Paneer in Tender Coconut Gravy
We had a fantastic weekend – the kind that makes you want to rewind to Friday night all over again. Sure, even on a mundane Monday I want to rewind to Friday night so I can make weekend special and different and not so routine. But today, after a weekend with friends and family, get-togethers, clinks of wine glasses, laughter and teasing, I want to savor it even more.
Friday night started with Varun’s favorite kaka and mavshi joining us for dinner. He was so over-joyed that he didn’t sleep till past midnight. On Saturday, after dinner and paan, he went over to Sushil- Athika’s house with Krish bhaiyaa and Bhavya didi to sleep but came back after 15 mins as he missed his mama! Same story on Sunday night where post dinner with friends, he wanted to go home with Aarvin and told me to stay at home while he goes out. Made my heart skip a beat. He is growing fast!
Anyways, back to Saturday night dinner. Inspired by our Kolkata trip, I wanted to make something Bengali for Sushil- Athika. An accomplished cook and baker, Athika loves food. We love what she makes. Her recipes are so detailed that her husband, a novice, followed them to the T and came up with finger licking curries for her baby shower. Single handedly for 30 odd people on first attempt. Impressive!
I decided to make a vegetarian version of Daab Chingri or prawns in tender coconut shell. Soft paneer and red bell pepper for the color and crunch. Cooked with tender coconut meat and then steamed to a delicate perfection in the shell. Traditionally the curry is cooked in the shell in a water bath for an hour or so. But I decided to fake it and made the curry in the pan and then steamed it in water bath to let the subtle tender coconut taste seep through.
The subtle flavor of tender coconut is very refreshing. The texture and the aroma is a change from the typical Indian curries that are heavy with either cream or spices. Its smooth and almost sweet – a perfect base for fresh paneer , tofu and any other vegetables that you choose.
The presentation in green shell adds to the drama and makes an amateur fake a professional finish! If you really want to impress someone with least amount of effort this is THE perfect recipe. Try it for a special night or to for a dinner party or just to perk up a wintry weekend into a tropical delight! I am dying to make this again with prawns!
Paneer in Tender Coconut Gravy
- 2 green tender coconuts – water ( 1 1/2 cups water) and flesh ( 1/4 cup) removed
- 2 tablespoon mustard oil + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil ( for sautéing red bell pepper)
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 large bayleaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 -7 green cardamoms
- 1 green chilli finely sliced
- 3- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 inch knob of ginger root , peeled and then minced.
- 3 small onions finely chopped
- 300 – 400 grams paneer or tofu
- 1 bell pepper diced
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
For the water bath
- A large pot to hold both the coconut shells
- 4 cups water
1. Carefully carve the top of tender coconut with a large enough opening so that you can fill the gravy back in. Also try to carve in a single piece and retain the head piece so it can be used as a lid while the gravy simmers.
Save the water in a bowl and then scoop out the meat with a spoon. Keep the water and the meat aside.
2. Heat both oils together ( vegetable oils cuts the bitterness of mustard oil). Once heated, add the mustard seeds, bayleaf, cinnamon stick , garlic and chopped green chilies. Let them sizzle and then add the onions. Fry the onions for a few minutes with the rest of the spice mixture till they are well cooked but not browned.
3. Take this onion spice mixture and remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Blend it smooth with coconut meat and ginger root along with a cup of coconut water.
4. Add oil in the same pan and sauté the red bell pepper till they are partially cooked. Add the paneer and sauté it for about half a minute. Then add the pureed coconut mix to the pan. Add salt, a bit of black pepper and cinnamon stick and bay leaf that was removed before pureeing. Let simmer for couple of minutes. If its too thick add some more coconut water to thin it out. Taste for seasonings and adjust per taste.
5. Put the water bath on low heat. Take the gravy and fill it in the empty coconut shells carefully. Place the shells in the pot. Cover with lid and let it cook for about an hour.
The gravy stays warm in the coconut shells even after you take it off the heat. Serve with warm rice or pilaf.