2 a cup

The recipe list looks long but if you gather everything in one place before you start making the paste, it will be very quick. This recipe makes about 1/2 a cup. I usually use half of that to make a curry but you can adjust based on your spice preference. The paste will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or for up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried hot red chilies
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds*
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted*
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 medium shallots**
  • 1/2 ounce peeled galangal or ginger (about a thumb-sized knob)
  • 1/2 ounce peeled fresh turmeric*
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • *I substitute powdered coriander, cumin and turmeric in a pinch.
  • *I substitute 1 small yellow onion when I don't have shallots which seems to be always.

Instructions

  1. Trim the stems off of the chilies. Combine with the peppercorns, cloves and the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a spice mill or food processor until powder.
  2. If using a spice mill, transfer to a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and pulse until a paste forms.
  3. Add water by the tablespoon to get the mixture moving if necessary.

Notes

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Bowl by Lukas Volger (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016).

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It’s not Thanksgiving until I have been asked “What do you eat for Thanksgiving?” Translation: what do vegetarians eat for Thanksgiving? With no turkey as the centerpiece, Thanksgiving is a wide open canvas for vegetarians.

The menu generally centers around a decadent eggplant parmesan or Indian main dishes prepared more richly than normal (read: cream in lieu of low fat yogurt and ghee tempering). If you’re looking for vegetarian Thanksgiving ideas, here are ten of our favorites that you can work into any menu:

Ten Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes

  1. Brussels Sprouts in Honey Butter with Chili Flakes – I once ate a pound of these by myself without even realizing it. It was like I started and just couldn’t stop. 
  2. CousCous with Lemons and Haloumi Cheese – Preserved lemons are one of my favorite ingredients to brighten up the taste of pretty much any type of grain or noodle dish. They also add a beautiful and sophisticated touch which will help back up that story that you spent hours slaving away in the kitchen. If you can’t find preserved lemons, use regular lemons. Haloumi cheese adds a nice salty taste with a chewy texture and makes this a more substantial side dish. You could substitute feta cheese for the haloumi.
  3. Stuffed Mushrooms – These make a regular appearance at our Thanksgiving dinners. They are kind of like the brussels sprouts – once you start eating them, you can’t stop. The main challenge with these is keeping them coming out of the oven at the pace at which they are being eaten. A plus here is that you can make these ahead of time and bake them right before ready to serve.
  4. Farmer’s Market Vegetable Tian – A tian is an easy, crowd pleaser which you can modify based on vegetables that are seasonal at the moment. Because leftover potential should also be a factor in deciding on what to make for Thanksgiving, it feels like I should mention that tians are great in sandwiches – hoagies or open face – the next day.
  5. Puff Pastry Samosas – This quick samosa recipe has been a life saver ever since I discovered it as an “emergency appetizer”. You know those moments where you realize that you need to serve something but have almost no groceries and no time? Puff Pastry Samosas are your answer. All you really need are potatoes, frozen peas and a package of frozen puff pastry. You can serve these samosas as an appetizer or even a main dish. I’ve made them both as individual triangle samosas but also as a larger loaf to save cooking time. Both are big hits.
  6. Crispy Spinach Chaat – This recipe is an adaptation of a popular dish at the restaurant, Rasika, in Washington D.C. After I made it for the first time, I received the cookbook and was able to see the real recipe. Mine is a little simpler so I’m sharing that one here. Also, maybe I should have led with battered, fried spinach and had you at that.
  7. Vegetarian Chicken Wings – These are also an annual tradition when we get together with my side of the family. We order a huge frozen bag from May-Wah in New York City. Over the course of the Thanksgiving break, we try out different seasoning marinades. Some of our favorite are a yogurt-tikka masala blend, teriyaki and sometimes just olive oil-salt-pepper.
  8. Whole Cauliflower in Makhani Sauce – Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables because it can be transformed into so many shapes and textures. A whole cooked cauliflower is a great vegetarian main dish option. This version drenches a blanched head of cauliflower in a creamy, tomato spiced sauce.
  9. Grilled Cauliflower with Spicy Tomato Sauce – I told you I love cauliflower! Here’s another way to serve it up either as a whole blanched head of cauliflower (using the same technique as above) or cut into smaller pieces and grilled and served with a piquant tomato sauce.
  10. Eggplant Parmesan – Our Thanksgiving dinner is often anchored around Eggplant Parmesan. This is a version that I learned from a chef in Costa Rica (of all places). The differentiator with this recipe is adding a few dollops of pesto with each layer of the dish and using as high a quality parmesan and mozzarella as you can get.

 

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Cherry Bomb Avocado Frittata

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Instapot Congee with Turmeric

The space over at 101 Cookbooks has been one of my favorite food blogs for years. The photos are beautiful, the writing light and whimsical and the recipes wholesome and delicious. Given Heidi’s more Martha Stewart than Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. So it was a surprise (albeit a pleasant one) when she got in on the […]

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