Restaurant-Style Chilli Paneer

I was introduced to Indo-Chinese food in the late 90s when “fusion cooking” wasn’t a dirty phrase and British curry houses were no longer the only “Indian” option when eating out in the UK. Korma? What was that? Balti, Bhuna and Phall? I’d never heard of them. Growing up in a Gujarati household meant that I was accustomed to Bhaji nu Shaak (spinach cooked with garlic), Oroh (burnt aubergine curry), Guvar (cluster beans) and Bhinda ni Kadhi (okra in buttermilk soup). I’d nod and smile as my friends raved about the dishes they relished during their weekend visit to the local Indian restaurant and I had no idea what half of the dishes were. I felt like a fraud. Bombay Potatoes? Was that like the Bateta nu Shaak my mum made at home?

We rarely ate out at Indian restaurants in those days. The vegetarian options were limited to side dishes of random “mixed vegetables” swimming in generic curry sauces and quite frankly, homemade was better.

Restaurant-Style Chilli Paneer

As the millennium approached, more and more options bubbled up, beginning with areas populated with a high density of Indian residents. Leicester, Wembley and Southall were all on the radar and we visited often. It was in Leicester that I first read the words “Indo-Chinese fusion dishes” on a restaurant menu and this immediately grabbed my attention. I wanted to know more. A whole list of dishes to choose from and I made it my mission to try them all. Chilli Paneer, Gobi Manchurian, Hakka Noodles, Spring Rolls, Mixed Rice & Noodle Sizzler and even Szechuan Dosa were options. I ordered as much as I could manage and that was the day I fell in love with Chilli Paneer.

I later learned that Indo-Chinese food, also known as Desi Chinese was a cuisine developed by the Chinese community of Kolkata, West Bengal. It became a lifelong dream of mine to visit Kolkata’s Chinatown and enjoy Hakka-Indian food in its original birthplace. Just as my grandparents and thousands of other families brought Indian cuisine to East Africa and the British embraced Indian curry, this small community of Hakka settlers shared the gift of their ancestral cuisine with Kolkata. Little did they know that it would lead to the creation of a truly exquisite Indian-Chinese food culture that’s now internationally sought after. Food travels regardless of borders. This is pure comfort food which is why it’s such a treat when eating out. It’s spicy, garlicky, smoky and umami-rich with a liberal attitude towards rivers of soy sauce and the addition of MSG (ajinomoto) in most dishes. It’s not a style of cooking that shys away from battering and deep frying either. Green chilli, spring onions, ginger, garlic, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, chilli sauce, vinegar, turmeric, black pepper and sugar are all widely-used ingredients in Indo-Chinese dishes. A smoking hot cast iron wok is essential for the highly coveted wok hei caramelisation and aromas.

Restaurant-Style Chilli Paneer

Indo-Chinese food is all about taking an abundance of fresh veg, protein and Indian spices and pairing them with sticky, umami-rich cornflour-thickened sauces. These sauces are unlike anything you get in traditional Indian cooking. If you’re a fan of Singapore Noodles, Laksa and Nasi Goreng, it’s worth giving Indo-Chinese food go.

My Instagram family have recently made their love of Chilli Paneer very clear. After a poll, they voted Leicester restaurants Indigo, Chai Paani and Tangoe as the best places to eat the famous dish. Special mention for Sakonis which isn’t in Leicester (they have restaurants in Wembley and Hatch End) but still do a delicious Chilli Paneer. Luckily, I’ve tried them all (several times over) and did my best to recreate the best version in my kitchen at home. The criteria was as follows: The paneer needed to be juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the peppers needed some crunch, the sauce had to be loaded with garlic, no tomatoes, lots of green chillies, soy sauce-rich and slightly sweet. Well my friends, I think I may have nailed it but I’ll let you have the final say on that. If you’ve never tried Indo-Chinese food before, Chilli Paneer is one fusion dish worth trying.

Restaurant-Style Chilli Paneer

An Indo-Chinese restaurant favourite made with juicy cubes of paneer, spring onions and peppers cooked in a chilli and garlic sauce. This dish packs a punch.

  • 450 g paneer ((cut into 2cm cubes))
  • 2 tbsp cornflour ((cornstarch))
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil
  • 10 spring onions, white and green parts ((sliced on the bias))
  • 3 red and green peppers ((sliced into 3cm strips))
  • 8 large cloves garlic ((peeled and crushed))
  • 3-4 green chillies ((sliced on the bias))
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce ((you can use dark soy sauce for a darker colour))
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp freshly-chopped coriander ((to garnish))
  • 100 g shredded lettuce leaves ((to serve))
  1. Place the paneer cubes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Drain leaving some of the moisture behind.
  2. Add the cornflour, salt and ground white pepper. Toss the paneer and cornflour mixture together until the paneer is well coated. Some of the reserved moisture from the water will help the cornflour stick to the paneer.
  3. In a large cast iron wok, heat the oil. Add the paneer cubes and shallow fry until lightly golden, no longer than a minute or they will go hard. Keep the paneer moving with the help of a wooden spoon. Remove the paneer with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a plate lined with absorbent kitchen towel.
  4. If you need to, remove some of the oil from the wok so you’re left with around 2 tbsp. Heat the wok up until it’s smoking hot. Add the garlic and chillies and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add the spring onions (reserve a handful for garnishing) and peppers and stir-fry for a minute.
  5. Add in the soy sauce, sugar and paneer pieces. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes and then finally add the coriander. Give it all a good mix and serve immediately with shredded lettuce leaves and the reserved spring onions.
  • Use dark soy sauce for a darker colour if that’s what you prefer.
  • I like my Chilli Paneer without a thick sauce but if you’d like to make one, add 100ml water to the wok after the peppers and onions have cooked. Make a slurry of 1 tbsp cornflour well dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water and add it to the cooked peppers and onions. Keep stirring over a high heat for a thick sauce.

Pin it for later!

Restaurant-Style Chilli Paneer

Love Sanjana




Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi (Buttery Rice & Lentils)

The clattering of pots, pans and spoons in my kitchen is a sound that fills me with comfort and joy. It’s the first dish I crave after a long trip away and the hug in a bowl I need when autumn sets in. At the first whiff of mellow rice and lentils emanating from my cooker, there’s only one thing that matters; I’m home.

Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi

I’m making Khichdi, Gujarati style, like how they eat it on the farm in my ancestral home of Porbandar. It’s served with Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney, a blow-your-socks-off garlic and chilli preserve, and a cold glass of Chaas (salted buttermilk with roasted cumin). This is the comfort food every Gujarati has precious memories of growing up. The porridge-like consistency of a ghee-beaten rice and lentil mishmash was usually the first solid food we ever ate as toothless babies and our fondness for it stayed with us right through to adulthood. It became a familiar and nostalgic comfort blanket for the belly.

Loaded with hearty goodness and family tradition, Khichdi was and (still is) regarded as being every doting Gujarati mother’s nourishment of choice for her child.

My recipe uses salt but feel free to omit it or reduce the amount for weaning. Just a few weeks ago, I prepared a salt-free version for my 6-month old and he gobbled it up with gusto. It was his first real taste of food, as it was mine 29 years ago.

Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi (Buttery Rice & Lentils)

Unlike other regional variations of the dish, Gujarati Khichdi is subtle and gently spiced but still creamy with ghee or butter. It’s not pilau or biryani and traditionally, Khichdi is not loved for its long, separate grains you strive to achieve with other rice dishes. Think risotto. It’s a stodgy, filling rice and lentil porridge with or without a blend of spices depending on the regional style and interpretation you choose.

I like to use dried, split mung beans with the husks on (mung daal chilla) but you can also use the skinned yellow variety of mung daal if you prefer. As far as spices go, turmeric, asafoetida and black pepper are all that’s needed.

Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi

Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi

Buttery rice and lentils simmered with turmeric and black pepper. The ultimate hug-in-a-bowl dish for cold nights.

  • 125 g basmati rice
  • 125 g dried, split mung beans ((the kind with the husks left on, also known as mung daal chilla))
  • 600 ml hot water
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100 g butter or ghee (plus more for serving)
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground black peppercorns
  1. Combine the rice and dried split mung beans. Wash them in cold water several times and then place them in a pan that has a tight-fitting lid.

  2. Add the water, turmeric, asafoetida and salt. Stir and bring to the boil. Place the lid on the pan and reduce the burner to low. Cook for 25 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the khichdi is tender.

  3. Next, add in the butter and black pepper and beat the khichdi with a wooden spoon for a minute until creamy and porridge-like in consistency.

  4. Serve with more butter or ghee and Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney (optional but delicious).

  • You can also cook the khichdi in a pressure cooker. Follow the same method and cook for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before opening the cooker and beating in the butter and black pepper.

Pin it for later!

Village-Style Gujarati Khichdi




Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney (No-Cook Garlic Chutney)

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney is the condiment to rule all condiments. It’s made with a tonne of crushed raw garlic, chilli, lemon, fresh coriander, salt and oil. That’s it. No cooking and no fancy spices. This is simple Kathiyawadi village fare from the heart of Gujarat. Kathiyawad is a peninsula off the western coast of India, in the region of Saurashtra and it’s where my family come from. Made up of several districts including Porbandar, Junagadh and Jamnagar, many people who live there have farming in their blood and an appetite for simply cooked but flavour-rich fare.

Serve Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney as an accompaniment to any curry (aubergines work particularly well and are traditional fare), Indian breads like millet chapattis (Bajra na Rotla), wheat chapattis both thin and thick (Rotli and Bhakhri) and fenugreek chapattis (Thepla) are the ultimate pairing. It also livens up a bowl of warm, comforting lentil and rice stew (Khichdi). For a less traditional but equally delicious use for Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney, stir it into warm vegetables, pasta sauces, stews and soups. Another thing that I like to do is to fold some into mashed sweet potatoes with a little butter. It is truly brilliant when you need instant garlic and chillies when making lazy curries – just dollop a spoonful in to your tempered spices and sauté. You could even beat it with plain yoghurt for a speedy drizzle or dip for chaat, mixed vegetable pulao and even fries!

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney is something that’s often made fresh every day, our busy schedules often don’t permit us to pound fresh garlic chutney each day so I have a workaround. I make a big batch of Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney, pile it into a clean, sterilised jar and then each time we use it, I top it off with a layer of oil to ensure it stays fresh in the fridge. The oil and salt in the chutney itself help to preserve the fresh ingredients so it lasts absolutely ages. You only need a small amount of chutney to add big flavour to a meal so it’s worth making it in batches.

This is good old-fashioned farmer food so leave the blender in the cupboard and make it by hand. I like to use a garlic crusher and then mix all the ingredients together but you could also pound it all in a pestle and mortar for a coarse and deliciously-garlicky accompaniment to any traditional Gujarati thali.

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney (No-Cook Garlic Chutney)

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney is the condiment to rule all condiments. It’s made with a tonne of crushed raw garlic, chilli, lemon, fresh coriander, salt and oil. That’s it. No cooking and no fancy spices. This is simple Kathiyawadi village fare from the heart of Gujarat. 

  • 3 large bulbs fresh garlic, peeled and crushed ((I use a garlic crusher))
  • 400 g Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 120 g fresh coriander ((finely chopped))
  • 270 ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  1. Use a wooden spoon to mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. I don’t recommend using a blender as that will dramatically change the texture. A coarse finish is what’s traditional and it’s perfect. You could also crush it using a pestle and mortar.

  2. Pile the mixture into a large sterilised jar, packing it down as tightly as you can.

  3. Top with a coating of oil to preserve it and remember to to this every time you use it. Store in the refrigerator and consume within 2 months.

Makes enough to fill a 0.5L clip top jar.

Pin it for later!

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney (No-Cook Garlic Chutney)

Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney is the condiment to rule all condiments. It’s made with a tonne of crushed raw garlic, chilli, lemon, fresh coriander, salt and oil. That’s it. No cooking and no fancy spices. This is simple Kathiyawadi village fare from the heart of Gujarat.




Easy, Creamy Palak Paneer

I will always order Palak Paneer if it’s on the menu in a restaurant. It’s the law. I could forgo rice and bread and quite simply eat a bowl of Palak Paneer with a spoon.

You can tell a good Indian restaurant from a bad one by the quality of their Palak Paneer. Have they bothered to blend the sauce for a rich, luxurious finish? If it’s left chunky with tomatoes, lots of turmeric and far too many spices, it’s probably the base for another dish on the menu doubled up to be used for Palak Paneer too. It also shouldn’t be labelled Saag Paneer on the menu. Saag Paneer is an entirely different dish made with delicious, peppery mustard greens and shouldn’t be confused with the milder-tasting Palak Paneer made with spinach.

Easy, Creamy Palak Paneer

It’s delightful when restaurant Palak Paneer turns out to have a smooth and creamy blended spinach sauce with a bright green colour. You can tell it’s been made with care and attention. simple flavoured sauce paired with a big, bold and spicy tadka on top (but using very few ingredients). You have to be able to taste the ginger, garlic and green chillies; they can’t just be part of the background flavour. Bonus points for a little splash of cream on top to temper the heat of the green chillies.

Palak Paneer is a stick-to-your-ribs North Indian treasure that was made to be a filling vegetarian option so please don’t cut out the butter. You can however, veganise this Palak Paneer easily by switching the paneer for pan-fried firm tofu, using a flavourless oil in place of ghee and butter and topping it off with a splash of coconut milk instead of cream. For a true restaurant-style finish, I have some simple tips to share. These will ensure you have a smooth, bright green sauce, melt-in-the-mouth paneer chunks and a luscious tempering of garlic and chilli on top.

Easy, Creamy Palak Paneer

The trick to a super green sauce is to cook the spinach as little as possible. Just apply enough heat to wilt it at the beginning and heat the finished sauce just to warm all the ingredients through. Soak the paneer in slightly-salted boiling water to soften it up and give it a bright white colour. You only need to do this if you’re using shop-bought paneer. Fresh paneer will already be tender.

I like to finish Palak Paneer off with a buttery garlic and chilli tadka. Only cook it up until the point that the garlic is blonde and crispy. Nobody likes the bitter taste of burnt garlic. Ensure the chillies are slit so that they don’t burst in the oil.

If there’s excess water in your wilted spinach, use a slotted spoon to drain as much as you can from it before you blend the leaves. Leave the cooking liquor in the pan and reduce it down to around 2 tbsp. This is full of flavour and goodness so you don’t want to throw it away but you also don’t want excess water blended into the sauce. This will ensure you don’t need to evaporate the water by simmering the finished sauce too long, preserving that lovely green colour and the spinach flavours.

Easy, Creamy Palak Paneer

A simple take on the rich and delicious North Indian treasure. Silky smooth spinach with juicy chunks of paneer and a tempering of crispy garlic and spicy green chillies.

For the Palak Paneer:

  • 900 g spinach leaves ((washed and squeezed of excess water))
  • 450 g paneer ((cubed))
  • 5 cloves garlic ((peeled and chopped))
  • 2-inch piece ginger ((grated))
  • 2-3 green chillies ((chopped))
  • 1 tbsp melted ghee
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 50 g salted butter
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp double cream ((optional))

For the crispy garlic tempering (tadka):

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 50 g salted butter
  • 2-4 green chillies ((slit lengthways))
  • 3 large cloves garlic ((finely sliced))
  1. If you’re using shop-bought paneer, place the cubes in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. You can add a pinch of salt to this if you like. This will soften them up and give them a beautiful white colour. Allow this to soak.

  2. Place the ghee in a large pan and add the cumin seeds. Allow to sizzle for a moment before adding the ginger, garlic and chilli. Sauté for a minute or two before adding the spinach. Cover and allow the spinach to wilt, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

  3. Transfer the spinach to a blender, along with the butter. If there’s a lot of excess water in the pan (this depends on the spinach), remove as much of the spinach as you can and leave the water in the pan. Blend the spinach until totally smooth and creamy. The butter will help to emulsify the spinach and give the sauce a rich, silky finish. I use a Nutribullet to do this.

  4. Simmer the excess water down over a medium heat until reduced to about 2 tbsp. This is full of flavour and you don’t want to waste a drop.

  5. Drain the paneer cubes of their soaking liquid.

  6. Pour the sauce back into the pan and add the garam masala and salt. Stir to combine. Fold in the paneer pieces and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. You want to cook this as little as possible to retain that beautiful green colour.

For the crispy garlic and tadka:

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a small pan. Add the slit chillies and garlic slices. Sauté over a medium-low heat until lightly golden and crispy. Pour this over the Palak Paneer immediately and garnish with the optional cream.

Serve with paratha or naan. Or if you’re anything like me, eat it straight up with a spoon.

Pin it for later!

Easy, Creamy Palak Paneer

A simple take on the rich and delicious North Indian treasure. Silky smooth spinach with juicy chunks of paneer and a tempering of crispy garlic and spicy green chillies.




Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka

One of my most favourite meals in the world is the iconic Punjabi dish, Tandoori Paneer Tikka. When this street food gem is served alongside lemon wedges, salad and mint and coriander chutney, nothing else comes close. The beauty of simple ingredients, very few spices and fiery cooking method ensures this dish is world famous for its leopard-spotted char and smoky flavours.

I’ve been working on this recipe for the ultimate Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka made without a tandoor or barbecue for SO long. You’ll notice my dreams of installing a big, badass tandoor in my garden still haven’t come to fruition. Don’t worry though, I’ve found a great workaround. It’s a recipe that gives you restaurant or street-style flavours at home with minimal effort. Spoiler: there’s no grill or oven involved either.

Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka

Juicy chunks of paneer marinated in a punchy hot and sour tandoori masala are skewered up with onion petals and pieces of pepper. The loaded skewers are then grilled on a wire rack directly over the gas cooker to infuse deep, smoky flavours into the paneer and veg. The ghee and oil combo in the marinade ensures the outside becomes freckled with the familiar scorch marks you’d expect from a restaurant or street-style tandoori dish. Serve it up with a pool of coriander and mint chutney, fresh salad leaves and lemon wedges. You can also toss in raw red onion slices and serve with butter naan or garlic naan for a true Punjabi-style feast.

Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka

A few tips and notes before you start.

  • Marinate the paneer, peppers and onions for a minimum of 30 minutes to give the ingredients time to get acquainted. If you have time, you can pop the paneer and veg in the tandoori marinade the night before. Be sure to keep it covered in the fridge.
  • Being your resident paneer fangirl, you’ll know I’m always going on about soaking shop-bought paneer for a fresh, homemade texture and taste. You can find out how I do this in the recipe below. The basic idea is to rehydrate the paneer in boiling water to soften it up and give a brilliant-white colour that’s just like homemade. If you want to make your own paneer at home, you can find my recipe here: Homemade Paneer.
  • Ensure the wire rack you use on top of the cooker is sturdy and can handle the heat.
  • Open all the windows in your house for good ventilation. The cooking process will create smoke which will need to escape. If you have an extractor fan, switch it on. It will make your house smell like a restaurant kitchen. Glorious!
  • If you don’t fancy cooking this over a flame, you can also place the skewers on a wire rack and cook them in an oven until charred. Make sure it’s pre-heated to the highest temperature possible. Traditional tandoors average 400°C heat so it needs to be hot! You can also place these on a griddle pan or on the barbecue.
  • I used flat metal skewers (be careful when turning as the handles can get really hot) but you can also use wooden skewers. Be sure to soak them in cold water for an hour before you need to use them. This will stop them burning during the cooking process.
  • Most restaurants and street vendors add red food colour to their marinade for the iconic and eye-popping crimson colour. I’m no food snob and am not opposed to food colours in cooking but I just don’t find it necessary in this dish. Kashmiri chilli powder will give you a gorgeous natural red colour with very little heat. If you can’t get hold of it, use equal parts of smoked paprika and regular chilli powder in its place. I often use tomato paste for colour and tang which isn’t authentic but works a treat.

If you’re looking for a vegan tandoori option, check out my Tandoori Tofu Tikka recipe. The marinade for that recipe packs a huge punch to really infuse the tofu with plenty of flavour. If you prefer a milder tikka, you can easily veganize this recipe. Switch the paneer for tofu, tempeh or seitan, use all oil instead of ghee and sub in coconut yoghurt in both the tikka marinade and chutney recipes.

Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka

Juicy chunks of paneer marinated in a punchy hot and sour tandoori masala are skewered up with onion petals and pieces of pepper. The loaded skewers are then grilled on a wire rack directly over the gas cooker to infuse deep, smoky flavours into the paneer and veg. 

  • 450 g paneer ((3cm cubes))
  • 1 large onion ((cut into wedges or petals))
  • 1 red pepper ((cut into 3cm squares))
  • 1 green pepper ((cut into 3cm squares))
  • Salad leaves ((to serve))
  • Lemon wedges ((to serve))

For the tandoori marinade:

  • 200 g natural yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil ((or any other flavourless oil))
  • 3 cloves garlic ((peeled))
  • 2 inch piece ginger ((peeled))
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder ((this gives the dish an amazing colour))
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp kasoori methi
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves ((chopped))
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves ((chopped))

For the coriander and mint chutney:

  • 180 g fresh coriander ((including stalks))
  • 30 g fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic ((peeled))
  • 3 hot green chillies ((stalks removed))
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp natural yoghurt

For the Coriander and Mint Chutney:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth. You might need to add a little water to ensure even blending. Stir in the yoghurt at the end. If you add the yoghurt to the blender the chutney will become super runny so it’s best to stir it in at the end for good body and texture. Refrigerate. 

For the Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka:

  1. Place the paneer pieces in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water from the kettle. Ensure they’re completely submerged. Set aside while you make the tandoori marinade.

  2. Place all the ingredients for the marinade (excluding the yoghurt, ghee and oil) in a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth.

  3. Put the yoghurt in a large bowl and add the blended marinade. Stir to combine.

  4. Heat the ghee and oil in a small pan until smoking hot. Carefully pour this into the yoghurt marinade and stir it in quickly and thoroughly.

  5. Drain the paneer, add the onions and peppers and toss in the marinade. Your hands are the perfect tool for this.

  6. Skewer the paneer and veg, alternating ingredients according to your preference.

  7. Place a strong, sturdy metal rack over the burner of your gas cooker. Arrange the skewers on top. I cooked two at a time to ensure even cooking. Switch on the flame and cook the skewers, rotating and adjusting their position until speckled and charred all over. Repeat for all the skewers.

  8. Serve immediately with salad, lemon wedges and coriander and mint chutney.

Pin it for later!

Restaurant-Style Tandoori Paneer Tikka




Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya (Sweetcorn in Coconut Milk with Bean Fritters)

What are your favourite food smells? For me, you can’t get any better than veggies roasting over an open fire. The flavours of corn, aubergines, peppers and okra and onions are all heightened when you introduce them to flames. I have such precious memories of holidaying in Mombasa, melting away in the smell of fire-roasted maize on the cob, mohogo and sweet potatoes. These, combined with the lingering smell of hot coals, gasoline and frying potatoes in the salty, coastal air transports me to a happy place that’s almost as comforting as the welcoming warmth of my bed at home.

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

I’m lucky enough to have grown up with three cultures; British, Indian and Kenyan. I grew up in the 90s, lived in an all-white area and was forever told that my house/packed lunch/hair always “smells like curry” by my peers. If that wasn’t odd enough, I was also the only vegetarian at school (remember this was before “plant-based” and “vegan” diets were mainstream and instafamous). When my lunches weren’t cucumber sandwiches and crisps, they were eyeballed with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Ghee-cooked thepla, bateta nu shaak, dahi and samosas. Those lunches were always the most delicious. By the time I got to 15, I stopped giving a toss about what others thought, cooked shaak-rotli in my home ec classes and often came home empty handed because my friends had eaten it all. My parents were flabbergasted.

The self-conscious episodes of my youth have made me incredibly proud of my triple-cultured upbringing. Being a British Indian with East African roots is what’s made me who I am today. We ate the best, most varied meals and connected over food in the most wonderful way. Each meal was a talking point; it had a story and there were facts, techniques and anecdotes behind it. Even now, we talk about our favourite family dishes daily.

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

British sweetcorn is abundant at this time of year and we’ve eaten it in so many different ways over the past two weeks. Now although I could snaffle an entire cob of buttery, roasted corn every evening, I wanted to share something special with you.

My Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya is a stew-like dish of sweetcorn cooked in coconut milk with crispy, spicy kidney bean fritters on top. The bhajiya soak up some of the coconut milk like dumplings, yet still have a crispy, cragginess I adore. If you like Gujarati-style Kidney Beans & Sweetcorn nu Shaak, you will love this dish.

Makai Paka is a Kenyan speciality, most popular amongst the South Asian community but enjoyed by families all over and in restaurants. Other non-vegetarian varieties exist in the form of Kuku Paka (chicken) and Machli Paka (fish). The Makai Paka is vegan and usually incorporates large pieces of corn on the cob simmered in coconut milk but I wanted to create a version you need only a bowl and spoon to enjoy. Also, stripping the corn kernels off the cob after its been roasted is such a satisfying process.

The spices in this dish are simple, as with all East African dishes. Traditionally, you should let the ingredients do the talking and use spices sparingly to enhance them. The only rule is to balance sweet, salty, hot and sour, as is also the case with traditional Gujarati cooking.

Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya (Sweetcorn in Coconut Milk Topped with Crispy Bean Fritters)

Makai Paka is a Kenyan speciality, most popular amongst the South Asian community but enjoyed by families all over. Other non-vegetarian varieties exist in the form of Kuku Paka (chicken) and Machli Paka (fish). My Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya is a stew-like dish of sweetcorn cooked in coconut milk with crispy, spicy kidney bean fritters on top.

For the Makai Paka:

  • 3 large whole sweetcorn ((you can also use 600g tinned or frozen corn))
  • 1 medium potato ((cubed into 1cm pieces))
  • 400 ml full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 green chillies ((chopped))
  • 2 cloves garlic ((crushed))
  • 350 ml water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt ((or to taste))

For the Maharaghwe Bhajiya:

  • 400 g cooked kidney beans, drained and washed ((I use tinned))
  • 140 g chickpea flour
  • 2 tbsp rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 green chilli ((chopped))
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder ((optional))
  • 2 cloves garlic ((crushed))
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying

For the Makai Paka:

  1. Roast the sweetcorn over a flame on your gas cooker. You can also place it under the grill or on a barbecue until it has black spots all over. If you’re using tinned or frozen corn, dry roast them in a smoking-hot non-stick pan. Allow to cool.
  2. Strip the kernels from the cob and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, add the water, coconut milk, chillies, garlic, turmeric and salt. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes and corn. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and coriander and remove from the heat.

For the Maharaghwe Bhajiya:

  1. Heat a wok or deep pan with oil to 160°C/320°F. Use a teaspoon to carefully drop small portions of the batter into the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes until golden and crispy.
  2. Serve the Makai Paka in bowls and top with the Maharagwe Bhajiya.

Pin it for later!

Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya (Sweetcorn in Coconut Milk Topped with Crispy Bean Fritters)




Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen that I’ve recently been posting about the joys of my pregnancy so far. We’ve managed to finish up the nursery, pack the hospital bags (so they’re ready to go when we need to) and found out that the baby is measuring up well. She or he (we are keeping the gender a surprise for all our friends and family) is a proper night owl, spinning, hiccuping and fidgeting at the most unsociable hours. Sounds a lot like my Mr if you ask me…

Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

Three weeks ago I also found out that I have gestational diabetes (GD). Sitting in that hospital for over 2 hours for my glucose tolerance test, I had a feeling deep down that it wouldn’t go so well. We have a family history of type 2 diabetes and being Asian meant I ticked two of the three boxes on the high risk checklist. Still, that didn’t mean that the news wasn’t a shock. I was at work when I found out and I had an absolute meltdown. I was devastated because I thought I had brought it on myself – that it was because of something that I had done. And that made me feel like a failure.

For those of you who don’t know, GD is a fairly common issue with pregnancy which usually disappears after the baby is born but once detected, it is to be taken very seriously and treated appropriately. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here, but this is what the NHS website says about it if you’d like to know more.

Ultimately, it means that I must check my blood sugar levels 4 times per day and ensure they are not too high. In order to control them, I need to balance everything I eat for the next 9 weeks or so. The basic premise is to treat it like a sugar and carbohydrate intolerance. That’s not to say that all carbs are off limits – we all need carbohydrates to stay fit and healthy. Cutting them out completely is a bad move. Having said this, it’s low GI carbs you need, and less of them than I would normally eat at a single meal. Now, each meal consists of a slow release carb such as brown basmati, wholemeal pasta or wholegrain bread, LOTS of protein like tofu, paneer and soy-based products, good fats like natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds and as many leafy green veggies as I like. Together, they are the perfect balance of goodness for me and for baby. It’s a good job we ADORE vegetables.

Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

I’ve been doing this diet for almost a month and now that I’ve done my reading and am informed, it’s not so scary anymore. After I found out, my midwife said to me that knowledge is power and she’s absolutely right. I no longer feel like it’s my fault because it absolutely isn’t. The same goes for millions of other women who get diagnosed with GD every day. Knowing that it’s there and being informed of the risks allows us to adapt our lifestyles for our little ones and gives them the best start in life.

Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

For the next few weeks and beyond, I’ll be sharing some of the recipes I’ve been cooking on this diet – they’re delicious everyday meals that are full of goodness and you can enjoy them whether you’re on a GD diet or not. I must say that we’re all different in the way our bodies process different foods so please check your tolerance to different things and find a balance that works for YOU. What keeps one person’s sugar levels stable can make another person’s rocket. For anyone who has GD, know that you are amazing, your body is busy creating a little miracle and it’s all going to be worth it in the end!

Baby K.O is a massive fan of this one. It is loaded with green goodness, golden paneer kofta and with a salad of fresh cucumber slices, red onions, mint and coriander, it’s the ultimate veggie curry. Enjoy it with brown basmati rice, straight from a bowl to save on washing up.

Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

A fresh, nourishing bowl of greens for when you’re craving comfort food.

For the paneer kofta:

  • 225 g paneer
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 small red chilli
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Oil for coating the kofta

For the curry:

  • 1 head savoy cabbage, finely shredded
  • 75 g frozen peas
  • 200 g broccoli, broken into small florets
  • 150 g fresh baby spinach
  • 6 spring onions, quartered
  • 12 fresh curry leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 thin green chillies
  • 10 skinless almonds, blanched
  • 400 ml full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

To garnish:

  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, chopped (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350°F.

  2. Place all the ingredients for the kofta in a blender and pulse until the mixture comes together in a ball.

  3. Divide the paneer into 15 small balls, rolling between your hands to ensure there are as few cracks as possible. Place onto a lined baking tray, coat each one in a little oil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the outside. Remove from the oven and set aside.

  4. Place the cabbage, broccoli and spring onions in a large roasting tray, season with 1/2 tsp salt and bake in the oven, around 15 minutes. The edges of the broccoli and onions should brown a little and the cabbage should crisp up.

  5. To make the curry, blend together the curry leaves, almonds (along with 60ml of the soaking water), garlic and chillies, along with a handful of the spinach leaves until you have a smooth, green paste. Add extra water if needed.

  6. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to crackle. Pour in the green paste and cook for 10 minutes until the oil separates from the paste and leaves the sides of the pan. Next, stir in the coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then add the roasted veggies, frozen peas, remaining spinach and golden paneer kofta. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

  7. Garnish with fresh coriander, mint and chillies (optional).

Serve with brown rice, onions and cucumber.

 
Click the image below to Pin and save to your Pinterest board for later!

Paneer Kofta & Greens Coconut Milk Curry

Love Sanjana + baby K.O (any gender guesses from you? Let me know!)




Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

The pregnancy cravings are real, people. Indian savoury snacks are my weakness. They include, but aren’t limited to: Dhokra, samosas, khichi, muthiya, idli, chakri, upma and bhajia. Simple things I’ve never made too often at home, but in the last 5 months I’ve taken the time to satisfy my cravings with the proper home-cooked versions. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

Most of you will know that it’s been my long-term dream to have a surprise birthday tandoor at home. Well I still don’t have one. However, my parents bought me a ginormous and Indian-style stacking steamer for my 28th birthday and it’s the best! It’s not beautiful and fancy, it’s a commercial appliance that doesn’t quite fit in my kitchen cupboard unless it’s disassembled. But it’s quickly become my favourite thing. It has multiple layers, baskets and a tight-fitting lid that fluffs up dhokra, muthiya and khichi perfectly.

Khichi, khichu, khichiya and papdi no lot are all names for one iconic Gujarati savoury snack made with rice flour and a few very basic spices. It can be prepared and served in a number of different ways depending on the particular family style and recipe. My favourite way is to shape and steam the rice flour dough for perfect little pucks with a chewy dumpling texture. Other popular methods include cooking it in a pan from start to finish, pressure cooking or even microwaving it.

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

Traditionally, khichi or papdi no lot (which literally translates to “cooked dough” is served with a bowl of oil. No BS, a bowl of regular plant-based oil like groundnut, sunflower or vegetable oil. Not olive oil, not ghee, not butter. Just oil. I liken it to dipping bread in olive oil in the West, except the point is not to add flavour, but to transform the texture of the dish. The reason why it makes so much sense is because it completely changes the texture of the dish. A slick of oil on the khichi after steaming stops them sticking together and dipping them in oil whilst eating gives the chewy rice flour dumplings a soft, slippery texture that’s not entirely unlike the feeling of eating buttered noodles. Growing up with something as comforting as that gives the most intense cravings!

The combination of ingredients in khichi are always a simple mix so you can really taste the rice flour base. Usually it’s cumin, ginger, salt and chillies. Turmeric and garlic are optional extras. Fresh turmeric is option and adds a gorgeous raw mango flavour and intense colour. I add a little bicarbonate of soda to my khichi to lighten them up a little and ensure they’re not overly dense. They puff up a touch when they steam. Note that adding turmeric and bicarbonate of soda will give your khichi a slight orange hue. You could choose to skip the bicarbonate of soda and add turmeric for yellow khichi or leave both out and make white khichi. I’ve tried them all and prefer to add both. The recipe will work either way. The choice is yours.

Khichi. Little rice dumplings with chilli, cumin and coriander, steamed and ready to eat #GujaratiFood #vegetarian #london #vegan #veganfood #rice #glutenfree #snacks #veganfood #vegansofig #veganfoodshare #eeeeeats #forkyeah #foodpics #indianfood #eeeeeats #vegetariano

Here I’ve shared my recipe for both classic rice flour khichi or papdi no lot, as well as a more playful recipe for a dish I’ve called Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi which is perfect for using up leftover khichi. It’s a play on popular Indian restaurant dishes like Chilli Paneer, Chilli Mogo and Chilli Idli which use Chinese ingredients like soy sauce and 5-spice. Similar to the recipe for Sizzling Chilli Idli I posted a couple of years back.

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

The khichi are dusted in cornflour and fried until crispy on the outside. Right before serving they are tossed in an intense sticky chilli sauce with lots of veg. Don’t be put off by the amount of ginger, chillies and garlic – it’s a lot but necessary to stand up to the somewhat plain rice flour khichi. It’s a delicious starter and a new, creative take on a Gujarati classic. My recipe for Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi serves six hungry people.

Khichi or Papdi no Lot (Gujarati Steamed Rice Flour Dumplings)

Makes 20 regular-sized khichi or 40 mini khichi

Ingredients
225g rice flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 green chillies, chopped
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
600ml water
1 tbsp oil

1/4 tsp ajwain
1 tsp cumin seeds

Method

1. Mix together the rice flour and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and ajwain. Allow them to sizzle momentarily. Next, add the chopped chillies and ginger. Sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the water and tip in all of the rice flour mixture into the pan and beat with a wooden spoon. The mixture may seem lumpy at first but keep beating and it will come together as a soft dough. Cool for about a minute, beating vigorously all the time. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

4. Set up a large metal steamer that fits multiple baskets inside. You’ll need about 2L of hot water in the base and to grease the holed baskets with oil to stop the khichi sticking.

5. When the mixture is still very warm but cool enough to handle, grease your hands with a little oil and make golf ball-sized rounds with the dough. Flatten slightly and use your thumb to make a deep indentation in the middle of each disc. Repeat until you have used up all the dough. Arrange the khichi inside the baskets, leaving space around each one as they will inflate slightly.

6. Place the baskets inside the steamer and close with a tight-fitting lid. Cook on a high heat for 18 minutes exactly. Switch the steamer off and leave covered for 5 minutes.

7. Remove the lid and take the khichi out, placing them on a plate. Brush with oil to stop them sticking together.

8. Serve with oil for dipping.

Leftover khichi can be cut into bite-sized pieces used to make Crispy Chilli Khichi, a delicious starter dish we created and love at home.

Note: if making khichi to use for Chilli Khichi straight away, I like to make little ping pong ball-sized khichi (about half the size of the regular classic kind). If you do this, the recipe above will make approximately 40 small khichis which are perfectly bite-sized.

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi

Serves 6

Ingredients
40 mini khichi
2 tbsp + 3 tsp cornflour
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 hot thin bird’s eye chillies
3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (I use Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce)
4 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Sriracha
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (I use Mama Sita’s Vegetarian Oyster Sauce)
250ml hot water
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice
3 mixed peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 red onions, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large tomato, choppef into bite-sized pieces
Oil to deep fry

Method

1. Heat enough oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to deep fry the khichi. The oil temperature should be 180C. Dust the mini khichi in 2 tbsp cornflour and fry in small batches until golden and crispy on the outside, about 5 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.

2. Heat a large wok until smoking hot. Don’t add any oil. In one go, add in the onions, peppers and tomatoes. Allow the veggies to char lightly and develop a smoky flavour, about 8 minutes. Stir only once or twice. Remove the veggies from the wok and set aside for later.

3. To make the sauce, add 2 tbsp oil to the wok and scatter in the sesame seeds, chillies, garlic and ginger. Sauté briefly. Add the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, sriracha, 5-spice, brown sugar, paprika, water and salt. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Mix 3 tsp cornflour with 1 tsp cold water and stir to create a smooth paste. Add to the simmering sauce and stir continually until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

5. Heat the sauce through and toss everything together immediately before serving. Garnish with chillies, ginger and sesame seeds.

Sticky, Crispy Chilli Khichi (Gujarati Rice Flour Dumplings)

100% approved by baby K.O!

Love Sanjana