Monday, 12 October 2015

CHANAR /COTTAGE CHEESE KORMA ~ SHUBHO MAHALAYA

PAINTERS IN KUMARTULI, THE PORTER'S QUARTER KOLKATA DRAWING THE THIRD EYE ON THE IDOL OF GODDESS DURGA ON THE DAY OF MAHALAYA(IMAGE SOURCE)
SHIULI FLOWERS/NIGHT FLOWERING JASMINE FLOWERS SYNONYMOUS OF DURGA PUJA

As Indians we celebrate many beautiful festivals which span through different months giving us sweet reasons to adorn new attires, gorge into dishes which leave our taste buds doused in their flavours long after they have completed their journey into our gut and bask in festivities galore. Each festival brings in its own unique attributes, has its own legend and is our pathway to transcend on that blessed journey into our rich culture and heritage.Growing up in India I can't be  more thankful to the fact that I have had the opportunity to seep into the multitudes of diverse traditions which is the base of this gorgeous country. Each festival was celebrated with equal pomp and joy.

But then my bong genes did endear the celebration of Durga Pujo a little deeper down my heart. You cannot believe it unless you see it how a city, (Kolkata, West Bengal) transforms itself into one big carnival and remains engulfed with euphoria through the entire Pujo (festival) which heralds its commencement with Mahalaya and reaches its crescendo with  Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Navami and Vijay Dashami. As all eagerly await the arrival of Goddess Durga, Kumartuli, the famous Potter's Quarters in Northern Kolkata get really busy adding the final touches to the idols of Goddess Durga. And my soul is elated with an unknown happiness as I whisper "Maa Aashchen" ( Mother is coming).

Mahalaya for me has always been a blessed morn, with a hint of chill in the air, a heart fluttering with loads of excitement, an indescribable kind of happiness engulfing me completely as the intoxicating scent of the Shiuli (Night-Flowering Jasmine) flowers blankets the house, I can see the swaying Kans Phool dot the horizon & the sun rising to the mellifluous chants, a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess, DURGA to descend on earth - "Jago Tumi Jago" ( Rise O Almighty Rise).

KASH FLOWER GROWING IN THE WILD HERALDS THE COMMENCEMENT OF DURGA PUJA (IMAGE SOURCE)

Huddling with all the family members, a quilt keeping us warm, all ears to the melodious voice emanating (earlier from a transistor and now from an IPad ) of a very prominent Bengali singer "Birendra Krishna Bhadra" invoking the Mother, Goddess Durga, to make her emergence.This is usually followed by a finger licking, hearty breakfast of Luchi & Chanar Korma ( deep fried Indian flatbread and homemade cottage cheese curry in thick gravy).

For all my non bengali Friends, Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga, the goddess of supreme power.

In Kumartuli, the traditional potters' quarter in Northern Kolkata, however a very different kind of excitement , throbs up the entire place. The Potters rise in the wee hours of the morning, purify themselves with a bath and new clothes and head to finish a very important job. After offering Puja, they bring life to the clay idol of Goddess Durga by drawing the third eye on her forehead.This is the most auspicious part of making the idol and while doing so amidst the aroma & smoke of dhup and dhuno (incense stick) they become euphoric, a sight to behold.

Today, far far away from India, the fervour in my heart is no less. Ma's phone rings, as has been the ritual so to say,every year, resonating through the still of the night, breaking the pin drop silence of my house, as I jolt up awake with my heart pounding like a beating drum. Its only 3 in the morning here, but is already 4.30 a.m. in India and I am woken up by Ma to listen to the invocation of inviting Goddess Durga to descend upon the earth. As I doze off momentarily, the phone still on my ear, Ma's voice again comes through "Kirey uthli?"(Are you awake or not). Slowly getting down from the bed, waking a little unsteady from the sleep shackled legs, I make way into the study.Clumsily I open my lap top and press the on button. Within seconds music fills up the dark, I am totally engulfed by nostalgia, my heart swells up with emotion and I try in vain to hold back tears which roll down in frequent succession. Friends its quite an emotional connect with most Bengali's and leaves us overwhelmed. I am sure you all will understand how the memory of celebrating different rituals and festivals from our childhood many a times leaves us overwhelmed with emotions.

To keep this saga of emotions and nostalgia going let me share with you all a recipe which we invariably had on most Mahalayas in our home. It is CHANAR KORMA, which is homemade cottage cheese in a rich creamy gravy. This gravy is made without using onion or garlic. It gets its richness from the almonds and coconut paste used in the gravy along with yogurt/curd. The Chana or Paneer used is made at home and this type of homemade fried chana/paneer is indigenous to the eastern part of India. The list of ingredients may look long, but trust me they are simple ingredients all available in your kitchen at any point of time. Assembling the ingredients takes less than 5 minutes. I have used homemade fried chana/cottage cheese cubes, but you may use ready made ones sold in many Bengali sweet shops. That will cut down the preparation time by half. So lets start with the dish right away.

RECIPE SOURCE 

CHANAR/COTTAGE CHEESE KORMA RECIPE:

SERVES : 4
CUISINE : INDIAN/BENGALI
TYPE : SIDE DISH, CURRY
TIME : 20 MINUTES TO MAKE THE COTTAGE CHEESE FROM MILK + 30 MINUTES RESTING TIME FOR THE CHANA/COTTAGE CHEESE/PANEER + 15 MINUTES PREPARATION + 20 MINUTES COOKING

INGREDIENTS:

FOR HOMEMADE COTTAGE CHEESE/CHANA :

1) 1  1/2 Ltr. Full cream Milk
2) 3Tbsp Lemon Juice ( Juice of 2 lemons squeezed out) ( Alternately you can use plain vinegar in the same quantity)

FOR FRIED CHANA /COTTAGE CHEESE CUBES FOR THE CURRY:

1) 500 Gms of Chana/Cottage cheese
2) 1 tsp Ginger and Green chillies paste (use about 3 inch piece of ginger chopped and add 6 green chillies and make into a fine paste)
3) 1 Tsp of Sugar (optional)
4) 1Tsp Roasted Cumin powder
5) 1Tsp garam masala powder
6) 1Tsp clarified butter/ghee (optional)
7) 2-3 Tbsp Refined Flour/Maida
8) Oil to fry the cubes

FOR THE CURRY:

1) 500 Gms of fried Chana /home made cottage cheese cubes
2) 1 Cup green peas
3) 1 Tbsp Oil
4) 2 Tbsp ghee/clarified butter
5) 1 Tbsp Ginger and Green Chillies paste (use about 3 inch piece of ginger chopped and add 6 green chillies and make into a fine paste)
6) 1 Tsp Red Chilli Powder
7) 1/4 Tsp Turmeric powder
8) 3 Tbsp Yogurt/Dahi
9) 4 Tbsp Almond and Coconut paste ( grind 10-15 raw almonds and about 4 Tbsp of grated coconut to a fine paste, alternately use cashewnuts and coconut)
10) 1 tsp Garam Masala powder
11) 1 Tsp Sugar (optional)
12) Salt to taste
13) 250 ml of water

FOR TEMPERING:

1) 2 1 inch Cinnamon stick
2) 5 Small pieces of green cardamom
3) 1 Bay leaf

PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE COTTAGE CHEESE/CHANA FROM MILK:


1) Boil milk in a thick bottom pan. Once it reaches boiling point, remove from heat and cool from 100% to 80% that is about 1~2 minutes. Add the juice of lemon and continue adding till the milk curdles and the whey clearly separates from the cottage cheese. Stop adding juice then.


2) Take a pan. Place a large strainer on top of the pan. Cover the strainer with a muslin/cheese cloth. Carefully pour the whey along with the cottage cheese into the muslin cloth covered strainer. Lift the strainer and let all the whey drain into the pan below. Now wash the cottage cheese with cold water to remove any traces of lemon and also to cool it a bit. Bring the edges of the muslin cloth together to look like a bundle. Holding the top of this bundle, gently squeeze out all the remaining water from the cottage cheese. If you have time, leave the cottage cheese in the muslin cloth with its mouth tied over the strainer for half an hour to one hour and all the water will drain out and your HOMEMADE COTTAGE CHEESE WILL BE READY.
TIP: While squeezing the water out of the cottage cheese by pressing the muslin or cheese cloth, be careful as it will be hot. Do this close to your kitchen sink so that you can place your hands under running water if required.


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PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE FRIED CHANA/PANEER/COTTAGE CUBES:

1) Grind ginger and chillies together into a fine paste and keep aside ready to use. 

2) Take the homemade cottage cheese on a clean working surface. Add the refined flour and knead it nicely into a soft dough. Next add ginger chilli paste, cumin and garam masala powder, salt, sugar and clarified butter and kneading again incorporate everything into the dough. 

3) Add more refined flour if you feel the dough is too soft. Flatten the dough out evenly on the working surface. The flattened dough should be approximately 1/2 inch in thickness. You need not be particular about the thickness measurement. It should be thick enough for you to be able to cut it into equal sized cubes. I get approximately 20 cubes from my dough. You may get less or more depending on thickness etc. Also with the blunt side of your knife shape the edges of the dough to look nice and even.

4) First mark with a knife and then cut through the marks. Very gently with help of your knife separate out the cubes and lift them up. If they break while lifting up then sprinkle some refined flour on them and try again. Also its a good idea to grease the surface before spreading the dough so that you can easily lift up the cubes.

5) Heat oil in a wok/kadai and very gently put the cubes one by one into the hot oil and fry them till golden in colour. It's a good idea to first put one piece into the oil. If it doesn't break, you are good to go. If it breaks add more refined flour to the dough. Keep the fried cottage cheese cubes ready to use.

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PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE GRAVY:

1) Soak almond in hot water for 5 minutes. Take out the almonds and skin them. Grind almonds and coconut to a fine paste. In a bowl take yogurt/dahi, turmeric and red chilli powder and mix well.

2) Heat oil and clarified butter in a wok/kadai. Add in cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves. When they become fragrant, add the ginger green chilli paste. Saute for a minute till the raw smell from the ginger goes away. Add the yogurt and spices mixture now and mix well.



3) Add the almond and coconut paste and mix well and cook for two minutes. Next add water. When it comes to a boil, add the green peas and simmer for 5 minutes. Once the peas are cooked add the fried cottage cheese cubes and mix well. Season with salt, add sugar and simmer it for 2 minutes stirring and mixing well. Just before plating sprinkle garam masala powder over it.

Serve hot. Tastes best with Luchi/deep fried Indian flat bread. But you can serve it with bread of choice or rice too. This combo is a very popular breakfast in Bengal, especially during festivities.

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CHANAR/COTTAGE CHEESE KORMA RECIPE:


SERVES : 4
CUISINE : INDIAN/BENGALI
TYPE : SIDE DISH, CURRY
TIME : 20 MINUTES TO MAKE THE COTTAGE CHEESE FROM MILK + 30 MINUTES RESTING TIME FOR THE CHANA/COTTAGE CHEESE/PANEER + 15 MINUTES PREPARATION + 20 MINUTES COOKING

INGREDIENTS:

FOR HOMEMADE COTTAGE CHEESE/CHANA :

1) 1  1/2 Ltr. Full cream Milk
2) 3Tbsp Lemon Juice ( Juice of 2 lemons squeezed out) ( Alternately you can use plain vinegar in the same quantity)

FOR FRIED CHANA /COTTAGE CHEESE CUBES FOR THE CURRY:

1) 500 Gms of Chana/Cottage cheese
2) 1 tsp Ginger and Green chillies paste (use about 3 inch piece of ginger chopped and add 6 green chillies and make into a fine paste)
3) 1 Tsp of Sugar (optional)
4) 1Tsp Roasted Cumin powder
5) 1Tsp garam masala powder
6) 1Tsp clarified butter/ghee (optional)
7) 2-3 Tbsp Refined Flour/Maida
8) Oil to fry the cubes

FOR THE CURRY:

1) 500 Gms of fried Chana /home made cottage cheese cubes
2) 1 Cup green peas
3) 1 Tbsp Oil
4) 2 Tbsp ghee/clarified butter
5) 1 Tbsp Ginger and Green Chillies paste (use about 3 inch piece of ginger chopped and add 6 green chillies and make into a fine paste)
6) 1 Tsp Red Chilli Powder
7) 1/4 Tsp Turmeric powder
8) 3 Tbsp Yogurt/Dahi
9) 4 Tbsp Almond and Coconut paste ( grind 10-15 raw almonds and about 4 Tbsp of grated coconut to a fine paste, alternately use cashewnuts and coconut)
10) 1 tsp Garam Masala powder
11) 1 Tsp Sugar (optional)
12) Salt to taste
13) 250 ml of water

FOR TEMPERING:

1) 2 1 inch Cinnamon stick
2) 5 Small pieces of green cardamom
3) 1 Bay leaf

PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE COTTAGE CHEESE/CHANA FROM MILK:


1) Boil milk in a thick bottom pan. Once it reaches boiling point, remove from heat and cool from 100% to 80% that is about 1~2 minutes. Add the juice of lemon and continue adding till the milk curdles and the whey clearly separates from the cottage cheese. Stop adding juice then.

2) Take a pan. Place a large strainer on top of the pan. Cover the strainer with a muslin/cheese cloth. Carefully pour the whey along with the cottage cheese into the muslin cloth covered strainer. Lift the strainer and let all the whey drain into the pan below. Now wash the cottage cheese with cold water to remove any traces of lemon and also to cool it a bit. Bring the edges of the muslin cloth together to look like a bundle. Holding the top of this bundle, gently squeeze out all the remaining water from the cottage cheese. If you have time, leave the cottage cheese in the muslin cloth with its mouth tied over the strainer for half an hour to one hour and all the water will drain out and your HOMEMADE COTTAGE CHEESE WILL BE READY.
TIP: While squeezing the water out of the cottage cheese by pressing the muslin or cheese cloth, be careful as it will be hot. Do this close to your kitchen sink so that you can place your hands under running water if required.
************************~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~***************************************

PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE FRIED CHANA/PANEER/COTTAGE CUBES:

1) Grind ginger and chillies together into a fine paste and keep aside ready to use. 

2) Take the homemade cottage cheese on a clean working surface. Add the refined flour and knead it nicely into a soft dough. Next add ginger chilli paste, cumin and garam masala powder, salt, sugar and clarified butter and kneading again incorporate everything into the dough. 

3) Add more refined flour if you feel the dough is too soft. Flatten the dough out evenly on the working surface. The flattened dough should be approximately 1/2 inch in thickness. You need not be particular about the thickness measurement. It should be thick enough for you to be able to cut it into equal sized cubes. I get approximately 20 cubes from my dough. You may get less or more depending on thickness etc. Also with the blunt side of your knife shape the edges of the dough to look nice and even.

4) First mark with a knife and then cut through the marks. Very gently with help of your knife separate out the cubes and lift them up. If they break while lifting up then sprinkle some refined flour on them and try again. Also its a good idea to grease the surface before spreading the dough so that you can easily lift up the cubes.

5) Heat oil in a wok/kadai and very gently put the cubes one by one into the hot oil and fry them till golden in colour. It's a good idea to first put one piece into the oil. If it doesn't break, you are good to go. If it breaks add more refined flour to the dough. Keep the fried cottage cheese cubes ready to use.

********************************~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*************************************
PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE GRAVY:

1) Soak almond in hot water for 5 minutes. Take out the almonds and skin them. Grind almonds and coconut to a fine paste. In a bowl take yogurt/dahi, turmeric and red chilli powder and mix well.

2) Heat oil and clarified butter in a wok/kadai. Add in cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves. When they become fragrant, add the ginger green chilli paste. Saute for a minute till the raw smell from the ginger goes away. Add the yogurt and spices mixture now and mix well.

3) 3) Add the almond and coconut paste and mix well and cook for two minutes. Next add water. When it comes to a boil, add the green peas and simmer for 5 minutes. Once the peas are cooked add the fried cottage cheese cubes and mix well. Season with salt, add sugar and simmer it for 2 minutes stirring and mixing well. Just before plating sprinkle garam masala powder over it.

Serve hot. Tastes best with Luchi/deep fried Indian flat bread. But you can serve it with bread of choice or rice too. This combo is a very popular breakfast in Bengal, especially during festivities.
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WISHING ALL MY DEAR READERS, WHO ARE CELEBRATING HAPPY NAVARATRI AND SHUBHO MAHALAYA