Turmeric-Soaked Grilled Cheese with Milk and Cardamom

Peela Chaaman

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Photo: ckbk instagram

Manu Madhok, a successful pediatrician now living in a suburb of Minneapolis, has ancestral roots in Kashmir and was born and raised in Delhi. His love of cooking is reflected in the gleam in his eyes as he talks about the foods of his childhood. As it happens, he is able to enjoy those childhood foods in his adult life because his mother continues to make them for Manu and his family, ever since she and her husband immigrated to the United States. This three-generation family prospers as the grandmother cooks; the grandfather nurtures the garden, tending to the abundant basil plants, tomatoes, and chiles; the mother is busy pursuing a career as a dentist; and the two children flourish with parental and grandparental involvement.

At their house, I was treated to a lunch of simply prepared curry of fried cheese in milk, Stewed Radishes with Tamarind, Pan-Fried Bottle Gourd Slices with Yogurt and Aromatic Spices, and white basmati rice. Every curry was thin-sauced, devoid of onions and garlic, uncluttered with spices, the vegetable or cheese being the showcase. The culmination of the meal was the aromatic classic Kehawa—Assamese green tea gently brewed with cardamom, saffron, and ground almonds. What’s not to love about that?

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces Doodh paneer, cut into slices 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and ½ inch thick and pan-fried (see box)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 or 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long)
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel
  • ½ cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 4 to 6 green or white cardamom pods

Method

  1. Place the pan-fried paneer pieces in a medium-size bowl, and pour 1 cup warm water over them. Sprinkle in the salt and turmeric, stirring to make sure the spices disperse evenly. Set the bowl aside to allow the slices to soak and soften, about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the black cardamom pods and the cinnamon sticks, and cook until they sizzle and swell, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then pour in the paneer and its soaking liquid. Add the ginger, fennel, and milk. Heat the thin curry to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the spices get a chance to flavor the cheese and the sauce, 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the green cardamom pods and simmer, still uncovered, stirring occasionally, until they perfume the sauce, about 5 minutes. Then serve.
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