Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Paneer Cafreal

Paneer Cafreal

I was unfamiliar with this dish until very recently. According to my sources at Wikipedia, Cafreal is a type of preparation introduced to India by the Portuguese. While it is generally prepared with chicken in the Indian state of Goa, I chose to prepare a vegetarian version of this dish by using Paneer, an Indian cheese. I may try this again with extra-firm tofu, in place of Paneer.

For more on the beautiful coastal state of Goa, see

I will also share some pictures of my travels around this tropical paradise in my next post.

Recipe for Paneer Cafreal

For the marinade

  • 2 medium sized bunches fresh cilantro (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)
  • 6 small green chilis (I used Indian, but you can substitute with 3-4 serrano peppers)
  • 6 cloves garlic, or more if you love garlic 1 inch fresh ginger root
  • 2 T white vinegar
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 t cumin seed
  • 1/2 t. turmeric powder
  • 1 pinch cardamom powder (optional)
  • 2 cloves (optional)
  • 1 C yogurt (an extra sour variety is especially good)

Grind all ingredients, except yogurt, into smooth paste and set aside.

Cut Paneer into 1-inch cubes and add to marinade. Add yogurt and mix well with your fingers; set aside for 15 minutes.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat and add 1T oil.

Add marinated Paneer in a single layer into skillet and allow it to brown, tossing periodically to prevent sticking. This should take 5-7 minutes per side.

Serve with freshly cut cilantro or a dash of lime juice. Enjoy with Basmati rice or Naan (Indian flat-bread).

To make Fresh Paneer

Paneer is an acid-set rennet-less cheese that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. You can prepare this from scratch as described below or purchase it pre-made from an Indian grocery store. If you are going to make it yourself, you will need:

  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Cheese cloth

Bring 1/2 gallon of milk (or more) to boil with constant stirring.

You can even use skim milk here if you're counting calories. The 1/2 gallon of milk will give you enough paneer for 2-3 people, but I don't recommend making this in batches larger than 1 gallon.

As milk comes to a boil, take off heat and slowly add lemon/lime juice (citric acid) or vinegar (acetic acid) while stirring.

I much prefer the taste of paneer made with citric acid. Amount required will vary; add just enough until your milk splits.

Drain the liquid portion (whey) or reserve for use in a stock or pancake batter etc. Rinse the cheese curds under running water.

Transfer curds to a cheesecloth and put it under a heavy weight to press out the remaining water. Do this for at least 20 minutes, or for firmer paneer, place in refrigerator overnight.

I usually put the cheesecloth with curds on a stack of tissues, place a flat plate on top and a gallon jug of milk/water on top.

A little about me...

When anyone asks me where I'm from, the answer is inevitably long and convoluted. I have had the privilege of traveling extensively and living in a whole bunch of very cool places. The one thing people in all these places have in common is food. While the definition of 'good food' can be as varied as the colors at a local farmers' market, we are all to some extent consumed by our love and pursuit of said 'good food.' Having been raised a vegetarian, perhaps I have always spent a little more time than normal/usual thinking about food.

While I'm ethnically Indian, my recipes are influenced by my diverse experiences, and I am always looking for new recipes to try out. Not all my recipes are "made from scratch" -- instead, they are simply meant to introduce some of my favorite foods to anyone interested. Some are comfort foods; others are brand new trials, sometimes never to be repeated :-) As an added bonus, a lot of these recipes were developed while I was in graduate school and hence are quite easy on the wallet :-) I will try to offer tidbits of information regarding ingredients used in the recipes as well as my preferred sources for things that I chose not to painstakingly prepare from scratch. I may also try to post some opinions about restaurants I have been to.

As far as my recipes, these are just some of my myriad inspirations -- more on each in later posts:

  • The wrinkly, hoarse-voiced Kulfi-walla hawking his delectable desserts on the late-night streets of Bombay

  • Hungrily wolfing down the best-ever Nutella-banana crepes and wedge fries at a laundromat near Suma-Eki in Kobe, Japan

  • The falafel-guy (OMG -- what was his name?) introducing the denizens of a tiny New England town to finger-lickin'

  • Middle Eastern food -- interestingly again operating out of a laundromat!

  • The joy of watching your very own corn growing by leaps and bounds and digging up a tiny fingerling potato on a small strip of Mid-western soil

  • The piping-hot demi-baguette from the corner bakery in the 18th arondissement, eaten with some questionably preserved Comte

  • The incomparable aroma of the drip coffee at the downtown Portland farmers' market

So, if any of the above sounds interesting to you, do come back and check out my blog. I would love to hear your comments, too.