Are you a vegetarian who always finds it difficult to find interesting options on menus when eating out? So did Vandana Jain, a vegetarian chef in Dubai. In fact, this is what inspired her, so much so that she was awarded the winner of the Emirates Women Awards 2020, by Dubai Quality Group in the field of Innovations.
Food by Gulf News team caught up with the 51-year-old food entrepreneur to find out how she paved way for vegetarian recipes in the UAE. From being a simple home maker to an award winning chef, her journey has been fulfilling, she said.
My mother has been my mentor. I have fond memories of spending time with her in the kitchen to try new dishes and being the eldest of four siblings, I had an advantage and my mother gave me the space to be creative.
It was right after her marriage in 1998 that she had to move to Tanzania from India - where she realised the limited vegetarian food options. Her search for vegetarian food continued and she ended up trying new recipes in her kitchen. After moving to Dubai, in 2000, she continued creating new dishes and soon, became a food entrepreneur. Her culinary skills include writing cookbooks, conducting offline and online cooking classes and creating new vegetarian recipes for different cuisines. For all aspiring cooks, she said: "Cook with love and passion and not compulsion."
Palak Paneer Recipe
Preparation Time: 7 to 9 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8
- 1 cup fresh paneer or cottage cheese cut into cubes
- 1 medium sized onion, chopped
- 2 bunches spinach, blanched and puréed
- 2 tsp green chilies, chopped
- 2 tbsp garlic chopped
- 2 tbsp ginger chopped
- 2 tbsp oil + 2 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp roasted jeera or roasted cumin powder
- ¼ tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp black salt
- 4 tbsp fresh cream
- Salt to taste
How to make Paneer (cottage cheese) at home?
- 2 litres milk (full cream)
- 4 tbsp vinegar
- ½ cup water
- Dilute the vinegar and water.
- In a large vessel, heat the milk. Make sure to use full cream milk to get a good quantity of paneer. Make sure not to burn the milk. So keep stirring the milk at regular intervals.
- Once the milk starts boiling, turn off the gas and add diluted vinegar. Stir lightly.
- As the milk starts to curdle, add more diluted vinegar as required.
- Now drain off the curdled milk over a muslin cloth. In case you don't have a muslin cloth, use a sieve.
- Rinse with cold water and drain any extra water.
- Shape the paneer into a block and keep a slightly heavy utensil/object on it to set the shape.
- Rest for 30 minutes or until the paneer sets completely.
- Store the paneer in an airtight container filled with water. Place the paneer in such a manner that it is submerged in water. The water helps keep the paneer fresh and soft for long. Store it in a refrigerator and use it within a week.
To blanch spinach:
In a medium sized pan/wok fill it with 3/4th water and bring it to a boil.
Add 1 tablespoon sodium bicarbonate or baking soda and then gently add the spinach leaves into the water. You may cut the leaves into halves if it doesn’t fit the pan.
Note: According to Jain, adding sodium bicarbonate or baking soda retains the rich green colour of the spinach even after it is puréed and stored in the fridge, for up to 24 hours.
After 10 to 15 seconds remove the spinach with a pair of tongs and put it in a bowl filled with cold water. Once the spinach cools, put it in a mixer grinder and blend it to form a thick purée. Remove it in a separate bowl and keep aside.
Making palak paneer:
Step 1: Pre-heat a pan and add oil and butter to it on a medium flame.
Step 2: Add the chopped garlic and ginger to it. Sauté for 30 to 40 seconds. You will know it is ready, once they start turning golden brown and releasing a garlicky aroma.
Step 3: Add the spinach purée and mix well for 4 to 5 minutes. Keep stirring in between to avoid the purée from sticking to the pan. You may also add the chopped green chillies now.
Step 4: Add the spices and salt - black salt, garam masala powder, jeera or cumin powder and regular cooking salt. Mix them well. Bring it to a boil and remember to stir occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 5: Cut the paneer or cottage cheese into cubes and add them to the spinach gravy and mix well. Then add fresh cream, the colour of the spinach will begin to dilute at this point. Simmer for about 1 minute. Mix well and cover it with a lid.
For garnishing: Add butter, sliced onion and coriander leaves. Serve hot with tandoori roti or naan (Indian breads)