Pakistan (and India) – samosas, murgh makhani (aka butter chicken), palak paneer, basmati rice, naan, ghee
This was SUCH a fun meal to cook and eat! I cooked a dish from India a few years ago but I don’t remember my rationale for choosing the dish I did, because chicken makhani and palak paneer are my two favorite Indian dishes. Why I didn’t make those before, I do not know. I didn’t want to just repeat India because I wanted to cross another country off my list, so in the effort to promote world peace (ha!) I cooked Indian and Pakistani dishes together. These two cuisines have a lot in common, and I should mention that Indian cuisine is very regional; there really isn’t one Indian cuisine, there are lots of Indian cuisines. Anyway, it’s very common to serve naan with ghee in Pakistan, butter chicken originated in Delhi, and palak paneer is a North Indian dish.
I was motivated to cook this meal when I went to see the film The Hundred-Foot Journey with a book club I’m in. I read this book several years ago and loved it, so was excited when it was made into a movie. I went to the film with a great group of women who were so enthusiastic about the movie and the food in the movie that I decided to invite some of the book club members for an Indian (and Pakistani) meal. Okay, on to the food.
My all-time favorite Indian dish is chicken makhani (or murgh makhani or butter chicken). When I lived in Philly there was a great Indian restaurant a block away from my apartment, and I’m not sure I can count the number of times I got butter chicken takeout from there. And butter chicken must be eaten with piping hot naan and basmati rice. Naan is delicious when smothered with fresh ghee. And to make sure we got our vegetables, I thought my second favorite Indian dish, palak paneer, would be perfect. I was thrilled to find a fantastic Indian grocery store in Rochester where I got many of the ingredients.
I made the ghee first, since it has to sit for several hours. It’s super easy. It requires butter, a sieve and cheesecloth. I used this recipe, which has great pictures to describe the process.
I used the ghee in some of the other dishes, we slathered it on the naan, and I still have quite a bit left. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but apparently it lasts for quite awhile and is healthful.
Next, I made the naan. After several attempts to get the yeast working (I need to get a candy thermometer!) I made the dough and let it sit for about 4 hours. Here’s the recipe I used, from Aarti Sequeira, though I baked it differently than she suggests. I broiled it as some other recipes suggested since I don’t have a cast iron skillet. I pre-heated the oven to High broil and placed the naan dough on a cookie sheet and until they turned puffy and brown, about 2 minutes. I was so thrilled that the naan turned out great! I had bought backup naan at the store in case mine didn’t work, but I didn’t have to use it.
The frothy yeast.
Isn’t yeast amazing!?! I did a whole science project on that when I was in elementary school. Anyway. Here’s the dough rolled out; this is half the batch.
It was chewy and delicious, especially with the ghee.
Next up, chicken makhani. I used this recipe, and the author of the recipe explains that butter chicken is a “Pakistani and Indian restaurant staple.” So, there you go. World peace :).
I used chicken thighs as she suggests, blended the sauce before putting the chicken in, and made my own fried onions (all of these she recommends but doesn’t do in the recipe). I also used only half the amount of Kashmiri red chili powder because I didn’t want it to be too spicy. I absolutely loved making this recipe. The spices smell amazing, and the dish was fantastic. I have to say, I was proud of myself 😉 How great are these spices?!
The spices are cooked in butter (butter chicken!).
Once this simmers for awhile, it’s all blended. I had a near catastrophe when blending, forgetting that when blending hot things the blender is apt to explode. Thankfully I had only a mini-explosion situation because I had my hand on the blender top. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s such a pretty color.I cooked the chicken as the recipe suggests (brining it in salt ahead of time), though I omitted the chili powder on the chicken because I didn’t want the dish to be too spicy. Note: Dad, I’ll make sure to add the chili power when I make it for you!
I didn’t take any pictures of the cooking process for the chicken because I find pictures of raw chicken to be extremely unappetizing. So, here’s the final product once the chicken is cooked and shredded. The chicken is mixed with the sauce and simmered for awhile, and then you add cream. Yes, lots of cream. It could be called Cream Chicken.
Isn’t it beautiful?!
Next up, palak paneer. Paneer is an Indian cheese, and palak means spinach. This dish can also be called saag paneer, saag means greens, so sometimes this dish is made with greens other than spinach. Here’s the recipe I used. I didn’t deep fry the paneer cubes, I just pan fried them in ghee. I also bought the paneer, though it can be homemade (maybe someday). I doubled the recipe since this recipe serves 2.
Finally, we have to have an appetizer! My awesome neighbor Adena made the appetizer with me – samosas. We made a less traditional samosa by using phyllo dough and baking them instead of making our own dough and frying the samosas. Here’s the recipe. The filling is potatoes, peas, onions and spices, and then made into triangles with layers phyllo dough brushed with butter (notice a theme to this dinner?).
In addition to making the appetizer, Adena offered to host the dinner. We are literal neighbors – we share a wall in our apartment building. Adena has been so welcoming to me as I moved and adjusted to Rochester, and she’s a big part of what makes me happy here. We bonded over food, so it was fun to coordinate this meal together. Additionally, she’s the co-leader of the book club that motivated me to do this particular meal, and the other co-leader joined us for the meal. So, here are the lovely guests! They were so enthusiastic and so fun to share the meal with, and we celebrated Edie’s birthday, as you can see from these fun photos! L to R: Katie, Anne, Edie, Adena
Notes for next time: I’d like to try cooking the naan in a skillet to see if I can get a little closer to what tandoori ovens produce. We all wanted more sauce for the chicken makhani! I used more chicken than the recipe called for, so there was less “free” sauce to sop up with the naan. I should have cut the paneer into smaller pieces and cooked it a bit longer. Finally, I should have served the samosas with chutney. But, overall, the meal was really delicious and I especially loved the naan and chicken makhani, and the company!