Monday, June 30, 2008

Sir Pickypants Eat "Indian Gnocchi"

One my my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood is Rani Mahal. As Indian restaurants go, I think it's one of the best in the area and it's very conveniently located. The staff is wonderful. They seem to be one of the few places we go to often in the neighborhood where they actually recognize us as regulars. They have actually bothered to learn our names. That hasn't happened any place else we go.

What's really funny is that Kevin hasn't always liked Indian food. Once upon a time he told me he hated it. Then one day he started saying he liked chicken curry sometimes and the next thing you know, we were seeking out Indian restaurants trying to find him a good chicken curry. Of course whenever we go to Rani Mahal now he orders the chicken curry (with pakoras for appetizers and a side of naan). Actualy, I misspoke. He doesn't always order chicken curry. Sometimes he orders shrimp curry.

After eating there regularly for months I began to notice that he wasn't the only one ordering the same things all of the time. I ate more than one dish, but I tended to stick to a few favorites. One night I decided to branch out a bit. Rather than browse the chicken and lamb sections of the menu, I decided to try the vegetarian area. Something jumped out at me right away: Malai Koftas. They sounded really intriuging. I ordered them and absolutely loved them. The only thing I could complain about was that the ratio of dumpling-to-sauce was a bit low.

When I do Indian at home, it's usually vegetarian since I get so many ideas and recipes from the Indian veggie blogs like my favorite, Fun & Food. A few weeks ago I clicked on the random recipe generator on that site and guess what came up: A malai kofta recipe! It was like a gift. I knew I had to make it for myself some day.

Well, I hadn't gotten around to it until last night. I had to get past the sticker shock at Whole Foods for the cost of the paneer (Mansi does have a recipe for making it yourself, but I'm lazy), but after that I was good to go. I just had one little thing to worry about...

Would Sir Pickypants eat a paneer-based dish?

It's so hard to tell with him and dairy products. There is some stuff he wants to eat and he'll take a Lactaid. Other times dairy products seem to just gross him out. Even in Indian restaurants it's a tough call. He loves gulub jamun for dessert and he likes kulfi too (although the kulfi at Rani Mahal is more like ice cream). One time they gave us some complimentary rasmalai and he couldn't bring himself to eat more than a bite or two and he made all kinds of faces. He'll eat pizza and string cheese, but not fresh mozzarella. He won't eat just about any other kind of cheese cold. How could I get him to eat dumplings made from Indian cottage cheese?

I considered the ingredients. They contain potatoes. They contain a soft cheese. I've made gnocchi in the past and I have made them with both potatoes and with ricotta (which I guess technically makes them gnudi). I decided to tell him I was making "Indian Gnocchi." I even said the potatoes I bought at a farm stand in NJ this weekend would be part of the dish. The curry sauce would be an all-around pleaser.
I was going to get my malai koftas come hell or high water.

Here are the farm market potatoes. Aren't they a pretty color? They mashed up beautifully too. I think I'll make some home fries with the ones I didn't use for the koftas.
The dreaded paneer
I opened the paneer. It was a big block of white stuff. It could have been anything. Even I was afraid of it (even though I've eaten it before, this was the first time I ever handled a raw chunk of it). I began grating it and I kept thinking it smelled like housepaint. I finally just took a bite of it. The taste was reminiscent of mozzarella with a slight tang in the background. It wasn't bad at all. I have to stop letting my husband influence me so much.

Here is the dough mixed and ready to go. I'm still anxious.
Once I got everything mixed together I started frying them up. For some reason I really wanted them fried dark. I could have taken them out earlier than I did, but I had this internal insistence that they be fried a good long time.
Once they were cooked up, I put them in a bowl on top of basmati rice and topped them with the lovely curry sauce. I sprinkled some extra cashews and fried onions on top as well.

The koftas themselves weren't as good as Rani Mahal's (I guess that's why Jalil and his crew own a restaurant and I don't), but they were pretty good. The gravy was delicious. It was more flavorful than the restaurant's actually. I had to make some adjustments to it as I didn't have all of the required spices (or the spices in their required forms). I only have one kind of garam masala in my kitchen unfortunately. Still, I'm not complaining about the finished product. The taste and texture of the paneer was a bit overshadowed by the potatoes. For my husband, this was a boon. In fact, he absolutely loved them. "Indian Gnocchi" was a great idea.
I would definitely do this again, although I'll still order them at Rani Mahal.
(Now I only worry that Mansi will be angry with me for calling her dish Indian Gnocchi, but I'm hoping she'll be amused.)


Nikki Miller-Ka said...

I give a thumbs up to ordering naan. Seriously, I love all bread and naan is #2 behind biscuits. I'm going to have to read this post again because I am not well versed in the Indian food realm and I need to try out what you make at home. I go to an Indian restaurant that knows my name, too. I always always get lamb rogan josh. Don't know what's in it, but it's good. Maybe I should find out...

Adam said...

I'm not very Indian food versed either but I totally understand the "Indian Gnocchi". They seem like a good mix of potato and cheese base, and I bet are like an Indian flavored pyzy.

Good for you for trying to duplicate a restaurant dish yourself. Hey you said your gravy sauce is better, so maybe you're on to something?

Bellini Valli said...

I am tireless with always ordering chicken at restaurants.We have several excellent East Indian places here in K-town. Your veggie dish sounds like something I would like to try:D

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Nikki - I love naan too, but my ultimate favorite Indian bread is poori. I like ordering it when I feel indulgent. I also love lamb rogan josh.

Adam - Tell me more about pyzy and I'll agree with you on your comparison. ;-)

Val - I think Indian cuisine has some of the best vegetarian dishes out there. Definitely branch out now and then to the veggie side of the menu.

Emiline said...

Ohh, I'm so glad your husband liked this! I was nervous the whole time when I was reading this. I guess it's all in the wording, huh?

My opionion? I think this sounds really, really good. Then you topped it with cashews and onions - yummm.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

I love Indian food, but it is one I am always wary of cooking. I just don't know enough about the flavors and ingredients. I give you a lot of credit for trying this, especially when you didn't know if Sir Pickypants would eat it. I'm glad it was a success!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Em - Between using an ingredient I had never really worked with before and dealing with the dreaded deep frying, it was definitely a nerve-wracking experience, but it did have a happy ending.

Sticky - There are so many good Indian food blogs online that it makes making some of these dishes foolproof. Give Fun & Food a try for starters.

Mansi Desai said...

I am amused, especially b'coz I actually made the real "italian gnochhi' last night!:) hehehe

the malai Kofta is our fav curry, and is always ordered in restaurants! The fact that you actually made it, and loved the gravy is enough compliment for me! and did u say it tasted "better than Rani mahal"?? boy, so I do have a chance to open my own restaurant someday:) hahahaha

thanks so much for all your effort rachel..the dish looks fab, and I'm so happy you guys liked it!

Srivalli said...

That seems to have come out quite well...I enjoyed reading thr your experience!..nice to know that some restaurant ppl actually take efforts to know their guests!..

Lore said...

I should definitely eat more Indian's like constantly throwing my taste buds a party. I love it! Indian Gnocchi sounds interesting.