Creating good karma. Mediterranean Aubergine and Paneer vegetarian salads recipes

Quickie Paneer Starter
Salad Cappadocia

There are times when I boldly go where no Bengali man has gone before. On a not so 'starry trek' to the vegetable shop.

My confidence and composure while at meat shops, childish joy at cheese shops and nostalgic glow in fish markets dessert me at the vegetable-wallah’s. I am left groping in the dark. I often pick up strange things from baskets and ask the vegetable sellers to identify these and to even tell me how to cut and cook them. At times I feel God ran out of ideas after he created potatoes.

We had a couple of vegetarians over for my ‘bringing in the birthday dinner’. Two lost souls who strayed. They were once good hearted meat and fish eaters. But you couldn’t ignore them could you? What would the guys who write Archies Friendship Day cards say?

So I did rustle up some stuff for them. One was a green curry. Without fish sauce and with shitake mushrooms, corn and broccoli. Some would call it ‘inspired by Thai curries’. And I created a Mediterranean aubergine salad inspired by the ‘baigan raita’ which a Malayali colleague’s mom sent for lunch recently. I made up this dish along the way and was really thrilled by how it turned out. I didn’t do it all by myself. Required some deep frying which I am pathologically not attuned to do. So Bunkin Banu fried it for me while I plated and created the dish. 

The net result? The non vegetarians pushed the vegetarians away and devoured it. I plan to call the dish ‘Salad Cappadocia’ in memory of the inn at Cappadocia where I first discovered the Mediterranean spice of sumac. Where the kind inn keeper poured sumac on the yogurt meatball and spaghetti dish which he tried to make Kainaz eat.

Here’s my recipe for it.

Salad Cappadocia

Prep: Hung curd – pour curd over a sieve or a fine cloth and put a vessel below this. Keep it overnight. The water will strain out. You will get hung curd the next morning.   Add sumac, zatarpita,  baharat (all Med spices) Mediterranean lemon powder to the hung curd and gently stir the spices in.  I was trying to think of a good Mediterranean herb when I remembered pudina or mint. I added a few chopped mint leaves on top. The hung curd recipe and the Mediterranean spices used here are courtesy Gia who very thoughtfully packed the spices and some honey into bottles, labelled them and got them for us.

If you do not have these spices then try adding chilli flakes and crushed pepper

·     Slice Aubergines (baigan) into thin slices. Smear salt. Put them into a pan of hot oil and take them out in a few seconds. They will get fried. You will need to add quite a bit of oil but can do many rounds of frying in the remaining oil. Not for the faint hearted.
·    Place the fried aubergine slices in a shallow bowl
·    Fry some zucchini strips and then place these on the aubergines
·    Sauté some finely chopped tomato, onion, garlic and hot red or green chillies and place this over the zucchini
  •    Fry some baby corn split into half longitudinally and place them on the onion tomato mix
·    Fry some more aubergines and place theses on top the split baby corn. The idea is to go for layers. Let it cool.
·    Layer the hung curd mix on top of the aubergine. Gently part the aubergines on top to leave small gaps through which the curd can seep in. Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over this
·    Put the dish in the fridge.
·    The dish will be ready in an hour. We kept it for about 6-7 hours in the fridge.
·    Before serving add some mint leaves and toasted pine nuts on top. This will give a nice crunchy break to the texture of crisp yet squishy vegetables, fresh mint, heat of chillies and soothing curd. The magic lies in the array of textures

And here’s a recipe for a starter for vegetarians. Takes less than two minutes to prepare. Not that I am saying that that is all the time they deserve.

Key to this dish is good fresh quality paneer or Indian cheese. Thanks to the Sindhis we get really good paneer at Bandra and Khar at Mumbai. The dish got over in thirty seconds. 

Paneer Quickies

·     Take 250 g of fresh paneer. Chop them into cubes. Place them on a plate
·     Sprinkle some zatar pita and sumac on the paneer. In the absence of this red chilli flakes and crushed black pepper would do
·     Add some chopped green chillies and pudina or mint leaves and toasted pine nuts
·      Add a few drops of olive oil on the sides of the plate
·     Put the plate in the microwave and grill for thirty seconds
·     The dish is ready. Encourage people to take a cube of paneer with a toothpick and fish for some hot chillies and cool pudina to form a hot and creamy mouthful and then pop in a few pine nuts. The combination would make the sternest go weak in their knees

So there you are. My first, and possibly last, post with two vegetarian recipes. That’s enough good Karma created for a lifetime I hope