Last week I told you about an Indian cooking class I took at our local community college. That post on legumes and Indian bread is available here: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/07/24/indian-cooking-class-part-1/ Today’s post will cover the last two classes in the series on yogurt, cheese making and eggplant dishes.
Yogurt and Cheese
I remember my mother making yogurt and cheese when I was a child, but I wasn’t directly involved in the making of either so the process remained a mystery to me. I was surprised to see how easy both were to make. The flavor of these homemade dairy products was so much better than commercial versions. You can also be assured that there are no artificial ingredients or additives involved when you make it yourself.
Not only is our instructor, Raka Mehra, a great home cook, she is also extremely knowledgeable about nutrition. Throughout the course she enlightened us regarding the nutritional benefits of the dishes we were preparing, yogurt being no exception. It is a fermented food that is nutrient-dense and rich in high-quality protein, important probiotics and linoleic acid. Raka reminded us that yogurt is alive with beneficial cultures and bacteria that are crucial to the health of our gut.
There are only two ingredients in homemade yogurt: milk and a starter culture. We used fresh plain yogurt as the starter culture, which is easily obtainable at any grocery store.
Slowly heat a quart of milk to almost boiling. Then allow to cool to approximately 110 – 115 degrees. Add 1 teaspoon of plain fresh yogurt and stir until incorporated. Incubate in a warm place for 5 – 7 hours. Raka recommended an Instant Pot ( http://instantpot.com/ ) for this process because it has a yogurt setting which simplifies the entire process. However this device is not necessary. The most important thing is to keep the yogurt consistently warm, so putting it inside a warm oven or even wrapping it in a blanket will work just fine. Once yogurt is ready, a layer of water will form on top. It can then be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Paneer (Indian Cheese)
Paneer is a yogurt cheese with a very clean light texture and taste. It is used extensively in Indian cuisine and also makes a healthy snack.
Paneer Recipe (Indian Yogurt Cheese)
- 2 quarts whole milk
- 1 quart buttermilk or 3 cups homemade yogurt
Heat milk to near boiling. Add warmed buttermilk or yogurt to avoid a dramatic temperature change. Reduce heat to low and stir to avoid burning on the bottom. Large clumps called “curds” will begin to form. Turn off heat when whey and curds separate. (The whey is the yellowish liquid that will form.) Let sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain liquid from cheese using a cheesecloth, pressing out as much whey as possible. Then shape the cheese into a flat disc. Place a weight on top to press out more liquid. After about 15 minutes, most of the water will have released and your cheese is ready. Cheese should be stored in the refrigerator in cold water.
The final class focused on eggplant dishes from northern India. Emphasizing the importance of freshness, Raka said she chose to present eggplant dishes to us because that was what looked best at the market that day. We made three different eggplant dishes, but in this post I will discuss only one, bharva baingan or stuffed eggplants. This is a dish I had never seen before but I found it to be the most delicious of all the eggplant dishes we made.
Bharva Baingan (Stuffed Eggplants)
- 6 small round eggplants
- 2 tsp. coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
- 3 T. grated coconut
- 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
- 1 tsp. tamarind paste in 2 T. water
- salt to taste
- 2 T. oil
- 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
- 6 -8 curry leaves (found in Indian market)
- 2 dry red whole chilies
- Cilantro and grated coconut to garnish
Make two perpendicular slits in eggplants without cutting all the way through. This opening will hold the filling.
Dry roast coriander and cumin seeds and grind in coffee grinder. Mix together coriander, cumin, turmeric, red chili powder, coconut, garlic, and salt. Fill the slits in the eggplants with the filling.
Heat oil in heavy pan. Add mustard seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves and cover until popping stops. Add filled eggplants to pan and cover with lid. Cook until browned on all sides, gently turning them so that the filling stays inside the eggplants. Eggplants will soften and release their juices as they cook.
Add tamarind and water mixture and cook for another 2- 3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and a little grated coconut.
After my four Indian cooking classes, I know I still have a lot to learn. However, I can say that I no longer find this cuisine quite as mysterious or intimidating as I once did. I now have the confidence to continue experimenting and look forward to challenging myself by making even more complex Indian dishes. Are you ready to give Indian cooking a try?
Note: Many thanks to Raka and my classmates who were so gracious in allowing me to share their images in my blog.