This redder-than-red curry not only looks amazing (for a curry that is – curries not being known for their looks), but features homemade paneer cheese. Yes, homemade cheese. An easy, fail-safe cheese. How good is that?
It gets better. Well, maybe not better-better, but better for you. Not only is it pretty (-ish) and has homemade cheese, this curry is also cheap, nutritious and quite low in fat. Woo hoo!
Although most of us can get raw beetroot nearly year-round, it is much more abundant in the northern hemisphere from June to October. These are the months we see the more attractive and unusual varieties in the market, some with beautiful deep pink and white candy-striped interiors (chiogga), or ones that look like little golden suns (the appropriately named ‘golden’).
A cultivar of the centuries’ old English and Indian wild seabeet, today’s Beta vulgaris – a relative of spinach and chard – is rather a take it or leave it vegetable. Many would rather leave it, probably due to over-vinegared mushy slices that ‘adorned’ many a salad in the last century. Those were just nasty. Home-pickled beets are delicious (Indian/Scandi-style recipe soon!), but fresh is just fabulous: sweet, slightly earthy, minerally. Young beets, no bigger than golfballs, tend to be the sweetest, but even behemoth ones will deliver if treated with a little culinary tlc. Or just plunge it in a juicer.
It is incredibly versatile too. Some of us whack it into chocolate cake, where it lends its own subtle sweetness, but minus the earthiness of the straight raw stuff. And it is just wonderful roasted with olive oil then drizzled with raspberry vinegar; shredded into salads – both green and grain; simmered in soup; pinkifying an otherwise classic risotto (this one from Diana Henry looks a must-make). It also makes a damn fine juice, with ginger, lime, carrots and apple.
And the greens themselves are no slouches. Unless you get them from a farmer’s market or farm shop, UK beets are likely to be topless, which is a real shame as the very pretty leaves – a rich green with deep red, almost palpable, veins – are incredibly delicious. The leaves taste much like their pricier kissing cousin, chard, but are almost always chucked out. One of my favourite things to do with them, on the rare occasions that I have a a good sheaf of them (from my neighbour Warwick’s allotment), is to wilt them in good olive oil with some smooshed anchovies or black, cured olives, sliced garlic and fresh chilli. Then I toss this rather alarmingly dark melange into cooked pasta and squeeze over loads of fresh lemon, adding chopped parsley and shavings of fresh pecorino. It sounds so simple, dull even. It is anything but. This is just one of many fabulous bonus meals from homegrown (or allotment/CSA) beets, and all the better for its knowing frugality. Last summer this was my go-to mid-week meal on at least half a dozen occasions.
But what you probably want is the cheese recipe. And I am boring you about beets. Apologies. Here you go. Oh, and don’t be freaked by the wordiness of the recipe: it’s just me giving options and explanations. The whole thing is very easy. I promise.
1 tsp salt – optional
Specialist equipment: muslin cloth, or a new thin tea towel
First of all, make the paneer. Sure you can buy it, but what you find is usually expensive, can be rubbery and will not be organic. And your own fresh batch will taste a lot better. So, pour the milk into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and, over a low-medium heat, begin to bring to the boil. Stir during this time to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Just as it starts to form persistent bubbles around the sides of the pan, add in the buttermilk. Give the milks a stir until the yellowy whey separates from the whiter curds. The whey will go a weird yellowish-green when the separation is complete – just a minute or two.
Pour the whole lot into a large sieve that you have lined with the muslin cloth, or similar, and rinse with cold water (this stops it from being rubbery). If you want to add salt, pull up the ends of the cloth and tie to the kitchen faucet. When it stops dripping you can pop the curds into a bowl and stir in the salt. Otherwise, a quick way to get cheese is to pull up the sides of the cloth and give it a gentle twist – like you do when you are hand-washing a delicate sweater, even though the tag tells you not to. The whey should come through very readily.
If you want it to have a square shape, pop the now-firm cheese – it is officially cheese! – into a small plastic container lined with another cloth. Press it to fit the corners. I just keep it as: a ball. I flatten it and press out more whey by putting it on a board or baker’s cooling rack and balancing a heavy pan on top. I leave it this way for 15-20 minutes. I then slice and use it, or store it in the fridge for later. It will keep well for three days. Makes 200 grams of cheese.
Heat a large wide pan, such as a wok or karai, add 1 tbsp of the oil and the onions. Cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft. Now add in the beetroot, rogan josh paste mix and kalonji seeds (if using), mixing well then cooking for a further 5 minutes. Add the water and tomatoes and bring to the boil; cover and turn down to simmer for 30 minutes. If you use cooked beetroot you can get away with 15 minutes.
While the curry is simmering, you may want to fry until golden some of the paneer in the remaining oil with the garam masala.
Pop the (uncooked) paneer into the curry and simmer for five minutes; stir in the lemon juice, yogurt if using, and the leaf coriander. Divide between four bowls and top with the fried paneer. Serve with the optional raita (see below) and naan bread, chapati, roti, rice or quinoa.
a squeeze of lemon juice