For a spice mistress who also happens to be a lover of cheese in all its forms, there is nothing better than chili paneer! This classic of Indian-Chinese cuisine, made with the Indian cheese known as paneer and spiced up with ginger, garlic, ketchup (yes, ketchup!) and chili sauce, has always been one of my favorites. I have been making it for years, but last night I decided to use it as a filling for "samosas," and the result was fabulous! Perfect as an appetizer for an Indian-themed dinner party or apéro or as an anytime snack!
Paneer, for those who may not be familiar with it, is a fresh Indian cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice in order to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are wrapped in a cheese cloth, pressed and left under a heavy weight for a couple of hours to harden. The resulting cheese can then be chopped into cubes or whatever other form you like and then either fried or added directly to dishes as is. Paneer is a common ingredient in North Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisines, and popular paneer-based dishes include palak paneer (paneer with spinach) or mattar paneer (paneer with peas in a tomato sauce). I'll do a post on making paneer at home one of these days (it's super easy!), but when you're pressed for time (as I usually am!), you can pick up a package in the refrigerated section of your local Indian grocery.
As for Indian-Chinese cuisine, it's the ultimate fusion cuisine and is absolutely one of my favorites! Supposedly invented by the small Chinese community in Kolkata (Calcutta), Indian-Chinese cuisine is basically an adaptation of Chinese cuisine to suit the Indian palate. It is characterized by liberal use of ginger, garlic, chillies, scallions and soy sauce and is widely popular all over India as well as among the Indian communities in Malaysia, Singapore, the U.S. and Canada. Some of the most popular Indian-Chinese dishes include spicy hakka noodles, different types of manchurian dishes (basically a dish of meat or vegetables that are battered, fried and cooked in a gravy with the ingredients mentioned above) and my beloved chili paneer.
Chili paneer is generally eaten alongside rice or a bread like paratha or naan, but for my "samosa" version, I made my regular chili paneer recipe and then tucked it into brick pastry sheets (known as feuilles de brick) that are readily available here in France. Bricks are a North African appetizer (particularly loved in Tunisia and Algeria), consisting of a really thin and crispy crust stuffed with a filling of choice (cheese, tuna, etc.) and then folded and fried or baked. Being the transplanted spice mistress that I am (hehe!), I've found that feuilles de brick are perfect for making samosas. If you're based in North America or elsewhere where feuilles de brick may not be ready available, you can substitute spring roll wrappers, which have the same texture. I hope that you enjoy the recipe...it's super easy to make as well as relatively healthy in that the "samosas" are baked instead of fried. Bon appétit!
CHILI PANEER "SAMOSAS"
Makes 20 "samosas"
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 generous tbsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2/3 cup tomato ketchup
chili sauce or sambal oelek, to taste
8-9 oz (250-300 gram) packet of paneer
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves
1 packet (10 sheets) of feuilles de brick or 20 spring roll wrappers
melted butter or cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.
2. Heat in the oil over medium heat and add cumin seeds. Once the seeds start to pop, add onion and bell pepper and saute.
3. Once onion and bell pepper start to become translucent, add ginger and garlic pastes. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
4. Stir in ketchup and chili sauce or sambal oelek. Simmer for 5 minutes, to blend all the flavors.
5. In the meanwhile, unwrap the paneer and microwave it for 30 seconds in order to slightly soften. Cut into cubes.
6. Add the paneer into the sauce and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add chopped coriander and stir everything together. Remove from heat and let the chili paneer cool for 5 minutes.
7. If you are using feuilles de brick, work with one sheet or feuille at a time, keeping the other sheets in the package in order to keep them from going dry. Each feuille should be cut in half and each half then folded (following the directions on the package). Place about 1 tsp of chili paneer onto the edge of the brick and then fold across into a triangle, trimming any excess. The same technique should be used if you are using spring roll wrappers, working with one wrapper at a time. Brush with melted butter or cooking spray on both sides to seal.
8. Place the "samosas" onto a baking sheet or strong sheet of aluminum foil. Bake at 375F / 175C for 15-20 minutes until golden and crispy. Yum!