Taking a break from amazing artists and careerwomen, Masala salutes four brilliant home cooks and the finger-licking dishes they make.
Beyond the blue gate at her Thapra townhouse, a charming Indian woman welcomes me into her home. Meet the adorable Lovely Sethi, a charismatic Punjabi lady with a winning smile, perfect soft hands, and the warmest hugs.
Born and raised in Chandigarh, Lovely got married at the age of 20 and moved to Thailand soon after. She learnt basic culinary skills from her mother. From there, she experimented and mastered her craft through trial and error.
In her airy kitchen, a dozen melmoware bowIs with colourful masalas and fresh ingredients line a spotless counter. She says she is lucky to have a husband who loves to eat and children who adore her cooking. Lovely also adds that she feels a great sense of pride cooking healthy Indian meals for her family. —REENA KARIM
Seasoned with a mixture of spices and enriched with butter, the aromatic North Indian dish is a winter favourite. Shahi, meaning royal, is believed to have been created during the Mughal Empire, where the dish was served specially on festive occasions. Lovely says that there are many ways of making shahi paneer. The dish varies regionally and according to one’s personal preference. “Bengalis prefer watery gravy while Punjabis like theirs thicker,” Lovely says. Her version is creamy and smooth, with strong flavours of tomato, garlic, and cinnamon, a crunchy pop of cumin, and a kick of black peppercorns.
• 1kg paneer, diced into 1-inch cubes
• 1kg tomatoes, diced
• 1 cup garlic cloves, half of them coarsely crushed
• 150 grams low-fat butter
• ½ cup of clotted cream [malai], or fresh cream
• ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
• ½ teaspoon whole black pepper
• ½ red bell pepper, and half green, both quartered
• 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
• 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 2 pinches of garam masala
• 5–6 pieces cloves
• ½ cinnamon stick, crushed into small pieces
• 5 whole black cardamoms
• 10 whole green cardamoms
• 3 bay leaves
• 2 bunches of coriander [dhaniya], chopped. Save the roots.
• 2 long green peppers, chopped. Keep five whole ones aside.
• Red and orange natural food colouring. Mix two pinches together—one of each colour—with two tablespoons of water.
1. Blend together tomatoes, whole garlic, and the roots of coriander into a puree, along with half a cup of water. Keep aside.
2. Heat the wok or karahi on high flame.
3. Add 100 grams of butter to the wok. When it melts, add the coarse garlic. Sauté until the garlic turns light brown. Adjust heat if necessary.
4. Add cumin seeds, cloves, both types of cardamoms, and one bay leaf, torn into bits. Mix well and sauté on low flame.
5. Stir in the blended puree and let it cook for five minutes on medium flame.
6. Add chopped long green peppers and the food colouring mix. Stir and cook for another two minutes.
7. When it comes to a boil, add red chilli powder, garam masala, ground black pepper, cinnamon, and salt according to taste. Stir and let it boil.
8. When the gravy begins to thicken, add clotted cream and the remaining two bay leaves. Let it cook for 10–15 minutes. If the gravy gets too thick, dilute with milk.
9. Take five cubes of paneer, crush it with your hands, and add it along with bell peppers.
10. Add the remaining cubed paneer and let cook for five minutes.
11. Add 50 grams of butter, stir well.
12. Garnish with chopped coriander and long green peppers.
Featured in Masala Lite, May 2013
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