Pistachio and prune pilaf

or…what my friend missed. Yesterday, having invited a friend around for lunch, I served up mince and lumpy mash. A sort of deconstructed shepherd’s pie? Not really. It was Indian, not the savoury mince Australians make. I wanted a different taste from the kheemas I usually make, so I cooked the (beef) mince with garlic, ginger, onion, Julie Sahni’s master curry powder, which I make often, chopped tomatoes, and at the end before serving, asparagus (instead of peas), chopped coriander and lemon juice. How bad could that turn out?

It was okay, but I wonder what I could have done to make it more than that? I mean, apart from serving it with a yoghurt and cucumber raita on the side, plus kasundi made by an Adelaide friend, and starring on the day, lumpy mash. I suck at mash.

Today we revisited the mysterious Indian mince dish but it was given a step up by the rice we had with it. Not that the rice was perfect, it definitely needs a little more than it got today. Nonetheless, for a start:


  • 450 ml basmati, washed and soaked for 30 minutes, then drained
  • 600 ml water
  • half a teaspoon tumeric
  • salt
  • several onions halved and finely sliced
  • half a cup of pistachios – salted because that’s what I had, shelled and chopped
  • half a dozen prunes pitted and chopped
  • grapeseed oil – I’d run out of ghee, which would have been better


  • Put the basmati in a pot with the water, tumeric and salt to taste. I was easy on the salt on account of the pistachios being salted, but I should have been less cautious. Bring to boil, stirring a few times, cover and reduce to a simmer.
  • While the rice is cooking, in a non-stick pan fry the onions to a rich brown colour. By the time that’s happened, the rice will be dry on top. Quickly put the onions onto the top of the rice and let sit, covered, whilst
  • fry the prunes and pistachios in whatever bit of oil is left in the frying pan and then add them to the top of the rice.
  • When you are sure that the rice is cooked through, gently fold the onions, prunes and pistachios through the rice, let it sit for a bit longer before serving.

My next attempt at this will be better. Obviously, more in the tradition of a pilaf, stock would be better than salt. I’d run out of ghee, with its rich taste. Grapeseed oil shares the capacity for being used at high heat, but is neutral in taste. While the rice was cooking I should have added more whole spices, along the lines of Jaffrey’s yellow rice. Whole cumin seeds at the end, sizzled in oil/ghee would also have been a good addition too.

I wonder too if adding finely chopped onion to the rice from the start, as well as the fried sliced onion might be a plan. Garlic? For the first time in my life as a person who cooks, I’ve run out of garlic. Unbelievable.


Matar paneer: paneer and peas in a fragrant tomato-based sauce

This is my go-to recipe for what to do with the paneer you made in the previous post. Although I have the matching book by Julie Sahni on vegetarian food, this is from her Classic Indian Cooking. She introduces it with a lecture about the paneer:

The flavour and texture of the paneer are of prime importance here. The cheese should be sweet and fresh-smelling; it should feel firm to the touch but not hard; it should be moist but not wet; and finally, its texture should be close and compact, not porous. (If the paneer is dry and too solid, the cheese pieces will taste hard and rubbery, and the sauce will not penetrate the paneer, leaving it with a bland taste. If the paneer is too wet and loose-textured, it will not hold its shape, but will fall apart while it is being fried.)

We like this dish, but I’m undecided as to whether my paneer stands up to these exacting requirements.

Ingredients for six people

  • one portion of paneer (already made)
  • 12 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil
  • 375g finely chopped onion
  • 1 teasp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
  • 2 teasps ground coriander
  • 1 teasp turmeric
  • 1/2 teasp each red and black pepper (I only use black)
  • 1 teasp paprika
  • 375g tinned chopped tomatoes with their juice
  • 300g shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
  • 2 teasps salt
  • 2 teasps garam masala
  • 4 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves


  • slice the paneer into bite-sized cubes and leave to dry for half an hour on grease-proof paper (a plate would do fine)
  • heat 3 tblesps of the ghee in a heavy based frying pan, medium heat. Sahni says preferably non-stick, but I don’t have one to hand and do fine without, but my pan is definitely heavy based. You want to do the cheese some at a time, don’t crowd the pan, turn them gently so that they get browned on all sides if possible. She suggests about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl/plate and do the next lot and then – I find – the last lot. It does all splatter a bit, I have a couple of burns on my arm at the moment. Other people will probably manage to avoid that 🙂
  • Add the rest of the ghee to the pan, and increase heat to high. Add the onions and stir all the time until light brown – you really don’t want a burnt taste, which is why you have to be diligent about the stirring.
  • Add the garlic and ginger, fry a couple more minutes.
  • Add all the spices. Stir quickly to mix thoroughly and add the tomatoes. Cook until it thickens and the fat begins to separate from the sauce, which will be about 10 minutes.
  • Add a cup of water, bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a high simmer and cover, leave for 20 minutes, stir now and again. Sahni cools and purees the sauce at this point. I don’t see the need, particularly as she calls for it to still have texture.
  • Now add the peas, paneer, salt and half a cup of water. Bring to boil, reduce to a good simmer again, cook covered until peas are done, this will take longer if the peas were fresh.
  • Let dish rest off the heat for an hour and then reheat thoroughly. Before serving, stir in garam masala and chopped coriander leaves.

I’m very happy to make more of this sauce and freeze it, with a view to being ready for the adding peas, paneer etc when you want this dish.

When you’ve run out of paneer and still have sauce left, try adding hard boiled eggs.

I was wondering, given that it seems in general best to avoid frying things, if it’s okay to do this recipe with paneer which hasn’t been fried first. Looking around, I see lots of people do and lots of people don’t. I note one recipe which says to soak the paneer in water AFTER it’s been fried, while  you are cooking the sauce. I think I’m going to try the non-fried version and if it all holds together, I’ll stick to that. And report back, of course.

Making paneer

I get into habits of making paneer and then, for no good reason, it’ll get benched, maybe for years. Lately it’s back in the arena. I use Julie Sahni’s general advice. There is a lot of fuss on some sites about milk being boiled to a particular point and gadgets for measuring that and so on. I don’t find it necessary, but I have no idea if being fussier would make better paneer.


  • 4 litres of full cream milk
  • for a starter lemon juice (but you can use yoghurt, or vinegar)
  • muslin or similar – not sure how to avoid this


  • Line a colander with the muslin so it overhangs the edges or thereabouts.
  • Bring the milk to the boil, stirring to stop it burning – well, that never works for me, there’s always a stuck on bottom at the end. When it is gently at the boil, add the starter. Apparently lemon juice gives a milder impact than the others suggested. Stir GENTLY, the curds will be forming as you do that. In fact, since I have an electric stove, I turn it off when I’m adding the lemon since it’s a quick procedure from there.
  • Tip into the colander.
  • Rinse thoroughly, this will cool down the curds.
  • Squeeze them in the muslin which you pick up by its ends.
  • Pack it into a flat shape (still in the muslin), put it on a chopping board and weigh it down with a saucepan of water.
  • After an hour or so, put it in the fridge.

It’s now firm and ready for next step. Which is for the next post.

By the way, if you want cottage cheese, I think that you simply bypass the process of firming this, so it stays soft the way cottage cheese is. Then you could do Western things with it, I expect.

So, you’ve made your paneer, now what to do with it. Frankly, I find it hard not to eat it all on the spot, it  has a fresh, sweet taste that you aren’t going to get from a commercial packet. But in practice you’ve invited vegetarians to dinner and the paneer has been purposed.  Recipe for that tomorrow.




The economy of chicken pieces

I prefer chicken pieces to whole chickens as I never feel like breast is indispensable. A packed of what Americans call Maryland pieces, 4 x thigh + drumstick, lasts two of us for several meals.

This last time I’ve made

  • Chicken salad with rocket, walnuts and apple in a yoghurt based dressing (no oil).
  • Japanese soup noodles
  • A variation on each of the above

Because I boil the chicken, I have a good quality stock to do something with as well. It was the basis for the soup noodles on this occasion.

Good quality chicken in Geneva is wildly expensive, so I use bog standard from Manor. (Although in Australia I buy organic, free range.) But that aside, best quality fruit, best quality nuts, and salad greens. I think you get more for your money if you have to make these choices.

And the salad dressing will be happy with types of things in the cupboard and the fridge. This time, some yoghurt, some cumquat chutney I’d brought back from Australia, a little Worcestershire sauce, a little Japanese rice vinegar, some English mustard powder mixed into a paste, and then the main dressing added to it slowly until it was thin enough to add to the dressing without it not mixing in properly. That was about it.

Stir-fry rice, Indian style

I often make this ‘everyday’ basmati rice and have leftovers. We did this with it tonight.


  • leftover everyday basmati rice (or similar)
  • best quality freshly seeded and chopped tomato – I used about 15 cherry tomatoes for 2 serves
  • chopped mint and flat leaf parsley
  • chopped pistachios


Gently stir-fry rice in a non-stick pan – no ghee/oil is needed as the rice was cooked in this in the first instance. Add other ingredients, continue stirring until all are heated through.

Serve with….

On the side

We had plain yoghurt to which was added coarsely grated and squeezed (to get rid of some of the liquid) cucumber, a finely chopped clover of garlic, salt, pepper and ground roasted cumin.


  • The rice dish is vegetarian, but it could happily have some chicken mixed into it.
  • And obviously variation of herbs and nuts is possible too.

Fabulous and a few minutes to make, given the rice is already done.

Trees in the City of Unley vs Geneva

I have been involved in a discussion lately about trees in Geneva – are there enough? Are they being cut down when they shouldn’t be? This will sound familiar to anybody living in Adelaide, but especially in my local area, where public trees are such an important part of the character of the neighbourhood.

My intuitive thought, based on living in both places, is that Geneva is a bit of a concrete jungle, but that it has magnificent parks. Unley, in contrast, has lovely street tree settings, but its public green areas are dire. They have little shade, no aesthetic aspect whatsoever. They are often totally utilitarian, there for sport and dogs. Anybody wanting a pleasurable experience of sitting in a beautiful green place need not apply.

Indeed, the facts bear this up. Geneva, being a typical medium density city, has an area of about 16 square kms with a population of 200K. The City of Unley has about 39K population in an area of 14 sq kms. Unley has 2728 persons/sq km, while Geneva has 12,000/sq km. Geneva has 40,000 public trees, whilst Unley has only 26,000.

However, the makeup of where those trees are, is incredibly different in the two areas and I think each could learn from the other. Geneva’s public trees are mostly in parks. Unley Council must do something about this. It’s such a shame that your green areas are the very opposite of the pleasing areas they should be. On the other hand, Unley has a huge number of street trees compared with Geneva: about 23,000 compared with 5,000 in Geneva. Thus the street scenes are all lovely in Unley – shady and verdant and utterly vital to making this part of Adelaide what it is.

This is not to suggest that the residents of the City of Unley have no obligations. We should all have as many trees as possible on our own property, but it all goes together. The beautiful gardens of the area are visually enhanced by the street trees. One has only to compare areas with nice gardens – eg the beach suburbs around Somerton Park – and no (or stunted) street trees to see the striking difference. The street trees give a continuity that makes the area one big garden. Maybe that explains why I often feel like I’m walking in the country when I’m walking down my street in Clarence Park.

Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear the idea expounded in Unley that trees on footpaths should be cut down so that people in wheel chairs can cruise around enjoying the gardens of the area – it’s their ‘right’. But take away the street trees and you’ve taken away a lot of the impact of the gardens too. They are symbiotic. And without the trees, there is not the shade which is crucial to walking around the area. This is not an option. In fact, noting that the Unley Council has put the occasional bench on streets in the area with signs saying that these are old people friendly, the very idea that benches have any purpose at all without being in shade is hard to understand. Ditto, one might add, for the CBD, where along North Terrace etc public seating places are rarely put where they can be used in summer/sun.

Thinking of my own back yard, something like 15M x 3M, I’m amazed at how many trees one can have in a small area and the fabulous visual, psychological and practical impact. The Unley Council should be a driving force in stepping up the process of increasing green tree coverage of public spaces, both streets and parks, and the local residents should be doing everything they can to facilitate and extend this into their private space. We should, in short, be a leader in making green matter.



Spaghetti with asparagus….

One of my staple sauces for spaghetti has long been the bacon/spinach/pinenuts concoction. Today we bought asparagus at the market and I have to say it is actually an improvement on an already fine dish.


  • asparagus, stems snapped, tops left whole and the nice part of the stem chopped into a few pieces and then into quarters longwise, if they are thin stems.
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • pine nuts toasted in a frying pan and not burnt (wish I’d remembered that today)
  • bacon or lard fumé if you are in some part of the world that doesn’t do bacon.
  • olive oil for cooking
  • best olive oil for serving
  • parmesan


While the spaghetti is cooking, fry the bacon or equivalent (pancetta is okay too) in olive oil, add the garlic and then the asparagus. You want all this to cook on a really gentle heat, maybe even off heat some of the time. When the spaghetti is boiled, drain and mix it thoroughly into the sauce, add the pine nuts.

Serve with black pepper ground at the table and parmesan. I found this a beautifully sweet dish, which perhaps did not even need cheese. We did add best olive oil at the table.