They say the devil laughs when men make plans. I’m sure he cracked a rib laughing today.

Let’s take it from the start. I had it all planned –  go to the supermarket at 5:30 and get the ingredients, get back by 6:15, follow the recipe and get the cooking done by 7, and finish eating by 7:30. It’s 8:42 when I’m writing this and I’ve just done the dishes.

I got to the supermarket on time, and plans started to unravel straight away. I knew exactly what I wanted to get – frozen peas, ginger and garlic paste, paneer and frozen naan. Frozen peas – easy. Garlic paste – took a while, but I found it. Ginger paste – fucking impossible. This country does not use ginger paste, it would seem. I looked everywhere, went to sections of the store I never go to, and no luck. Finally, in the “international” section of the supermarket, on one unremarkable shelf, was this thing called “Ginger In A Tube”. That is correct, ginger. in. a. tube. Exhibit A:

Notice the east asian-styled font. You should realize, this was in the same shelf that held teriyaki sauce and wasabi. I don’t think they intended it to be used in matar paneer, but I’m resourceful like that.

So. With a reasonable compromise for ginger, off we go to find paneer. The smaller supermarket next door had a reputation for keeping more exotic foods, and I found the frozen naan easily enough. Happily confident, I set off to find the paneer, which, as you’ve probably guessed, was nowhere to be found. Google to the rescue! I found on the internet, reports of asuitable substitute for paneer. Now I’m not gullible, so I decided to check the guy’s sources. He cited wikipedia twice, and that was good enough for me.

On we go to find Queso Blanco, or alternately Queso Fresco. The smaller supermarket had no Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco, so back we go to the larger store. And there, after much looking, I found Queso Blanco. But what’s this? Small font said it was chipotle flavored. Oh how you tempt me, fates. Back on the shelf it went, and after looking for 5 more minutes, in a small corner on the top right, I found Queso Fresco, plain. Looked close enough to paneer, and we were done.

Just as I’m about to drive back, I realize I forgot tomato puree. Back to the smaller store we go, and there is no puree to be found. How this country does its cooking I do not know. I found two small cans of tomato paste. Not puree, but paste. But the ingredients said no salt, no flavouring, just tomatoes, and that was good enough for me. Finally having bought everything, back home I went.

And then began the cooking. Started out well, boiled the frozen peas and got that ready. Chopped the onions finely, and diced the queso fresco into small cubes. The recipe said that lightly frying the paneer cubes was helpful, and so I heated a little oil and dropped the queso fresco cubes in.

Don’t ever fry queso fresco cubes.

They started to melt, and I quickly salvaged what pieces were not completely melted and left the melted ones in there. It’s all going to the stomach anyway, right? The next step was to add the cumin seeds, and so I did. They started popping as they should, and the next step was to add the ginger paste. The recipe said 1 tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste. I didn’t have one single ginger+garlic paste, so the logical thing to do is half a tablespoon of ginger, and half a tablespoon of garlic paste. Out comes the tube, and I drop in half a tablespoon of ginger paste. Hmm, that’s a lot of ginger. But it’s frying already, better add the garlic paste too. The cap on the bottle of garlic paste is screwed on so tight I think I popped a shoulder opening it. After a good 2 minutes I finally got it open, and dropped in half a tablespoon of garlic paste. Hmm, that’s a lot of garlic paste too. Did I read that recipe right?

Teaspoon.

The recipe said one teaspoon of garlic and ginger paste. On the pan, 3 times the required ginger and garlic paste was frying away. No worries, into the sink it goes and we start again. Very well. After 5 minutes, I had the right amount of cumin seeds and ginger and garlic paste. It’s fried for the few minutes asked for by the recipe – next step, tomato puree. Which just happens to be in a tin can. Quickly dig around for a can opener in the kitchen, find it and see that it’s rusted around the edges. Wash the rust off, and open the can. All the while, mind you, the ginger and garlic paste is frying away on the pan.

And the puree? Gotcha! It’s not puree, it’s paste. Close-to-solid paste. Drop in two spoonfuls of the stuff, and it absolutely refuses to mix with the paste. Way too solid. Bring into play the engineer’s mind. What’s the problem? Paste too thick. What makes solid foods liquid? Water. Let’s add water! How much? Who cares! Just get the damn tomatoes to mix with the ginger-garlic paste. And so water was added. Finally, the paste stated to mix into one uniform… thing. By now I’m in full-blown salvage mode. Screw the recipe, just add whatever spices you have. Chili. Garam Masala. Haldi. Salt. How much of each? I still have no clue.

I’ve forgotten something. The queso fresco cubes! In they go, and I try to keep them from decomposing. Anyway, it’s done. The matar paneer is ready, as ready as it’ll ever be. Exhibit B:

Now we heat the frozen naan. Should be easy, instructions are on the cover. Preheat oven to 400F for 10 minutes, put in the naan for 1.5 minutes. Easy enough. I preheat the oven for 10 minutes, and put in the naan. Within half a minute, the oven starts smoking. I open the oven door, and the naans are burnt to a crisp.

This is what they should look like:

This is what they did look like:

Fine. Get two more naans out of the bag, and this time use the microwave. And finally, finally, it’s all ready:

The little dog is there to get some brownie points. Glass of water by my side, courage in my heart and the sink close by, I took the first bite.

I did not choke!

Was it slightly strong on the puree? Sure. Did it need more spice? Possibly. Would I make this for others? Not if I loved them.

But after all that effort, it tasted just fine to me.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    The images don’t seem to be loading — nice post, otherwise. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cook_home <- Reminded me of this, somewhat ;).

  2. doc
    October 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    [Kunal] Fixed!
    And the ‘The Oatmeal’ comic? I won’t say I wasn’t tempted.

  3. ishani
    October 16, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Doc, seriously,

    you need an Indian Girlfriend who can feed you and help you with groceries. or some lessons back home 😛

    till then, go to Indian stores if you want to shop for Indian stuff!

    and just to make you jealous, I make awesome matar paneer 😛

  4. October 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Doak, oh doak…you little kid, your puerile efforts remind me of my days as a fumbling idiot. Thankfully, I learnt from my mistakes instead of publicizing them,and now know my way around the kitchen….to the packet of maggi noodles on the shelf… !!! 😛

    @ishani : He does not need an Indian girl friend, he needs a roommate who knows how to cook !!

    @doak : I would like to apply for the above job.

    Actually I have made a blunder with paneer substitutes too, cottage cheese….it responds almost identically to heat. Moral of the story, never substitute the main constituents of your dish. 🙂

  5. October 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    1. There are no real substitutes for paneer in all the different cheeses you find abroad. Get the real thing from an INDIAN store, make it at home. OR forget it. Make aloo matar. 😛
    2. For future reference, slightly extra garlic or ginger doesnt matter (upto 2x – dont waste your time). Also, heat on low when you havent cooked something before. Also, you can just cut tomatoes small if you cant find puree. Cook on low heat, works just fine.
    3. get all ingredients in one place, opened and stuff before you switch the heat on. No can opening and food burning together.
    4. I am still sceptical it said that on the naan cover. A raw naan takes that heat and time to cook, not a frozen one.
    5. Most importantly, even if you cant find a live-in girlfriend or a roommate you can cook, CALL f*king someone who knows what to do – Mom, friends and Indian not-near girlfriends. Whoever.

  6. October 17, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Hahahaha….. I just can’t stop laughing at this post! I echo pushkar’s feelings though. I think we’ve all gone through this at some point of time or the other and each have our own huge list of cooking disasters to share…. (did I tell you about the frozen pizza and the spatula incident?)

    Keep trying though, some day you’ll manage a decent meal… for the others, write a blog post 😛

  7. PIkachu
    November 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Oh, for a bite of that heavenly burnt naan that you callously threw away!!! Burning it was probably the one thing you did right by me 😛
    And seriously, just go to an Indian store. “International” sections are good only for noodles..

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