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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

660 Curries: Mathura Palak Paneer

When I first had the opportunity to meet award-winning chef, Raghavan Iyer, I admit I was quite nervous. He has multiple cookbooks, is a known authority when it comes to Indian cooking and he was about to open a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. Of course I was nervous!

However, as soon as I shook his hand and heard his calming voice, all my nervousness washed away. We chatted for a bit, exchanged business cards and promised to meet again, and we did meet again, many times. Each time I learned more and more about spices and other ingredients used in Indian cooking and always walked away with a fun fact.

Did you know that a whole spice can produce 8 distinct flavors?

I had to wait until Christmas because I was hoping to get Raghavan’s latest cookbook, 660 Curries, as a gift. Sure enough, I am now the proud owner of this 809 page cookbook!

It is pretty overwhelming, but is divided into sections by the main ingredient used. I had recently purchased paneer, India’s only cheese (another fun fact from Raghavan), so I turned to the “Paneer Curries” section. Paneer has a texture that is very similar to tofu. I even tried a paneer dish at OM thinking it was tofu. So much for my tasting skills.

I chose to make Mathura Palak Paneer (aka Cheese Cubes with Spinach and Mustard Seeds). First off, I had to make a Punjabi garam masala and decided to grind it using a mortar and pestle.

It took me about 15 minutes of hard work to eventually turn it into this:

The cinnamon was the hardest and I ended up sifting it a little to remove the large pieces of cinnamon bark. Now I have a jar of garam masala to use anytime!

The rest of the recipe was a breeze compared to the spice grinding. I served a mixture of spinach, cherry tomatoes, paneer, and spices over brown rice to complete the meal.

It was such an amazing dish! The flavors had depth and complexity. It was amazingly satisfying for dinner (and lunch the next day too). I can’t wait to try more recipes from this book. In fact, we’re having dinner guests over this weekend and I sure hope they like curries!

**OM is currently offering cooking classes with Raghavan.  He is incredibly knowledgeable and a great teacher.  I encourage you local folks to check out the classes here.


  1. we got to meet mr iyer last year, and he signed our copy of the cookbook. i refer to it constantly, and it's the reason we had to redo our food storage: we have SO many supplies from the indian grocery now.

    have you tried making your own paneer yet? it's surprisingly easy!

  2. Oh, I would love to take a class!!
    I have been wanting to make palak paneer too, since I've seen the cheese around - yours looks delicious!
    The problem is the spices - do you think there is a way to do it without a mortar and pestle?

  3. Crystal -- if the cinnamon is a pain with the m&p, I've found that running it over one of the smaller sides of a box grater is useful as long as you don't get your fingers too close. :)

    Emily -- a coffee grinder works nicely for most components, though it doesn't produce quite the same lovely aroma as doing it by hand.


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