This is another spur of the moment recipe. A few fistful of leftover vegetables, a can of coconut milk and a few spices are all that is needed to make a bowlful of this beautifully fragrant comforting stew.
We have had the mildest winter this year; the mildest and the most comfortable than I have ever encountered in the past 18 years. But then I have not been in Texas for the past 18 years. I thought I would miss the snow, but I do not. Taking a walk in the trails of the park in this pleasant 65F feels good; a wisp of fresh air, the bare tree branches stretching out to the sky – probably confused, wondering if they should already start to break into a bloom.
Not that I have never made a vegetable stew before. But every time I make it, I do it a little differently. This one today bears faint traces of the flavors of the Chingri Maacher Malaikari from home. Ma would make vegetable stews; light, soupy with cumin and ginger in summer with the summer vegetables. However the stews in winter would be warm and fragrant with more spices and mostly simmered in milk. We never had stews with coconut milk.
But as I was craving this shrimp curry all of a sudden when I have put myself up for a lighter diet, I thought of incorporating the spices and the process of that recipe in this vegetable stew.
A particular stew from Kerala, a southern state in India bears close similarity with this stew. I have never made the stew from Kerala, neither have I ever tried it. Certain parts of Africa cooks beans and vegetables in a very similar manner too, with spices and coconut milk. I would think that is a culinary influence from India, as the words and spices traveled across the borders many years back.
And then there are South Asian recipes of vegetables cooked in coconut milk. Different parts of the world, almost similar ingredients but very different tastes and flavors.. the magic of world cuisine!
Vegetable and Paneer Stew in Spiced Coconut Milk
Ingredients: (serves 2-3 as a side)
- 2 carrots, sliced into 1 inch strips
- 8-10 green beans, sliced into 1-1.5 inch strips
- 2 zucchini/any squash - cubed
- 1/2 cup peas
- 1.5 cups cauliflower florets
- 1/2 cup cubed paneer (use tofu for a vegan version)
- 1.5 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 2 (or more) hot green chili pepper, slit - do not skip this; the hot peppers impart a very fresh flavor. You can remove the membrane and the seeds if it is too spicy
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric + 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoon red chili powder (use more or less, adjust to taste) – I have used Kashmiri Red Chili Powder; contributes to the red color of the curry without much spice/heat
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander powder
- 1 & 1/4 cup coconut milk
- 3/4 cup water (use more or less, adjust to the amount you would need your consistency of the stew)
- black pepper or red chili flakes to garnish
- any herb you want to use (I would recommend fresh cilantro or curry leaves or basil with this flavor combination)
Note: Any combination of vegetables or/and beans may be used for this recipe. Some beans or lentils would not hurth either.
NOTE: the color of the stew is entirely from the Kashmiri red chili powder I have used. If you are using any other chili powder or none, you will have a pale stew, whitish yellow in color. This does not change the taste or texture in any way.
Wash and prepare the vegetables.
If you are using store bought paneer: heat a cup of water (may be done in the microwave for 1.5 minutes) and add the paneer cubes to the hot water. Let them sit for about 5-10 minutes, before you use them for cooking. The store bought paneer is usually very stiff and soaking them in hot water softens them before use.
In a pan/pot add the cardamom and the cinnamon and dry roast them for a couple of minutes at low to medium heat. Watch carefully and do not let it burn. As soon as it gets fragrant, add the oil and allow it to heat up. Add the vegetables and the chili pepper when the oil heats up (you will see the spices sizzle); add salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and the grated ginger. Toss well and cook for about 2-3 minutes at high heat, until the oil coats the vegetables and they start to slightly wilt.
Combine water, coconut milk, red chili powder, coriander powder and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and whisk it until all the spice powders are well combined.
Add paneer and the coconut milk to the pan and stir everything really well; cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender, but not mushy. Uncover and cook for another couple of minutes. You will see the oil float up on the top, almost forming a layer.
Garnish with pepper/chili flakes and herbs.
Serve hot with rice or some crusty bread.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes approximately
Serves: 2-3 as a side