One of the only things I asked for on my birthday this year was Aarti Sequeira’s new cookbook, Aarti Paarti. I’ve been an avid fan since Next Food Network Star when she won me over with her ideas, her charm, and, according to the judges, at least, her delicious food. When she got her show on Food Network, I actually set my alarm for 7:30 or whatever silly hour on a Saturday so I could watch her show at 8. And I experimented with her recipes and found some that have become go-to recipes for us (or at least ones we know we’ll enjoy whenever we make them!). Bombay Sloppy Joes, massaged kale salad with mango, chicken tikka masala, parsnip chips, garam masala granola, Bahn-mi wraps…they’re favorites.
So I’ve been super excited to get her new cookbook and try out some more recipes! And it didn’t disappoint. The weekend I got it, I actually read it cover to cover, which sounds crazy for a cookbook, but it was an enjoyable pursuit. First of all, the cookbook is beautiful. It’s glossy, full-color, with a picture for every recipe. And at the start of each section, Aarti writes a bit about her life, her experiences, or her family. Just beautifully done.
We tried one new recipe almost immediately, the Moroccan carrot salad. (It was really tasty, though personally, I would have added a squeeze of honey. It calls for lemons, orange rind, and orange juice, and I would have preferred the balance with a hint of sweetness.) And then, I got daring.
Seriously. I decided that if I was going to make Saag Paneer, I was going to do it right. I had a bunch of farmers’ market kale in my fridge and far too much ambition in my little head, so I made my own paneer.
It was a really neat experience! It took forever for the milk to boil, but once it did and I added the lemon juice, it immediately started separating into curds and whey. And then I drained it, shaped it, and set it aside. (Aarti says to put the block of cheese between two plates, with something heavy on top. This is the best we could concoct/balance…)
Two days later, we made the rest of the dish. I would have liked a little more sauce on it, and I didn’t think it worked very well with the rice I made. Without the sauce, the dish as a whole was a little dry, and the texture of the rice and the paneer didn’t seem to complement each other. Maybe a naan or other kind of bread would have worked better. That being said, the paneer was absolutely the star of the dish. The texture was delicate, soft, with a little bit of browning on two of the sides. The flavor was fresh and light, working well with the greens. I am absolutely going to have to make the paneer again–I’m hoping to find a good recipe for Matar Paneer (with features a tomato-based sauce and peas).
So, overall, I would declare my first foray into cheese-making a success, and I have Aarti and her new cookbook to thank for it! I’m looking forward to continuing my journey through Indian cooking with some of the rest of her recipes in her beautiful book.