Saturday 24 February 2018

Delhi: Rachel Allen Delhi food inspiration

During her recent trip to India, the fabulous smells and flavours of Delhi's street 
food proved deliciously inspiring to Rachel Allen. Photography by Tony Gavin

Rachel Allen makes paneer. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen makes paneer. Photo: Tony Gavin
Saag paneer. Photo: Tony Gavin.

While in India with Goal, I met Aneesha Baig, a woman who brims with passion and enthusiasm. She presents the TV show Will Travel For Food. Together, we walked the streets of Delhi and she introduced me to their incredible street food.

Aneesha and I headed first to Paranthe Wali Gali, which literally means 'the lane of fried bread'. It's about two metres wide, and absolutely jam-packed with dozens of open-fronted shops making and selling paratha, the Punjabi speciality that can be filled with anything from cauliflower to cheese to coconut. It seemed even warmer than the 46°C it actually was, as every shop had a few huge pans full of boiling-hot oil, in which they cook the parathas. We ate and filmed our way down the lane, with Aneesha reminding me of a female Anthony Bourdain, 
as she regaled me with stories of India and its food.

A paratha is thinner than naan bread, but thicker than a chapati. Mostly, they 
are cooked on a hot cast-iron pan with just a little oil brushed over them, 
but on Paranthe Wali Gali they are all fried in a good 10cm of oil. As Aneesha said "they are a tad bad for the tummy, but so good for the soul". Parathas are usually served with dal, pickles and raw vegetable salads.

After the parathas, we took an amazing rickshaw ride to Karims, which has been around for years. It's a bustling, caff-style restaurant, where everyone goes for the mutton and the paneer, as well as the goat brains!

Paneer is an Indian cheese that's 
easy to make at home. It's basically milk that is 'set' with the addition of either vinegar or lemon juice. Paneer reminds me of tofu, with a similar texture and an impressive ability to absorb the flavours of other ingredients, such as a rich coconut sauce or a spicy spinach curry.


For the best parathas, with a smoother texture, do as the Indians do and “sift” your wholemeal flour. Weigh the flour after sifting it, then pour the coarse bran bits left in the sieve back into the flour bag for another time.


Makes 5

You will need:

130g (4½oz) wholemeal flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough, see my Tip, above

75ml (2½fl oz) water

Pinch of salt

3 to 4 teaspoons of sunflower oil

In a bowl, mix together the wholemeal flour with the water and the pinch of salt. Mix well until it forms a soft dough.

Tip the dough out on to a lightly greased surface and knead together for a good few minutes until it is very smooth and soft. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set it aside. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into five equal parts, then roll each one out on a lightly-floured surface so that each piece is a circle, roughly 7.5cm (3in) in diameter. If you'd like, you can stuff the parathas at this point - filling them with some cooked, spiced cauliflower, or potatoes, perhaps - then folding them over, and pressing the edges together to seal them.

To cook, put a large frying pan on a medium-high heat, until it is hot but not quite smoking. Add about a teaspoon of the sunflower oil and spread it around the pan. When it is hot, place one paratha in the pan and cook it until it has deep-golden speckles underneath. Then add a little more oil and turn the paratha over, cooking it until the other side is similarly golden. Parts of your paratha may puff up, but you can just push this part down with a spatula. They will take slightly longer to cook if they have been stuffed. Repeat with the remaining parathas. Serve with dal and pickles, or saag paneer, see the recipe below.

Saag Paneer (Spinach Paneer)

Serves 4-6.

Adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe.

You will need:

2½cm (1in) piece of fresh ginger, chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 fresh green chilli, sliced

2 tablespoons of water

6 tablespoons sunflower oil

175g (6oz) paneer (see next recipe), 
cut in 2cm (1in) cubes


¼ teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

675g (1½lb) spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped

75ml (2½fl oz) cream

100ml (3½fl oz) water

Rice or parathas, to serve

Place the chopped fresh ginger, the peeled garlic cloves and the sliced green chilli into a food processor or a blender, along with the two tablespoons of water, then blend until you have a smooth paste.

Next, put the sunflower oil in a large pan on a medium heat. When the sunflower oil is hot, add the paneer pieces and fry them, turning them over gently until they are golden brown on all sides. This will happen quickly. Remove the paneer using a slotted spoon, then place the cooked paneer pieces on a plate. Sprinkle with a little salt, the garam masala and the cayenne pepper, and 
set aside.

Add the paste you made earlier to the remaining hot oil and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes until it is a light golden colour. Add the chopped spinach and a good pinch of salt. Stir together, then cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until the spinach has wilted.

Next add the paneer pieces and the cream and 100ml (3½fl oz) of water. Stir gently and bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then remove from the heat and serve with rice or a few parathas.


Makes roughly 225g (8oz).

You will need:

1.8L (3 pts) whole milk

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice 
or white wine vinegar


Put the whole milk in a large saucepan and bring it to the boil. Just as it starts to come to the boil, stir in three tablespoons of the lemon juice or the white wine vinegar, whichever you are using, and remove from the heat. The milk should start to curdle immediately. If it doesn't, bring it to the boil again and stir another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, whichever you're using, then turn 
off the heat as before. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes, when the 
curds should be completely separated, and the liquid should be yellow and watery.

Place a large sieve over a deep bowl. Line the sieve with a double thickness of muslin or cheesecloth, then pour the curds and whey into the lined sieve, allowing the whey to drain away in to the bowl. It will take about 45 minutes for the whey to fully drain.

Gather up the ends of the muslin and gently squeeze it to remove the excess whey.

Open the muslin again and sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt over the curds. Taste and add more salt if you like.

Transfer the curds, which are still in the muslin, to a large dinner plate. Shape them in to a rough square, 
then fold in the muslin tightly around the curds to form a neat, square package. Place a second plate on top of the package to weigh it down. Leave the paneer like this for at least 
15 minutes and up to an hour, if possible.

The paneer is now ready to use. 
You can use it immediately, or 
keep it in the fridge for up to two days. Cut the paneer into cubes of about 2cm (1in) when you're ready to 
use it.

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