Paneer Pioneer

One of the favorite foods of my childhood was chhanar dalna - a uniquely Bengali way of making paneer (a kind of Indian ricotta, if you must know) with nt tastes of ginger and cinnamon. Making paneer at home (yes, there was a time in the far past when you had no choice) was fairly laborious and longwinded, so this wasn't made all that often - which, of course, made it all the more desireable. When I grew up, gained control of my own kitchen and discovered that paneer now came vacuum sealed at the local grocery - requiring only a credit card and some basic unwrapping technique - I decided to indulge.

It was easier said than done, though. I cooked paneer often and made some nice (even great) stuff, but for some strange reason the real chhanar dalna thing continued to elude me. Paneer korma, no problem. Saag paneer, no problem. Paneer bhurji, no problem. Chhanar dalna...somehow it never tasted correct. Edible wasn't the issue here- once you learn the basics almost everything comes out edible - the problem was making it taste like my mother's. It was too cumin, too gingery, not enough cinnamon, or sometimes simply, frustratingly boring. She would come and use the very same kitchen to perfect result, but I at the helm somehow failed to yield the classical chhanar dalna (even with her peering over my shoulder). The thing could not be complicated - it's a ginger-cumin with cinnamon and clove - but there was obviously some delicate al balance involved that eluded me.

That is, till yesterday. It's still a ginger-cumin gravy, but I am now the zen master of the chhana cosmos. The paneer was seven days old, potatoes were canned and the peas underdone but the gravy - ah, for once, it tasted exactly the way it should. That mediumyellow colour, that perfect balance of sweet-sharp-hot, the clinging-grainy-soupy sauce, the wafting aromas of ginger-cinnamon-clove ...

Yes, I overate it all.

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