Ease into Indian vegan/vegetarian cooking and work your way up from simple spice mixes to complex curries.
My food blog Cookilicious features a collection of detailed, mouth-watering vegetarian and vegan recipes.
Chana Masala and Palak Paneer - two popular and delicious dishes that are the stars of almost every Indian restaurant. Have you wondered how they are prepared? It turns out it's so simple to recreate these dishes at home. The next time you have a craving for Indian food, try these recipes to satisfy your hunger pangs.
A detailed account of how to prepare these dishes, narrated in a simple fashion so novices and experts alike can follow along. Also included are useful tips and tricks to make your cooking experience a breeze!
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Episode 4 – Recreating Restaurant Favorite Curries
Hello and welcome to the fourth episode of Cookilicious Kitchen Stories. I hope you’ve been enjoying the episodes we’ve been putting out so far. If so, I’d appreciate it if you could take a moment to subscribe to our podcast.
In the last couple of episodes, we discussed spices and the unique blends or Masalas they’re used to make. We saw just how easy it is to make Masalas like Turmeric powder, Cumin powder, Coriander powder, Garam Masala, and Milk Masala at home. Today we’ll talk about 2 delicious vegetarian dishes, Chana Masala and Palak Paneer.
I hail from Mumbai, and the food scene there is pretty awesome. You’ll find at least one restaurant on every street and they usually serve a variety of dishes. You will also find a lot of restaurants that serve purely vegetarian food.
Today, we’ll be talking about a couple of Indian dishes that are very popular at restaurants, and yet so easy to make at home. We’ll also get a chance to use some of the masalas we talked about in the last couple of episodes. I’ll walk you through each recipe step-by-step in as much detail as I can.
Let’s turn our attention to the first dish of today’s episode. It’s called ‘Chana Masala’. Chana Masala is a spiced chickpea curry or gravy. It’s a popular dish that’s loaded with flavor. It also goes by another name ‘Chole’ in the Northern part of India. The spice quotient of this dish is medium-spicy to hot and it's cooked in a rich tomato-onion gravy. In fact, my husband makes a mean Chana Masala that I love to eat.
This dish is very delicious to taste and super easy to make using basic pantry staples. Plus it's vegan friendly.
The brilliance of this dish is that it pairs well with bread, Naan, Chapati, Bhaturas, and even rice. You can even eat it without any accompaniment. Chana Masala mixed with yogurt is a divine combination – and one of my favorites!
When I was growing up, my father used to take me to a place where they served delicious ‘Chole Bhature’. A Bhatura by the way is a large round, deep-fried bread. Even now, when I visit India, I make it a point to go to that same restaurant and order the same dish. It brings back so many fond memories of our time together.
The canteen at my school would serve a variation of this dish too. The canteen lady would serve ‘Chole Bread’ every Monday. There would be particularly long lines in the canteen on Mondays because the dish used to be delicious!
This dish also holds a special place in my heart because it's one of the first dishes I learned to make.
This recipe will serve 4 people and will take about 45 minutes to prepare.
Let’s talk about the ingredients you’ll need.
- 2 cups of Chickpeas
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 2 coarsely chopped tomatoes
- ¼ cup finely chopped Cilantro
- 1 Tablespoon of ginger paste or some freshly grated ginger
- 1 Tablespoon of garlic paste or 6-7 finely chopped cloves of fresh garlic
- 3-4 slit green chillies or 1-2 finely chopped jalapenos
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ Tablespoon of paprika or chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon of Turmeric powder
- 1 Tablespoon of Coriander powder
- 1 Tablespoon of Cumin Powder
- 1 Tablespoon of Garam Masala
- 2-3 Tablespoons of Chole Masala
- 1 Tablespoon of Lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons of cooking oil (or butter)
- 4 cups of water
I prefer using raw chickpeas available at most stores, but you can also use canned chickpeas. If you decide to use the raw chickpeas, you will need to soak them for at least 5 hours or overnight, since they are uncooked. Soaking makes the chickpeas plump because they absorb the water. It also helps in reducing flatulence that may occur due to the consumption of a lot of beans. It also aids in the digestion of the chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are pre-cooked, so they do not need to be soaked and can be used right out of the can.
Chana Masala can be easily made on a stovetop or in an Instant Pot. The procedure for both versions is virtually identical. For the stovetop version, however, you will first need to cook the soaked chickpeas if you’re using the raw ones. I prefer cooking them in a pressure cooker with salt and turmeric powder. You can add a tea bag while pressure cooking and discard it later. While adding the teabag does not alter the flavors, it does lend a deep brown color to the curry. You could also try cooking them in the microwave, but I really haven’t tried it. Or to save time, you can just use canned chickpeas.
For the Instant Pot version, there is no need to cook the soaked chickpeas separately. They will be cooked along with the masala.
Here are the steps to make this recipe.
- Soak the chickpeas in hot water for 5 at least hours or overnight. Drain the water and set the chickpeas aside
- Turn the Instant Pot to ‘saute mode’ and add 1-2 teaspoons of oil or butter.
- Once the oil heats up, add the ginger, garlic, the slit green chillies or jalapenos, the cinnamon stick, and half of the chopped cilantro.
- Saute for about 30 seconds and then add the chopped onion.
- Saute until the onions turn translucent.
- Add the chopped tomatoes. Cook until they turn soft and pulpy.
- Add the turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika, and garam masala
- Add a ½ cup of water to prevent the spices from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- If you have the Chole Masala, add it now. If you don’t have it, just add an additional ½ Tablespoon of Garam Masala.
- Add 3 ½ cups of water to the pot. If you’re using canned chickpeas, add 2 cups of water.
- Add salt as per your taste.
- Add the soaked chickpeas. Mix everything well.
- Turn off Saute mode.
- Place the lid over the Instant Pot and turn the vent to the 'sealed position'.
- Cook in manual or pressure mode for 40 minutes. If you’re using canned chickpeas, then set the cooking time to just 5 minutes.
- Once done, let the pressure release naturally. Then open the lid.
- Garnish with the remaining cilantro.
- Add the lemon juice.
- Mix everything together well.
- If you want to thicken the gravy, cook in saute mode for an additional 2 minutes. You can also add 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch, rice flour, or chickpea flour mixed with 2-3 tablespoon of water.
Our Chana Masala is ready to enjoy!
For the stovetop version, all the steps remain the same. Once you add the chickpeas in step 12 however, you only need to cook for an additional 3-4 minutes over a medium flame because the chickpeas are already cooked.
As I mentioned before, this dish goes well with rice, bread, naan, roti, or chapati. You can also serve this with Cauliflower rice or Quinoa.
It stays well in the fridge for 4-5 days. It can also be frozen for a couple of months.
So the next time you decide to order Chana Masala from a restaurant, give this recipe a try instead. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. and your taste-buds will be satisfied.
Now let’s move to the 2nd dish in today’s podcast. It’s called Palak Paneer. It translates to ‘Spinach with Cottage Cheese’. This creamy vegetarian spinach dish is vegetarian, gluten-free, and makes in just30 minutes!
Palak is the Indian name for spinach and Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese made from milk. It is similar to tofu. Palak Paneer is basically a luscious creamy spinach sauce infused with Indian spices and topped with grilled paneer. It's another popular item on the menu of an Indian restaurant that can very easily be replicated at home.
People often want to know the difference between Palak Paneer and Saag Paneer. In Northern India, Saag refers to a combination of leafy greens like spinach, fenugreek leaves and, mustard leaves. The main difference between the two is that Saag Paneer can be made with any leafy green or a combination of greens, but, Palak Paneer is made only with spinach.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense leafy green vegetables you can eat. It's a good source of vitamins and folates. Spinach is low in carbs but high in insoluble fiber which helps better digestion. It is always a good idea to include this green leafy vegetable in your daily diet.
This dish will serve 4 people. Here are the ingredients you will need to make this dish.
- 10 oz spinach
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 5 cups of water
- 2 cups of ice cubes
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup of cashews
- 1 Jalapeno
- 7 oz of Paneer
- 2 Tablespoons of oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon of garlic paste, or 5 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon of ginger paste, or freshly grated ginger
We’ll start off by making a spinach puree.
- Blanch the spinach. To do this, boil 4 cups of water, add the sugar and then add spinach to the boiling water. Make sure the spinach stays submerged. Turn off the flame and let it sit for 3 minutes. No need to cover the pan.
- Strain the water after 3 minutes and immediately give the spinach an ice bath. Add the ice cubes to a bowl and add the blanched spinach to it. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Transfer it to a blender and make a smooth creamy puree. Set aside for now.
Next, we’ll make the Masala:
- To a pan add the coarsely chopped onion, jalapeno, and cashews along with 1 cup of water.
- Bring to a boil. Reduce the flame. Cook for 6-7 minutes on a low to medium flame.
- Do not strain. Allow the Masala to cool down completely before grinding to a smooth paste in a blender. Set aside for now.
Now it’s time to grill the Paneer
- If using frozen paneer, thaw it completely first.
- Cut the paneer in any desired shape.
- Heat a grill pan and grill the paneer slices in a Tablespoon of oil until it turns light golden on both sides. Set the grilled paneer aside for now.
Finally, let’s put everything together
- Add a Tablespoon of oil to a pan. Once it's hot enough, add the bay leaves, cinnamon, garlic, and ginger.
- Fry for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic turns golden in color.
- Add the Masala paste and fry it for 2 minutes.
- Add the spinach puree, garam masala, and salt.
- Add water if you need to adjust the consistency.
- Mix everything together and cook to a boil.
- Take the pan off the flame.
- Add the grilled paneer just before serving.
This dish goes well with rice, bread, chapati, or Naan.
If you want to make this dish vegan, you can replace the Paneer with extra-firm Tofu. Everything else remains the same. Both Palak and Paneer are keto-friendly. To make this recipe keto-friendly though, you can substitute the cashews with pecans or macadamia nuts.
Here are a few tips and tricks for this recipe.
- If you’re using frozen spinach, thaw it and blend it to a smooth puree. You can skip the blanching and ice bath steps
- Adding sugar while blanching the spinach helps retain the green color and helps cut the bitterness.
- Shallow-fry the Paneer in ghee (if not vegan) for more flavor.
- You can make the spinach gravy in advance and store it for 2-3 days in the fridge and just add fresh or grilled paneer before serving.
- You could use roasted veggies instead of paneer or tofu or even use this spinach puree base as a pasta sauce!
- Instead of paneer slices, you can add paneer crumbles on top and enjoy it as a hearty spinach soup.
As always, I urge you to experiment and find out what it is that you like best. With this, we’ve come to the end of the episode. Today we learned how to cook 2 dishes, Chana Masala and Palak Paneer. I sincerely hope you found this episode informative and entertaining. If you decide to make these dishes, then please send me pictures. I would love to see how they turned out! My email address is in the show notes as are the blog links for today’s recipes. Reach out also if you have any questions about these recipes or in general about Indian or vegetarian cooking. Again, if you liked today’s episode, then please subscribe to the podcast.
In the next episode, I will share with you some more popular vegetarian dishes that you can easily replicate at home. If you have any Indian dishes that you've always enjoyed at restaurants and would love to try making at home, please let me know. So please stay tuned.
Until next time, this is Priya signing off. Stay safe and keep cooking delicious!