I am not going to pretend. I'm not to pull any punches. When I drew India for the Olympic Food Challenge I was over the moon. An other person may have taken this to be a day off, a banker, a chance to relax and just knock up the same old curry that they make week in week out. I'm not that person. I saw the chance to push myself and potentially pull off some kitchen wheelies at the same time.
Rather than one Indian dish, I decided to make a few and invite some friends over for a meal*. First on the list was paneer. Z and I both love paneer and we're lucky enough to be able to buy it locally, but where is the challenge in that. I wanted to make my own. Having looked it up, paneer is supposed to be the easiest cheese in the world to make. All it takes is milk and acid (lemon juice or yogurt). The acid is added to boiling milk which separates the curds from the whey and the cheese is rinsed under running water. All that is left is to press the cheese so that you can cut it and cook with it later.
It was a huge success. The cheese held its shape and was firm enough to cut into cubes before making Spiced Paneer, a recipe by Atul Kochar, one of my favourite chefs. I had been looking for a simple recipe that wouldn't mask the freshness of my paneer and this combination of spices worked really well.
The second dish is another personal challenge, okra. Having eaten okra a couple of times I am certain that I don't like it. This is possibly due to the "ladies fingers" being poorly cooked, but slimy is never high on my list of properties food should have. I was sure that cooked properly okra would be at least palatable and possibly really nice. I found this recipe and bit the bullet. I had made the massala earlier in the day so that when it came to cooking all I had to do was fry the okra and add the spices.
The final part of the main meal, apart from a huge mound of pilau rice, was home made lemon pickle. I had been talking about the Olympic Food Challenge at work** and a colleague told me about the amazing pickles and chutneys that his mum makes. He rushed home to try to get her secret recipe for me but the translation of measures and ingredients from Hindi into English proved problematic. Last Monday I was presented with a zip lock bag full of her pickle mix. I could identify 99% of the spice mix but there was one seed that I couldn't put my finger on. Ten lemons have been pickling on the kitchen windowsill for a week and tonight it provided a sharp point to a sweet and light meal.
Normally the meal would have ended there but Twitter intervened. Back in April when I announced the Olympic Food Challenge, Mike from Indie Ices offered me some of his home made kulfi to celebrate India. Of course I said yes and the months passed. Yesterday, good to his word Mike delivered two pots of Mango and two pots of Almond & Pistachio kulfi. I love kulfi but had never had any of Mike's award winning desserts. They really are good, I had the mango but Z was in raptures about the almond.
Back to the challenges. First, okra, my least favourite vegetable in the world. It is definitely back on the menu. It looks like the secret is cooking it fast and not letting it stew. Second, paneer. Wow, what can I say. Paneer used to be a bit of a treat as it's quite an expensive ingredient but it is so easy and cheap to make at home I doubt I will ever buy it in a shop again. Please try to make your own paneer, you wont regret it!
*if you're going to show off you may as well have an audience.
** I think about very little else at the moment.