Quick White Cheese Sauce

One of the most well-traveled and well-known dishes is definitely pasta. Its versatility and simplicity has made it popular in almost all countries. Pizzas and pastas have become something that you know you can always depend on. They can be modified to your taste and are always fresh. I love how pasta is interpreted in so many ways. Every city I go to, it has a different taste. In the US, pasta is a rich, creamy dish that is almost like a staple in every household. The pasta is usually cooked al-dente and the sauces have beautiful flavors coming through it. In the UK, the flavors are lighter and I often feel the need to add a dash of pepper on the table and as most Indians need, the spice element. In India, depending on the city and the restaurant, you have so much variety. In the Little Italy chain of restaurants across India, you have somewhat authentic pasta. After trying some other Italian restaurants, I have come to realize that the food served in their restaurants definitely have a strong Indian influence.  Dario’s in Pune makes more authentic Italian food with fresh ingredients. It has definitely become my favorite place if I am ever craving some nice pasta! I may have been to the wrong restaurant but in Ahmedabad, India, their understanding of pasta is a dish filled with cheese. Honestly, not my favorite kind of meal!

 

Making a white cheese sauce was one of the first recipes I ever adapted and learnt. I used to make a giant mess while making a white sauce from flour and butter and milk. It would always be lumpy or burnt. What trick I did learn later was to take the melted butter and flour mixture off the heat and gradually add milk. I started whisking the milk in instead of trying to mix it in with a wooden spoon. I also learnt that if it does lump up, take a hand beater to it or put it in a blender, after its cooled, to get rid of the lumps.

 

This white-cheese sauce is a take on a traditional Alfredo sauce, though it is not at all technically like an Alfredo sauce. I am confident this sauce has a lower fat content but probably the same calories as an Alfredo. This sauce requires 2 separate pans for the two sauces.

 

Sauce 1: The basic white sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil

3 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1 – 1.5 cups milk

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

 

Method:

  • Heat the butter or oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Once hot, add the whole-wheat flour and stir constantly using a wooden spoon for about 1 minute.
  • Once the flour has browned slightly, take the pan off the heat and pour 1 cup of the milk in. Whisk briskly to make sure there are no lumps. If the mixture seems to thick, slowly add the rest of the milk, while whisking constantly.
  • Return the mixture to the heat. Allow it to boil for 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly.
  • Add the crushed garlic, salt and pepper and reduce the flame to low. Allow it to cook for another 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

 

Sauce 2: Cheese-Herb Sauce

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons plain cheese spread
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried chilly flakes
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

 

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a non-stick pan on a medium flame. Add all the dried herbs and pepper and allow the oil to become flavorsome for just under a minute.
  • Reduce the flame to low. Add the cheese spread and allow it to melt. Be sure to constantly stir it and mix all the herbs in the cheese.
  • Once the cheese has melted, add all the milk and stir. Make sure there are no lumps.

 

Proceed:

  • Once the 2nd mixture is ready, add the white sauce mix to the cheese-herb sauce and mix well.
  • Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

 

Your quick sauce is ready! Toss your favorite pasta in this mix!

 

I spice it up by adding some tobacco or peri-peri sauce once it’s cooked. Alternately, substitute the ½ cup of milk in the cheese-herb sauce with ½ cup of white wine to give a different flavor. Feel free to add more herbs or change the herbs based on your taste!

 

Some variations:

  • Add some corn to this mixture and allow it to thicken a little more and fill in canapés.
  • Use only the cheese-herb sauce and throw in some finely chopped button mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to sweat and then for the mixture to thicken. Once thick, spread over toast and you have mushrooms on toast ready!
  • I use the cheese-herb sauce in risotto recipes as well.

Happy cooking!

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Shahi Paneer Recipe – The Low-Cal version!

I love paneer. It is a very common Indian farmer’s cheese in India and is often called ‘farmer’s cottage cheese’ in menu descriptions in restaurants across India. I decided to do some research and discovered  a few differences between paneer and cottage cheese:

  • Cottage cheese is salted while paneer is unsalted
  • Paneer is usually ‘pressed’ to give it a firm shape. Cottage cheese is not pressed and is left ‘chunky’
  • Cottage cheese is made using milk that has been curdled using ‘rennet’ while to make paneer, the milk is curdled using lemon/lime juice or some citric acid.

I can’t decide if the restaurants’ menu descriptions are right or wrong. What do you think?

Any ways, paneer is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and if it is made with low-fat milk and is not fried, it is a very healthy milk product. Nutritionists in India tend to recommend it to vegetarians to help improve their protein intake. It’s great for growing children and the taste is wonderful so they tend to lap it up. My brother and I love it and we have to order something which has paneer in it when we go to an Indian restaurant!

Since I started working, I have very little time to go out and eat and I tend to cook a few of my favorite foods at home like this Shahi Paneer. Shahi literally means royal and this dish, traditionally is made with cream, fried paneer pieces and exotic spices like bay leaves, cardamom, cashew nuts and some saffron. Now, if I did put all those ingredients in my version of the Shahi Paneer and I ate it 2 times a week, my nutritionist would throw me out of her office. Here is my low cal version of the same dish. All the delicious flavors, fewer calories and a lower fat content.

Shahi Paneer – The Low Cal Way

Ingredients:

  1. Paneer – 200 gms; cut in cubes
  2. Ginger – 1/2″ grated
  3. Garlic – 2 to 3 cloves, chopped finely
  4. 2 tomatoes – chopped
  5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (haldi)
  6. 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (adjust to your tastes)
  7. 1 teaspoon cardamom (eliachi) powder
  8. 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  9. 1/2 teaspoon jeera (cumin seed) powder
  10. 1 teaspoon jeera (cumin) seeds
  11. 1-2 bay leaves
  12. a small pinch of nutmeg powder
  13. Salt, to taste
  14. 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  15. 1 cup yogurt, beaten
  16. 1/2 cup milk (slightly warmed)
  17. 2 teaspoons of oil (if using a non stick vessel)

Steps:

  • Heat the oil in a non stick wok on a medium flame for a minute and add the bay leaves. Once the leaves begin crackling, add the cumin and cardamom seeds to it. Wait for the seeds to start releasing their flavors, about 15 seconds if the oil is hot enough
  • Add the ginger and garlic and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes to the wok and mix them in well with the cumin seeds, ginger and garlic. Cover and allow to cook for 5 minutes, checking periodically on them. Add the tomato ketchup to the tomatoes and let it cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Once the tomatoes are nice and soft, add the turmeric powder, chilli powder, garam masala, cumin seed powder and the nutmeg powder. Stir them all in. If the mixtures looks very dry, add half a cup of water and allow to cook for 3 more minutes.
  • Next add the yogurt to the tomato-masala mix and let it boil for 5-7 minutes.
  • Once the yogurt mixture has reduced, add the cubes of paneer. You can deep fry them if you like, but since I like to keep it low cal, I use the paneer raw.
  • Turn the heat off and add the milk. Stir and serve immediately.

Notes:

– I don’t eat onions (don’t like the taste) which is why I have omitted them in this recipe. You will not find onions in most of the recipes I will post. But feel free to use 1 onion, finely chopped and fried in the oil before adding the tomatoes. Allow the onions to turn transparent and then add the tomatoes.

– You can make a richer version of this dish by using 1/2 cup of cashew nut paste. Add it to the tomato mixture and use    water (1.5 cups) to dilute it. Reduce the quantity of yogurt to 1/2 cup of completely omit it.

– You can also add some cream instead of milk if you are making it for a special occasion or if you just want to indulge yourself! 🙂

Happy cooking and let me know how your Shahi Paneer turns out! 😀