Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Man can live by bread and paneer alone

Man can live by bread and paneer alone

It is difficult to believe food historians who tell us that good old paneer isn’t a child of native soil. In fact, it was brought to the Indies by the Portuguese, who also introduced chillies, potatoes and other items that have become an indispensable part of our daily diet.
The poor Portuguese may have lost the rest of the subcontinent to the British and had to remain content confined to a small enclave in Goa. But, their food imports – like paneer – didn’t take long to conquer the local palate.

Today, paneer is a staple item on any menu for vegetarians. It is substituted for meats and eggs in myriad recipes. Once, matar paneer was considered a special dish, but now, paneer seems to have displaced almost all the vegetables from restaurant menus. It is encountered in various avatars – from the plain bhujiya and the once seasonal palak paneer (cooked with spinach) to kadhai (a spicy stir-fry with capsicum, onions and tomatoes), labadar (in a buttery piquant sauce) and shahi (in a creamy white gravy enriched by nuts). Paneer snacks, such as tandoori tikka hariyali (laced with mint, coriander and green chillies), lehsuni (flavoured with garlic) or ajwaini (accented with caraway seeds) beat other vegetarian finger foods – to mix metaphors – hands down.

In many ways, paneer’s upward mobility has coincided with the prosperity of Punjabi refugees. After losing their fortunes during Partition, they did well on this side of the border. But, Punjabis are not the only ones with a passion for paneer. In fact, it is difficult to avoid, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Kolkata to Kutch.
In Awadh, they have fashioned a delightful taash kebab out of paneer that puts to shame the pasanda version it set out to mimic. Hyderabad responded with paneer tamatar ka qut and more recently, fusion artistes have created a lehriya bharwan delicacy resembling a roulade.
The Kashmiri repertoire has the mildly sour, scarlet-hued tamatar chaman and the aromatic and flavourful methi chaman. In Chennai, it has found its way into the masala dosa and competes with the chicken in the dish billed as ‘65’. Delicious chunks of paneer pack the veg kathi roll in the City of Joy. ‘Chindian’ may no longer be the flavour of the month in South Block after Jairam Ramesh’s recent gaffe in Beijing, but chilli paneer continues to score over gobhi
manchurian in Indian-Chinese restaurants in Gujarat. Purists who ‘look East’ keep pushing the ‘healthier’ tofu but this bland import is no match for the ‘Resident Non-Indian’.

Memories of the most satisfying paneer meal ever include the bhurji served up at a dhaba in Sirhind. It was no frills, spared the overworked tomatoes and onions and was just a generous helping of creamy scramble tempered with royal cumin, with a trace of fresh ginger and green chillies. Paired with hot tandoori roti, it was sheer bliss. There was no yearning for the proverbial flask of wine or company. There are times man can live by bread and paneer alone!
article from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/

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