Paneer Akbari

This is a  long lost recipe that just came to my mind out of the blue leaving me really excited and nostalgic. This recipe belongs to my sister who is 7 years older to me, she plays the role of a multiple personality in my life- cares for me like a mother and is also a great friend who I can yell at (if needed). When I was a kid she used to make Paneer Akbari  as a treat during our summer holidays in this ancient looking oven that always, always gave us burnt fingers- I hated it so bad but thankfully being the youngest I wasn’t really allowed to touch that dangerous piece of electronic, I only got to watch and enjoy! I remember baking a cake in that oven used to be such a huge challenge and out of ten times we would only somewhat succeed once or twice. FUN MEMORIES though!!!

Paneer Akbari is a simple recipe that has pretty unique combination of flavors like okra and cottage cheese.  Even though I am not a big fan of it, Paneer or cottage cheese is a staple in India. There are very few dishes made out of cottage cheese that I actually like! It is strange for a vegetarian from India to not like cottage cheese- I do face weird looks upon expressing my lack of likeness towards the ingredient. In this dish however you only have to sprinkle a little on the top before baking.

This time when I made it, I realised that it is lot like a deconstructed  and simplified version of Biriyani. Since it is very rich in spices its good to serve it with raita (yoghurt dip) to balance it as a meal!

Things you will need:
1 medium red onion chopped
1 big tomato chopped
2 tbs tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
cottage cheese grated
okra 20 nos. cut into ringlets
1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice

2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chaat masala
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper

Cook rice with bay leaves in a rice cooker or in a pan. Saute onions in some oil- I always use olive oil, but feel free to use canola or any other vegetable oil. Once the onions start to turn transparent add ginger, cumin powder and red chili powder and stir for another min. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt and sugar. Cover and cook till it starts turning into a sauce like consistency, approx. 3 min. Add the tomato paste and the rest of the spices and cook for another minute or two. Add a little water if the sauce starts to get a bit too thick. In a baking dish put a layer of cooked rice, top it with a layer of the tomato sauce. Put a layer of okra on the tomato sauce and sprinkle some salt and pepper, it is important that you add salt and pepper to the okra at this stage because this is the only chance you will get to season the okra. Sprinkle the grated cottage cheese and sprinkle some more black pepper. Cover and bake in a preheated oven at 300 F for 15 min, uncover and bake for another 10 min or till the cottage cheese starts getting brown on the top. Take out from the oven, let cool for 10 min. Serve with raita, mango chutney and pickle, Enjoy!