Much is made in the UK of curry being our national dish. Open the menu at any local pub, scan the contents page of a British food magazine, or switch on Saturday Kitchen and you’ll soon get the idea: we’re one curry-lovin’ nation. For my own part, I definitely eat more Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi-inspired foods than I did when I lived in Canada. In fact, good Indian food is one of the few things I miss sorely whenever I’m back home for an extended period of time. (When I’m here I miss Thai and Japanese foods- go figure.)
Despite recent reports of pasta catching up with curry in the popularity stakes, I’m not all that worried, since I’m pretty sure the love affair between Britain and curry is here to stay. What began with the East India Trading Company and led to a hundred years of colonialism seems to have instilled in the British public an almost innate liking for spice. It’s sometimes hard to see where the lines are, they’re so blurred; chutney and kedgeree are both British foods that belie their origins.
This salad is another Anglo-Indian affair: on one hand, you’ve got a bed of spinach and Puy lentils (yes, I know they’re really French, but spare me) with some tender English asparagus, and on the other, paneer cheese and a vibrant coriander dressing. At first I wasn’t so sure about the combination, and worried that the delicate flavour of the asparagus would be overwhelmed. But I needn’t have worried, as everything go along swimmingly, the flavours lifting each other up rather than arguing. When it comes to international love affairs, I guess the proof really is in the pudding. Er, paneer.
Note: If the idea of making your own paneer intimidates you, don’t let it. I’ve made this fresh Indian cheese twice now and it really couldn’t be simpler: you boil, you stir, you drain. Make it the day before if you’re pressed for time, and store it in an airtight, water-filled container in the fridge. But you can buy paneer in most supermarkets (at least here in the UK), so feel free to do so if you’re not the cheese-making type.
- Lentil and Spinach Salad with Pan-fried Asparagus, Paneer and Coriander Dressing
- serves 4
- For the salad
200g Puy lentils
100g young spinach, washed
2 Tbs. olive oil
250g young asparagus, woody ends snapped off
250g paneer, cut into 1″ cubes (see below)
2 green onions, finely chopped
For the dressing
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
25g bunch of coriander, stems included
1 small green chili, de-seeded and chopped
1 small garlic clove
2 green onions, chopped
zest and juice of one lime
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and cook the lentils according to package instructions.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small pan over high heat, lightly toast the cumin seeds until they begin to brown and become very fragrant. Place them into a spice grinder or food processor with all the other ingredients and blitz until smooth. Taste, as you may want to add more salt or oil at this point.
3. When the lentils are cooked, rinse with cool water and drain well. Layer them with the spinach on a serving platter or on individual plates.
4. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over high heat until shimmering. Add the asparagus in a single layer and cover the pan. Let the asparagus cook for 3-4 minutes without moving them, so you get a nice brown crispy side, and a steamed green side.
5. Arrange the asparagus and the paneer pieces over the top of the salad. Drizzle with the coriander dressing and sprinkle on the green onions for garnish. Serve immediately.
- adapted from Anjum’s New Indian by Anjum Anand
- makes 250g
- 2 litres full-fat milk
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
- 1. Line a metal sieve with cheesecloth or a smooth kitchen towel. Set over a large bowl and set aside.
2. Bring the milk to the boil in a large saucepan- watch carefully, because it can bubble up quickly. When the milk boils, turn down the heat slightly and stir in the salt. Add the lemon juice and keep stirring: it should immediately begin to separate into curds and whey. After a few minutes of stirring, you should have many white curds suspended in yellow, watery whey. If you don’t, add a bit more lemon juice and keep stirring.
3. Pour the curds into the lined sieve over the sink, and rinse them well with cold water. Then gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much water as you can. Leave the package of curds to drain over the bowl for about 20 minutes.
4. Squeeze the cheesecloth-and-curds package again and place it on a large plate (one with a lip). Put a heavy pot or pan right on top of the package (anything cast-iron works well) and leave for another hour; the weight of the pot will press any remaining liquid from the cheese. Gently unwrap your disc of firm, but still delicate, paneer: ready to be used or stored in the fridge.