I call it “Spiritual paneer baingan lazzeez”. This story started 15 years ago in Pai Layout, Bangalore now Bengaluru. Biman and I started meeting each other on a regular basis. He invited me home for a Sunday lunch. I knew he used to cook his meal daily in those days but I had no clue how good a cook he was. He used to be a pure vegetarian then. All his dishes were absolutely a no onion garlic dish. In fact there was no existence of onion and garlic in his kitchen.
There was mixed thoughts in my mind, wondering how tasty will the curries and veggies be when made without using onion and garlic. Will it be :/ ? Contrary to my thoughts, Biman used to tell me that all the recipes without use of onion and garlic are equally yummy or some even tastier than those dishes with use of onion and garlic. Only on certain religious occasions I used to have a no onion garlic meal.
Moreover in college days cooking used to be mostly quick meals, chicken and rice, dal chicken and rice or a gravy and rice. Something which is quick, easy to prepare, tasty and light on my pocket. Experimenting with these few things was always exciting for me but rarely tried anything without using onion and garlic except for when my kitchen ran out of stock of onion and garlic.
Coming back to the Sunday lunch, it was simple vegetarian menu with a rice and dal, two sides, a paneer dish, salad, yogurt & sweets. To my surprise, Everything was so tasty that I couldn’t believe they were made with just the regular spices and ginger only. Amongst all, paneer baingan was the highlight of the lunch. An unusual combination of eggplant and cottage cheese sunken in a tomato based gravy with the richness of whole spices and ghee. This is why I used the term Lazzeez. According to Biman the authentic taste or flavor comes when the entire dish is made with Desi ghee(clarified butter).
Ghee is basically a pure combination of fats, without any milk residue and that’s why it does not require refrigeration. If eaten in moderation, ghee can provide your body with higher concentration of essential nutrients that are not available in butter. Omega-3 (mono saturated fats) is an important form of healthy fat found in ghee. apart from it good source of Vitamin A,E and D. It is energy booster, reduces bad cholesterol, powerful antioxidant, giving a glowing skin. Ghee is staple in traditional Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine.
Though I grew up having ghee almost daily made at home by my mother, but eventually with the exposure of media, use of ghee remained bare minimum, until we stepped into the fitness world. The fitness trainers and many renowned nutritionist here in Bahrain and globally encourage taking moderate amount of ghee in our regular meals. Now pure home-made ghee is an essential ingredient in my kitchen and my lifestyle.
In this recipe the eggplant and paneer sautéed separately with ghee and then combined together and cooked gently in a puree of tomatoes, whole spices and masala, resulting in a unique rich succulent flavor of eggplant and buttery cottage cheese. This year as we celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary I decided to treat him at lunch with exactly similar yellow rice and paneer baingan that he made for me 15 years back. For the first time I tried making this dish and was glad that I could nail it perfectly.
- 300 gm paneer or cottage cheese cut into cubes
- 1 medium eggplant
- 3 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp finely chopped ginger
- 2 tsp finely chopped green chilies
- whole spices( 2 small stick cinnamon, 3 cardamom, 4 cloves, 1-2 bay leaf)
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp kashmiri red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp garam masala powder
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 tbsp oil for frying
- 2 tbsp ghee( clarified butter) for cooking
- 1 cup water
- Heat oil in a shallow pan and fry the paneer cubes marinated with salt and a pinch of turmeric evenly for a about 2 minutes or until slightly golden on all sides, over a medium heat. Now take out the paneer cubes on a plate with a kitchen towel to drain out the excess oil.
- Cut the eggplant into an inch thick half-moon shape, toss some salt and a pinch of turmeric in it. Now in the same pan shallow fry the eggplant over medium heat by covering until the eggplant pieces becomes tender and golden on both sides. Once done drain out the excess oil on a plate lined with a kitchen towel.
- Heat the ghee/clarified butter in another pan over medium heat. First add the whole spices and chopped ginger, then add the tomato puree and cook for a few minutes. Now add all the spice powder, the turmeric, cumin, coriander, kashmiri red chili, salt and sugar.
- Add half cup water, then fried paneer cubes and eggplant . Cover with a lid and let it cook on low heat for about 4-5 minutes until the spices, paneer and eggplant are well combined. Add the remaining water if needed.
- Remove the lid and bring it a final boil and adding the garam masala powder and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Enjoy your Paneer Baingan Lazeez with some hot rotis or saffron rice.