Chhanar Dalna (Homemade Cottage Cheese Curry)

I am a hard core onion-garlic fan. I feel I'm eating rugi-r pothyo (patient's food) if my food is devoid of onion and garlic. Thankfully, I'm born into a family where there isn't any predominance of rituals or customary vegetarian days. So there's no concept of completely vegetarian (no onion, no garlic) or partially vegetarian (no meat, fish but garlic, onion) food in my family. However, there are some dishes that we do make without onion or garlic, not for any religious or ritualistic reason, but jut like that! One such dish is my mother's Chhanar Dalna. And it is so bloody good that I have many a time had its gravy as a soup! Since it's festive season and many of you do keep fasts and eat food sans onion and garlic during Durga Pujo and Navratri, I thought this is one recipe that might come handy.

Of course you get readymade paneer in the market, but the excitement of squeezing lime juice into a cauldron full of milk, waiting intently for it to curdle, the sheer alchemy behind the process is absolutely mesmerising. Try making your chhana at home once, and you'll never go out to buy that packet of paneer again!
Serves: 6
Ingredients:

For the chhana/cottage cheese:

Milk: 1.2 litres
Limes: 5
Vinegar: 2-3 tsp (if needed)
Flour: 1 tbsp
Baking powder: 1/2 tsp
Salt: 1/2 tsp
Sugar: 1/2 tsp

For the gravy:

Mustard oil: 2 tbsp
Bay Leaf: 1
Fenugreek Seeds: 1/2 tsp
Ginger paste: 1.5 tsp
Whey (from the chhana): 2 cups
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Kashmiri Red Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 3/4 tsp
Green chillies: 2-3
Salt, to taste
Sugar: 2 tsp
Ghee: 2 tsp

Method:

1. For the chhana: In a deep-bottomed cauldron (dekchi), bring the milk to boil. Once it starts boiling, squeeze the juice of 5 limes in it. You should be able the see the milk gradually curdle and separate from the greenish watery liquid. In case that does not happen, add more lime juice (or if you run out of it, as I often do, vinegar). Once the milk curdles, with a strainer/cheese cloth strain the chhana from the whey, but reserve the whey because you'll need that for your gravy.

2. Mash the chhana well, add a little bit of flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix thoroughly. Now divide them into 18-20 sections, roll each section in between your palms so as to form a ball, then press slightly from the top and bottom to form a slightly flattened roundish disk.

3. In a non-stick pan, heat the oil and lightly fry the chhanas till golden brown. Drain on kitchen towel and set aside.

4. Now for the gravy: In the same oil, add the bay leaf and let it splutter for 30 seconds. Add the fenugreek seeds and saute for 30 seconds more (in case the fenugreek seeds start to get scorched add a little bit of the whey). Add ginger and saute on medium heat for another minute or so.

5. Now mix the powdered spices with 1/2 cup of whey and add to the pan. Keep stirring. Add salt and sugar and they rest of the whey and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Now add the chhana and green chillies and again bring to a boil and follow with lowering the heat and gently simmering it for another 7-8 minutes, covered. Uncover, add ghee, stir and turn off heat.

7. Serve hot with plain rice.

You can hop on to my friend Manjari's blog for another delectable version of Chhanar Dalna, one that she makes following her 93-year-old grandmother's recipe.
Eat Like a Bong: Day 25
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