Okay, who ever discovered Butter Paneer is a genius. "Sirji, tussi great ho". I had never ever thought I would utter these words and always dissed butter paneer aka paneer makhani as a misconstrued representation of the rich Indian cuisine. I am sure I have said things to that effect in my earlier posts too.
But that was when I had not foreseen a future where hoardes of bengali kids(including mine), age ranging from 5 to 15, who might have otherwise complained about dal-bhaat-mangshor jhol, would eat butter paneer with rice in rapt silence. That was when I had no idea that the biggest fan of this dish, is being nurtured in my own home, until now fed on a careful and involved diet of chhanar dalna, charchari and murgir jhol . Yes, that is my nine year old, more frequently referred to as BigSis. She has always liked orange glo paneer makhni with naan at Indian restuarants, her favorite thing to order. I had thought she would get over it. Apparently she didn't and the fondness just grew stronger.
So, I took matters in my own hand and started making a Paneer Butter Masala at home. It was much appreciated and I started making it more frequently.
The more, I made it, the more I streamlined.
I cut corners and butter and heavy cream. I pared down the recipe to bare basics, something that could be done in 15-20 minutes flat whether you were cooking for 2 or 20. Yes, 5 main ingredients, few spices, 15 minutes and you have the easiest, quickest dish which is guaranteed to please loads of kids if not their finicky parents. I started adding vegetables along with paneer to the gravy and calling it my version of Navratan Korma. Instead of paneer, I added Eggs and called it Egg Masala. The horizon holds many possibilities with this dish but before I share the recipe, I have to tell you about another genius.
The discoverer of Rainbow Loom, a contraption which lets you make you bracelets with rubber bands. "Whaat??", you might ask. But I think, you won't. Almost everyone with school going kids have experienced the Loom fever.
Way back in Spring when my 9 yr. old oldest, BigSis came back from school and showed me a bracelet made of rubber band, I honestly did not understand what was so special about it. She and her friends are always making pretty bracelets or necklace out of beads and the rubber band ones seemed pretty flimsy in their comparison. Soon, however every other kid I came upon was making rubber brand bracelets and every other kid seemed to possess a "Rainbow Loom".
"Can I get a Rainbow loom?", BigSis asked in June. Now, I am not the kind of Mother who right away buys anything that the kids will ask for unless it is a book, again in which case I will first check the library. A kit that makes rubber brand bracelets and sells for $25 seemed a bit too much to me and I said, I will consider it only later.
Soon however BS learned to make a basic pattern with her two fingers and started making bracelets by the dozens on her fingers. Around end of summer she took one of her Taekwondo wood boards(the ones she breaks in class), pushed 3 thumbtacks in it and started using that to make more patterns. Some of her friends who did not have the loom yet did the same. Her neighborhood friends who had the store bought loom would pop in every other day and she used theirs to make the more difficult patterns that she and her friends learned from YouTube. Now, BigSis has a very rare quality where she doesn't really ask for toys or clothes or anything much. It is also a drawback in the sense that rarely there are incentives that excite her. So, in this case though most of her friends possessed the Rainbow Loom, she didn't feel deprived and did not ask me for one again. Almost all of August, she and her friends made bracelets of rubber band like crazy. The husband-man referred to it as "Kutir Shilpo" -- a burgeoning cottage industry.
Until that is a few weeks back. "I cannot make the complicated patterns using my 3-pin board," she grumbled. "I want to make more designs as they show on YouTube". Now, in our home, I am the more indulgent parent in such commercial product matters and so this time I was just this two clicks away from ordering on Amazon. The Dad is the one who thinks that kids these days anyway get too much and will learn to improvise only when they don't get desired stuff easily. So I held off buying the loom, mentally making a note to put it in as a December gift.
Finally tired of not having the complete loom, last week on her 4 day holiday, BigSis sat down to make a complete template board. She painted and glittered the wooden board. Then went on to replicate the full template with thumbtacks. There were a few trials with the pin placements as there needs to be a certain pattern and distance for optimal bracelet making. The hook posed a problem and so I bought a crochet hook which served the purpose. Finally the Rainbow Loom worth twenty-five dollar was made at home at almost no cost. It was cheap, sustainable and looked far better than the plastic ones made in China.
BigSis was also very proud of her home made loom as her friends and teachers praised her effort. Some of her friends wanted to make their own hand painted loom too.
As I read the story of Rainbow Loom's success and how its inventor had initially done the design using push pins on a wooden board, it seems the loom has come a full circle. As I see it, kids are immensely resourceful and if they want something, they will put in all their efforts to do it. How to excite them is the question and I am really amazed that these rubber brand bracelets were motivation enough.
Disclaimer: Now that BigSis is older, she does not want me to write much about her. However she particularly wanted me to take pics of her loom and share her hand made loom with you all.
Buy a block of Nanak Paneer if in US and Canada. In other countries buy the best brand of paneer. With Nanak, the paneer is really soft and no soaking in hot water is necessary.
Cut up the paneer block in cubes.
Puree fresh juicy tomato to make about 2 cups of pureed tomato. OR use canned tomatoes and make two cups of pureed tomato.
Heat 1/2 tbsp Vegetable Oil in a deep bottomed pan or kadhai. Add 1/2 tbsp of butter.
On occasions that call for rich gravies, I increase butter to 1tbsp. For only family meals I often skip the butter totally.
Temper the warm oil+butter with
2 Tej Patta
2 Black Cardamom lightly bruised in the mortar
1/4 tsp of methi seeds
Once the methi seeds start sputtering, switch off the heat for a minute and let the oil soak in the flavor of methi seeds. I don't think switching off is necessary but I like to give the oil a little time to absorb flavor of methi seeds and cardamom while I make tomato puree.
Now put the pan back on heat again and add
1.5 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
Fry for a few secs and then add
1 tbsp of tomato paste
If you don't have tomato paste, it is okay to skip
Next goes in
2 Cups of pureed tomato
Mix well with a spatula and add
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch powder
1 tsp Coriander powder
1/4 tsp of homemade Garam masala
Now stir and mix and let the tomato puree cook for about 7-8 mins at medium heat until the raw smell is gone. Keep stirring in between else it will char.
Add salt to taste and about 1/2tsp sugar and mix. As a reader Hasina Ahmed said, the sugar prevents the milk from breaking up later so make sure you add it.
Once the tomato is cooked and you see the oil seeping around the edges, lower the heat and add
2 Cups of Evaporated Milk(from can)
+ 1 cup of warm water
If you don't have Evaporated Milk, substitute with Whole Milk.
Remember to simmer at low heat as milk will break if you cook the gravy at high heat
Mix well and let the gravy simmer at low medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Adjust for taste and fine tune salt/sugar. You can add little more Garam masala and kashmiri mirch at this point if you think the dish needs more
Now add the paneer cubes and about 2 tsp of Kasoori methi crushed between your palm. Ahhh...the fragrance
Let it simmer for 3-4 more minutes at medium heat. Check that paneer is cooked and does not taste raw. Switch off heat. Cover and serve after 15 minutes.