Deepavali, or Diwali as the North Indians say, is the "festival of lights" in India and is the most important occasion of the year for Hindus worldwide. The exact date of Deepavali varies according to the Hindu lunar calendar and the entire festival is celebrated over a span of five days, but the most important day which marks worship of the goddess Lakshmi this year falls today! Regardless of regional differences, Deepavali or Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil and is considered to be the start of the Hindu new year.
Deepavali traditions vary widely depending on what part of India or the Hindu diaspora you are in. Common traditions include the offering and wearing of new clothes, the exchange of sweets and the lighting of tons of small clay lamps, known as diyas in Hindi, to symbolize the victory of good over evil.
Other common Deepavali or Diwali traditions include all-night card games, kids lighting firecrackers and sparklers, parties and of course lots and lots of delicious food! While we won't be hosting a Deepavali party here in Paris this year, we do certainly plan to indulge in some of our favorite Indian foods this week. Paneer butter masala, a dish of delicate cubes of the Indian cheese known as paneer cooked in a rich, creamy, tomato-based sauce, has always been one of my favorites. For those of you who are fans of butter chicken, the sauce in this delectable vegetarian dish has pretty much the exact same taste. Delicious!
This recipe comes from the Vah Chef Sanjay Thumma, one of my favorite Indian celebrity chefs. As he explains, this is a quick, shortcut version of paneer butter masala for weeknights and busy schedules. Fresh ingredients are eschewed, but the result is the same as that of a more authentic recipe. My version is relatively healthy as well, using low-fat instead of whole milk and omitting any cream (although you are welcome to add a dab at the end if you can't resist). Be sure not to omit the fenugreek powder, as it gives the sauce that rich, buttery taste that really makes the dish without all the fat!
Happy Deepavali to you all!
PANEER BUTTER MASALA
Adapted from Sanjay Thumma
Serves 3-4 as a side dish
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek powder (I just grind fenugreek seeds in a coffee grinder)
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups lowfat milk
1 generous tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 inch ginger, minched or 1 tablespoon ginger paste
2 tablespoons fried onions
Salt, to taste
Couple of drops of red food color (optional)
250 grams paneer, cubed and micowaved for 30 seconds to soften
Fresh coriander, for garnish
1. In a mixing bowl, mix the coriander powder, garam masala, chili powder, fenugreek powder, ketchup and tomato paste.
2. Gradually stir in 1 cup of milk, adding bit by bit. Mix the sauce well and set aside.
3. In a large pan, heat the butter until it melts. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until translucent. Add the fried onions and let them cook just a bit as well.
4. Pour in the sauce. Add salt to taste and a couple of drops of red food color (optional). Simmer over low heat for 3-4 minutes to allow the spices in the sauce to cook.