Organic matters + Homemade Paneer
I put vegetables at the centre of every plate of food I make, so it is really important for me to get my hands on the very best. I get excited about good ingredients – tomatoes in traffic light colours, fresh spring greens, sweet, earthy beetroot. For me, the shapes, flavours and colours are at their best when as little has been done to them as possible – when they are organic. In all my cooking I like to stick as close to nature as possible, and I like to buy from farmers who do the same thing when it comes to growing. Eating fruits and vegetables that have been produced without pesticides is better for you as well as the environment – it has been proven that organic crops have higher concentrations of antioxidants than those produced non-organically.
When it comes to eggs and dairy too, I want to see the paint-pot yellow yolks, and taste the sweetness of the grass the cows have grazed on. New research from the Soil Association has shown that how we treat our animals, and what we feed them, directly affects the nutritional value of the food that they produce. Organic milk has been found contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic milk, as well as 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been linked to a range of health benefits like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
There is a wealth of research on the Soil Association website, but for me it’s very simple. With every bite of food we eat, we are voting, not only for how we want to feel, but how we want the world around us to be. I care a huge amount about the food I eat – how it tastes, how nourishing it is, and how it is produced, which is why I’m really pleased to be working with the Soil Association on their BOOM awards this year.
The awards are really about celebrating the whole organic market – places, people and products. The judging has already been and gone (the day I spent trying twenty different organic chocolate bars was fairly amazing) but the category for the nation’s favourite is still open for voting. Read more here.
QUICK HOME-MADE PANEER
This is one of the most pleasing things to make at home – the white curds wrapped in muslin are so satisfying in their clean white simplicity. I like making my own paneer, as that way I can use really good organic milk. Home-made paneer is a good bit cheaper than shop-bought stuff and, of course, the flavour and texture are much more delicate. If you are making paneer for a crowd you can double this recipe, but this makes a perfect amount for a meal for four.
MAKES ABOUT 400G
2 litres full-fat organic milk
the juice of 2 lemons
Pour the milk into a high-sided saucepan and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring every now and again so the milk doesn’t form a skin.
Meanwhile, place a piece of muslin or a clean tea towel over a large bowl and set aside. When the milk starts to boil and to rise in the pan, add the lemon juice and stir until all the milk curds have formed.
Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop all the curds out of the milk into the muslin or cloth. Bring the edges of the muslin together in your hands, then twist and carefully squeeze out any excess moisture from the curds. Lay the tea towel bundle on a plate and squash down with something heavy; I use a large pestle and mortar. Leave for 40 minutes to set and you are ready to cook. If you are not using the paneer straight away, place it in a bowl and cover with water. Pop it into the fridge – it will keep for up to 5 days.
STICKY GREEN BEAN AND CHILLI PANEER
This is a super-quick but supremely flavourful curry that fills my house with incredible smells. It’s spicy, sticky and sweet and, for me, that’s the best way to eat paneer. Its roots lie in Kashmir, a place I have never been to but somewhere my parents visited when they were young. They often tell me of its beauty and I imagine it while scooping up this flavour-packed cloud-like paneer.
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons coconut oil
500g green beans
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli or mild chilli powder
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
4 vine tomatoes, or 200g cherry tomatoes
a large thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 red chilli 200g paneer
a small bunch of fresh coriander
a few chapattis or flatbreads
Get all your ingredients together. If you’re using shop-bought paneer, put the paneer in a bowl of water and leave to soak.
Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Put the coconut oil into a heavy- bottomed pan and place on a medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until soft and sweet and beginning to brown.
Trim the tops from your green beans.
Add all the dry spices, then turn the heat to low and stir for a little while to toast the spices and release their flavours.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and peel and roughly chop the ginger. Add them to the pan and cook for another 2–3 minutes over a high heat.
Add the green beans to the pan along with the juice of the lemon and the honey and stir to coat them with the spices. Add 100ml of water and cook for a couple of minutes, until the beans have lost their rawness, all the water has evaporated and everything is well coated. This will take about 4 minutes.
Finely chop the red chilli. Drain the paneer and roughly cut into 2cm slices. Add them to the pan and stir to coat with all the tomatoes and spices. Season well with sea salt. Squeeze over the juice of the lemon, then chop the coriander and scatter it over. Serve with warm chapattis or flatbreads for scooping, mango chutney and some rice if you are really hungry.
Recipes from A Modern Way to Cook. Images: Matt Russell