For those of you who know me well, I have never been an imaginative cook. I have pretty much stuck to the meat and potatoes formula and it has served me well all these years. It was particularly good for Ender, who for the first several years of his life ate the “meat” part almost exclusively. Anything fancy, and he’d prefer to starve.
Coming to India has forced me to rethink my cooking. Not only is meat harder to get here, it is also much different than what you would find in the states. Everything seems tougher, stringier. Nothing tastes like I remember it, and after the first two attempts with frozen chicken and beef, I was pretty much turned off of it completely. In addition, the very small stores are full of Indian foods and spices, most of which I have never heard of, and which my kids will NOT EAT.
The first week here, we lived almost exclusively on noodles. Buttered noodles, noodles with a little cheese, noodles fried with MORE NOODLES. It was getting old, and certainly not particularly healthy. I knew that I had to find a solution.
So, I headed over to the vegetarian recipe pages, a place I thought I would never be visiting with such a meat-loving family, and started searching for something, ANYTHING that they would find acceptable. With the little vegetable stand right on the corner where the kids wait for the bus, fruits and veggies can be bought each day for the evening’s dinner, along with milk, bread and paneer and yogurt. (more on paneer in a moment). Now if I could just find a recipe using what was readily available.
My first foray into vegetarian cooking involved veggie and paneer kabobs. Now, for those of you who don’t know, paneer is a type of cheese. It comes in a flat brick and looks and feels much like tofu and does not melt. It has very little taste but is able to take on the taste of whatever it is cooked with. It is used a lot here because it offers protein in vegetarian diets. There was a picture of veggie paneer kabobs in a book that came with my microwave, so I just made it up as I went along, marinating the veggies and paneer in a marinade mainly made of soy sauce, grilling them in my handy new toaster oven, and serving them over a bed of rice (noodles for Ender).
This meal didn’t earn me many points with anyone. Scott ate it all, Addie ate only the paneer and the rice, and Ender only ate the noodles. Ok, back to the drawing board.
My second meal was much better. I searched the internet for hours for this one. I somehow managed to make paneer fajitas, even going so far as to make my own tortillas! This meal was absolutely delicious, and Scott has asked me to please repeat it. The kids weren’t thrilled about the peppers and onions, but the paneer was a big hit, and everyone loved the flaky tortilla-like things. The recipe is as follows.
1 brick of paneer, cut into small chunks
2 large green peppers, cut into strips
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
1 large onion, cut into rings (I use red onions because that’s what is available here)
3 cloves minced garlic
Spices to taste
1. Create a marinade of Soy Sauce, Chili Powder, a bit of Olive Oil and any other spices you like (I didn’t have
much on hand, but the original recipe listed a bunch of them) Add Paneer, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Saute garlic, onions and peppers in Olive Oil until nearly cooked. Add paneer AND all marinade. Heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are done and the paneer is slightly browned.
3. Serve over fresh tortillas. (see below)
3 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
4-6 Tbsp. butter. (The original recipe called for lard, but of course, I had none. So, I used butter, which, I believe, made them all the more tasty, but was probably why they were so flakey too.)
about 1 1/4 cups warm water
1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Add butter and cut into the mixture with pastry cutter (or since my kitchen has only spoons and knives, I used my hands!)
3. Next add warm water a little at a time until your dough is soft then knead it for a few minutes.
4. Now you will pull off pieces of dough to form about 12 small dough balls. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes.
5. Pour cooking oil on a flat pan on medium heat.
6. In a perfect world, roll out each ball of dough into a nice circle using a rolling pin. In my world, use a round juice canister because you have NOTHING else.
7. Lay your tortilla on the hot pan. It takes just a few seconds to cook. Flip to the other
side. It should be slightly browned and should puff up a bit, more like the chalupa pastry at Taco Bell, if you have ever tried one of those. Good luck trying to wrap them like a fajita, for me, they just flaked apart. It was best to just put them on the plate and put the filling on top and eat the whole thing with a fork.
My next successful meal was perogies. I won’t give a recipe for this, it can be found all over the net. I used potatoes and onions for the filling. The kids gobbled them up, and I had plenty of potato filling to serve the next evening as mashed potatoes.
The other recipe I have found is VERY simple. I wanted some cookies. Cookies are definitely available in the stores here, but when I still was afraid to go out, I didn’t have any. What I did have though, was a boxed cake mix. Did you know that you can make cookies out of a cake mix?? I bet you didn’t! So, here’s the very easy, VERY yummy recipe.
Cake Mix Chocolate Chip Cookies
Take a boxed cake mix (I use chocolate). Add 2 eggs and approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cups oil. If you live in India and don’t know where to get chocolate chips, like me, just chop up a chocolate bar into small bits. Put the bits in the dough and mix well using your hands if you have no utensils, again, like me. Heat toaster oven to 170 degrees C (ok, for those of you in the US, regular oven, 350 degrees F). Make small balls of the dough and place on pan, using a glass to flatten the dough a bit. Bake for 7-10 minutes. Let cool a bit before removing from pan or they will crumble.
The kids love them, and the neighbor kids do too. I have started something here…they come over and I hear “Miss Stacy, did you make some more of those cookies??” I have to hide them to keep them from all being eaten in 1 sitting!
Finding success where I can, that’s what its all about!