My friends Juji and Viru Dayal had told me that the food at the Chinmaya Mission in Delhi was very good and had taken me to sample some of it. I knew that the main branch was attached to the Guruvayur Temple in Kerala, so the food would be both northern and southern. The first dish I was offered was this spicy paneer from the north. It was superb.
You can make your own paneer or buy it ready-made from Indian grocers. It is generally frozen in rectangles, but does not take long to defrost. I just put the whole unopened packet in a bowl of warm water.
• 12 oz fresh Indian cheese (paneer), defrosted if frozen
• Scant ½ teaspoon salt
• ½–1 teaspoon nice red chili powder
• Scant ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 tablespoon rice flour (also called rice powder)
• 1 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan or gram flour)
• Oil, for frying
• Sprinkling of chaat masala (optional)
1. Cut the paneer into slices about 1½ inches square and ½ inch thick. The shape of your slab of paneer will dictate the actual shape, but make the slices no thicker than ½ inch.
2. Lay the slices out in a single layer. Dust the first side with half the salt, half the chili powder, and half the turmeric. Rub these in as evenly as you can. Turn the slices over and do exactly the same on the other side with the remaining salt, chili powder, and turmeric.
3. Combine the rice flour and chickpea flour in a small bowl. Dip one paneer slice at a time into the bowl. Shake off the excess flour and put the slice on a board or plate. Repeat with the remaining slices. You can cover these slices and hold them for an hour.
4. Just before you are ready to eat, heat a ½ inch depth of oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, slide in half the slices and fry them for about a minute on each side or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Do a second batch the same way.
5. Lightly sprinkle the paneer with the chaat masala, if desired, and serve immediately.