Besan Ladoo

These are, I’m told, a staple sweet during many festivities and celebrations in India. I don’t know of any similar dessert to compare these with; they’re certainly unlike anything in most American menus. They are a bit dry and are something of an acquired taste. (That said, my toddler would happily gobble them up by the plateful if I let her.)

1-1/2 cups + 4 Tbsp besan (chickpea) flour (can be found at Indian groceries and at some large chain grocery stores)
1/2 cup Ghee
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom (or equal parts ground coriander, ground nutmeg, and ground cinnamon)
4-5 tbsp almonds, finely chopped
1 tbsp raisins

Melt the ghee and add the raisins. Keep at low heat – just melted. Roast the flour until fragrant, but not browned or burnt. Add ghee/raisins and stir until well combined. Turn into a bowl and allow to cool down; it should still be warm, but not hot. Add sugar, spices and almonds and combine. Roll into small balls and allow to cool completely.

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Channa Masala (Spiced Chickpeas in Tomato Sauce)

1 cup Chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 tsp turmeric
1 tea bag
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp ghee
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp Cumin-coriander powder (or 1 tsp each ground cumin and ground coriander)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 red onion
2 tomatoes, chopped finely
2 tbsp Tomato puree
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste 
1-2 tbsp tamarind paste (or 2 tsp lime juice, 1-1/2 tsp molasses, 1 tsp sugar) 
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, add 6 cups water, chickpeas, turmeric, bay leaf, and tea bag. Bring to a boil and cook for an hour.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt ghee and add caraway seeds and the spices and saute for 30-40 seconds. Add the onions and then ginger-garlic paste and saute until the onion is translucent. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, and tamarind paste and cook till the tomato is soft.

Remove the tea bag and bay leaf from the chickpeas and drain, reserving the liquid. Add the chickpeas to the tomato sauce and add 1 c of the reserved liquid. Bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the mixture thickens up.

Spiced Chai

4 tsp black tea
1/4″ slice fresh ginger, peeled
4 cinnamon sticks, broken up
8 green cardamom seeds, cracked/open
12 whole cloves
2 cups each whole milk and water
(optional: 3-4 saffron threads, 1 tsp vanilla)

Boil all ingredients together until liquid is a dark caramel color and milk forms a skin. Strain into cups and sweeten to taste.

Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cheese)

This is one of my favorites, and my kids practically inhale this stuff. We eat it about once a month or so. You can adjust the spices as needed to make it spicier or milder.

1 Tbsp ghee
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Fennel seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 large Onion,chopped
2 medium Tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp chili-garlic paste
1 lb chopped fresh baby Spinach
5 oz paneer, cubed
1/2 c heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed, to taste

In a large pot, melt ghee over medium heat. Add cumin, fennel and caraway seeds and cook until fragrant. Add onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add tomato and a little salt. When tomato softens, add turmeric and chili-garlic paste and saute a minute or two longer.

Add spinach and allow to wilt. Blend with immersion blender until smoothish. Add paneer and cream and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and lemon to taste.

Curds and Whey

So, paneer is basically an Indian version of cottage cheese, and it’s delightfully easy to make.

Boil one gallon of milk (whole is best; when I tried making it with 2% milk it didn’t curdle as nicely, and 1% and skim milk didn’t curdle at all) with a quart of plain, 10% milkfat Greek-style yogurt, or a cup of whey from a previous batch. Strain out the curds into a piece of muslin; rinse under cool water for a minute or two, and drain. Season as desired, or leave it plain. For softer, crumbly cheese, you’re done here – put it in the fridge and use it like cottage cheese. For firmer cheese, wrap the curds tightly in the muslin and press for an hour or two under something heavy. (More whey will drain off, so keep it in the sink.) Then you can either fridge it or freeze it. I’m told freezing at least overnight will make it easier to pan-fry for adding to other dishes. I’ll be adding a recipe for palak paneer (curried spinach with cheese) soon, but it can be added to all kinds of other vegetable dishes, and I like to eat it plain.

Now, there’s a lot of whey left over after this. I freeze a cup for later batches and keep the rest in the fridge, stored in the gallon jug the milk came in. You can use it to replace water when cooking rice or oatmeal, add it to your protein smoothies, marinate chicken or turkey, and a bunch more things.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Traditionally, I’m told, this is served with plain yogurt and naan. I like to pair it with peas. It can be made with chicken or with tofu. If you’re going to make it with chicken AND tofu, make two batches of the marinade and marinate them in separate bags.

Marinade:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 teaspoons salt, or to taste

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts -OR- 2 1-lb blocks of firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into bite-size pieces

In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, and spices. Stir in chicken or tofu, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Tomato-Cream Sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
3 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat a grill. If using wood skewers, soak them while the grill heats up. 
Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard leftover marinade. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side. 
Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Add spices. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Add grilled chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro. 

Carrot Halwa

This recipe takes some time to make; prep work is tedious. No, really. Tedious. Grating 3 lb of carrots took me about an hour by myself. Whenever possible, get the thickest carrots you can find, because it’s ridiculously difficult to grate the skinny little ones or the ones that taper down to a point so fine you could write with them. I grated them in batches and kept them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge till I was ready to cook them. Also, your hands and fingernails may be orange-yellow for a day or two; you may want to wear gloves to prevent this.  

3-4 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter – can be found in your local Indian grocery store or you can make it) or light cooking oil, such as vegetable or coconut oil  
3 lb carrots – washed, peeled, and grated
2 cups whole milk or heavy cream
4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp raisins
3/4 to 1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed (or use 1/2-ish tsp cardamom powder)
(optional) 3 tsp ground almonds, pistachios, cashews, or any combination
(also optional) slivered, sliced or chopped nuts for garnish
Soak raisins in water to soften them. Set aside.
Heat ghee in a heavy pan. Add carrots and cook until the carrots have cooked down by about half. Add milk and cook until about 3/4 of the milk has cooked down. Add sugar and cook until the rest of the liquid is absorbed. Drain the raisins. Stir in raisins, cardamom, and ground nuts (if using).
Remove from heat and put into serving dish(es). Garnish with slivered nuts (or don’t). Serve hot, room temperature, or refrigerate until cold, depending on your taste.

Store leftovers in the fridge. I don’t know how long it will keep, because it’s usually gone in a day or two around here.