Category Archives: Haridwar

Say cheese


I have a preoccupation with cheese.

Both the dairy product, and the adjective describing an inferiority that inadvertently gives something a certain endearment.

I mean I REALLY like cheese. There is nothing better than a big hunk of stilton on a cracker, some havarti between two pieces of bread, gruyére melted in with some eggs, or a wedge of poshekhonsky on a Swiss Air 757 flying over Tehran, while while watching The Jar Jar Binks and Queen Amidala Comedy and Variety Hour on the video monitor mounted in the seat. I just like cheese.

But before I went to India, I wasn’t all that fond of the Indian version of cheese, paneer. I’m going to chalk up this mild disdain that I had to two things. 1) ignorance, and 2) inferior packaged palak paneer (Spinach and Cheese). The only time I ever had paneer was with spinach and thought that even though there is an abundance of cheesiness in their movies and TV shows, there was the limitation of cheese in Indian cuisine.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In India, panneer is used much the way that tofu is used in Japan, and it is abundant. At most restaurants, if there is a dish or curry or deep fried wonder that uses chicken, there is usually a paneer option. Even the fast food restaurants, like KFC or McDonalds, have paneeer options (although I’m not a fan of the paneer kickers, the McPaneer, or the “Finger lickin good blobs of paneer in the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices”).

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While in Agra, I had a fantastic kadhai paneer that impressed me so much that I forgot to get the name of the restaurant, and the tandoor paneer at Club India in Main Bazaar in New Delhi was outstanding. I also had numerous dishes in Haridwar that used the creamy curds that were yummy.

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So when I returned to Canada, I really wanted to duplicate the versatility of this Indian chicken substitute. So I scoured the internet and found a vast amount of recipes using paneer. But what I was really surprised about was how easy it is to make your own paneer instead of using the blocks that can be found at many grocery stores. It just takes a little time.

So I put on a CD of my favourite cheesy crooner, Calen Varga, turned up his awesome and clearly underrated ballad called Shave My Gorilla, and attempted to assemble the creamy cheese of India.

Homemade Paneer inspired by the misunderstood crooner Calen Varga

2 liters milk (whole or 2%)
lemon juice (to be added a tablespoon at a time)
a colander or strainer
cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel
2 pie plates or similar

In a pot, bring the milk to a boil. (Careful, it can boil over quick).

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Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir with a slotted spoon until milk separates into curds and whey. If it doesn’t separate after a few minutes of stirring, add another tablespoon of lemon juice until it does (I needed to use 5 tablespoons in the end).

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Once it’s completely separated, pour the mixture into a colander lined with cheese cloth or a clean dish towel.

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When it cools down, gather the corners of the cheesecloth into a bundle and squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can.

What you have now is basically cottage cheese, and it can be used as such. But we want to make it a solid mass so we can cut the cheese.

Go into your cupboard and look for a couple of pie plates or similar high lipped plate. When you discover that your cat has figured out how to open your cupboards and has been using the pie plates as a day bed to take the occasional nap on, empty said cupboard and clean everything in it.

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Take the whole bundle and place it in the middle of one of the pie plates, then take the other pie plate and squish it flat. Pile a few heavy objects, like some other bowls or some canned goods for weight and throw the whole thing into your fridge for about 2 hours until it sets.

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Once it sets, you can cut it into cubes for use in your favourite recipes like Butter Paneer or Kadhai Paneer which I will post at a later date.

You will find this homemade paneer more crumbly than the store bought versions, but it is super creamy and adds a depth to recipes that the others just can’t match.

While we wait for the cheese to set, you can listen to the awesome cheesiness of Calen Varga and his epic opus Love Train, while you figure out what else the cat has gotten into.

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Jacob Two Two and the Cup of Tea


It’s been almost five months since I’ve been in Asia, and I find myself thinking about it often. Sometimes I look at pictures and am reminded about an aspect of the trip, and sometimes a sound or smell will pull me back to a place in Mumbai or a hillside in Panauti. A few days ago, while on the bus going through Osborne Village, there was a traffic jam and suddenly the air was filled with a cacophony of car horns and I was instantly transported to Chennai. I wanted to grab the wheel of the bus and go down the wrong side of the road while looking back at the passengers and asking if they wanted to go shopping or maybe go to the beach. I think I was the only one smiling on the bus.

But there is one aspect of India and Nepal that I can recreate, to a fairly accurate facsimile, here in Canada. I can make the food… or at least attempt to.

I’ve been experimenting over the last few months with a variety of recipes with some success (and a few dismal failures). I’ve gathered some from books, friends, and from all over the internet, then tried and modified until I found the closest thing to the dishes I remember from over seas. This entry will be the first of my findings that I will share.

There is a western misconception, perpetuated by the big western coffee houses, that chai is a flavour. Chai actually just means tea, and the word masala means spices, spiced, or spice mixture. So the next time you are in a Starbucks and you ask for a spiced masala chai tea, you are actually asking for a spiced spiced tea tea, and you should probably watch out for the Hooded Fang.

Another misnomer is that masala is a set mixture of spices and chai is a type of tea, therefore all masala chai will be the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every restaurant, vendor stand, and wallah had a different recipe, most good, some fantastic. My favourites include the Ananda Cafe and Guest House blend in Panauti Nepal (made by the delightful wife of the proprietor), the Hotel Central Tower in Chennai, and the Hotel Hari-Piorko in New Delhi.

I ended up drinking a LOT of chai when I was over there, partially because it was boiled and fairly safe, but mostly because it was yummy! Even the small paper cups from the chaiwallahs on the Indian trains or chowpatty beach in Mumbai were tasty.

However, there was one cup of tea that I had in Haridwar that I will never forget, it came at the end of my first day after the evening aarti and a delightful day of dunking in the Ganges and mingling with the sadhus at the ghats. On the way back to my hotel I stopped in at a ramshackle stand that had a fresh batch of samosa frying in oil and I ordered a masala chai, and watched the cook make it.

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He started with COLD water (a bottle of Aquafina in this case) and threw in a handful of whole spices and then a spoon full of tea leaves. Then he brought the whole thing to a rolling boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes. Then he added some honey and milk, strained it into a glass, and served it.

This technique is very different than the steeping we do in the west where we boil the water first and then let a perforated bag filled with lawn clippings, sawdust, and a single tiny tea leaf, sit in the water for ten minutes (I’m looking at you Tetley).

Now, I’m not sure whether it was the actual taste of that Haridwar chai, or the surroundings and circumstances that were a part of the day that I had it, but it was one of the best cups of tea I have ever had… and of course I wasn’t watching close enough to see which spices or kind of tea he used to make it… so I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.

And with a combination of recipes, I think I’ve found a very close rendition:

Masala Milk Chai inspired by the Ghats of Haridwar

Ingredients

3 whole star anise seeds (alternatively 1/2 tbsp of fennel seed)
3 green cardamom pods
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick broken up
1/4″ fresh ginger root, sliced thin
1/4 tsp whole black pepper corns (about 10)
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups COLD water
1 tbsp black tea
1-2 tbsp honey or brown sugar (2 is more authentic, but might be too sweet for some)
1/2 cup milk

Use whole spice wherever you can, if you need to use a ground alternative, you should have a coffee filter handy for straining, otherwise you’ll get a strange sludge at the bottom of your final cup.

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Also try to use a loose Indian black tea like Darjeeling or Assam. Right now I’m using a Nepalese black tea that I found at an Asian market here in Winnipeg, and it really lends itself to this recipe. I’ve since found out that David’s Tea carries a black Nepal tea too.

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Method

In a pot, pour in water, spices, and tea, leaving the sweetener and milk aside.

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Bring to a rolling boil and let it bubble away for 5 minutes

Add the sugar or honey first, and then immediately add the milk and let it simmer for 2 or 3 minutes more. (The reason you add the sugar first is that it stops the boil momentarily so when you add the milk there is less chance of curdling. Also, the lower the fat content of the milk, the less chance of curdling.)

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If you used whole spices, strain mixture through a sieve or colander into cups. If you used ground spices, put a basket coffee filter in your strainer.

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This recipe makes 2 latte sized cups (pictured), or 4 tea cups or mugs worth.

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When ever I make this recipe, I sit back and watch this video to make the experience complete.

 

 

It’s either that or pour the mixture into dixie cups while straddling my couch and yelling “All aboard! Next stop Agra! Get your Chai and Chaat!”… but that might confuse the cats…

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