Kosha was my first friend. Our mothers met as recent immigrants from
living in the same apartment complex. I still remember holding Kosha's hand at
Peach Tree preschool, as we played together in the pretend house. We consulted each
other on all major decisions like whether she should ask for Lite Brite or
dress up high heels for her birthday. We started kindergarten together, best friends. And
then her family moved to the other side of town. For a seven year old, it felt like the other side of the planet.
Years later, we ended up at the same middle school. It was as if no time had passed. We jumped right back into our friendship, spending entire afternoons on the phone, doors locked against intruders (or little sisters). There were important things to discuss. How we were going to pass chemistry, who was dating who, what we were going to wear to the semiformal. And, the times when we were feeling particularly thoughtful, we talked about what our futures might hold.
Like most childhood friends, we were over at each other's houses all the time. When my mom came to pick me up, she and Kosha's mom would catch up over a hot cup of masala chai. My mom relished the chance to sit down and chat with an old friend.
three four decades later, Kosha and I are
still the best of friends. We're close to the age now that our mothers were back when we were in middle school.
Looking back, I'm amazed at how much they accomplished, with so little help and so far from home. Kosha's mom worked full time, just like mine. My mom cooked dinner in the evenings, after work. So it always intrigued me that Kosha's mom finished all of her cooking early in the morning, before work.
|you can find pre-fried frozen paneer|
at any Indian grocery store
Kosha's family is strict vegetarian. When I stayed over for dinner, I always hoped for (and often requested) mattar paneer, a tasty dish of peas in a fragrant and flavorful curry, strewn with pieces of mild Indian cheese. I've tried to recreate it here. It's good. But not as good the mattar paneer I grew up eating at my best friend's house.
Cook paneer until golden brown. If using pre-fried, frozen paneer, as I did, then just defrost.
Gather your whole spices.
And ground spices.
Stir fry bay leaf, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon stick in hot oil.
Add ground cumin, chili powder, turmeric, coriander and garam masala.
Add a bit of water, and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
Add ginger and let it cook for a minute.
Then add peas and paneer.
Give everything a good stir until the peas and paneer are coated in the spices.
Then add water.
Cover and simmer until the peas are cooked, the paneer is heated through, and the gravy thickens a bit.
Serve hot with chapatti or over rice.
India: The Cookbook
2/3 cup canola oil (reduce the amount if using pre-fried paneer, as I did)
1 lb paneer, cut into cubes
1 bay leaf
2 black cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, about 1 inch long
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
1 2/3 cup peas (I used frozen)
salt, to taste
1. Heat the oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add the paneer and fry for about 5 minutes, until golden brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. (I used pre-fried frozen paneer, so I skipped this step.)
2. Reheat the oil in the same pan, add the bay leaf and whole spices and fry for about 1 minute, or until they are fragrant and change color.
3. Add the ground spices. Season with salt and pour in 4 tablespoons of water. Stir-fry over medium heat for 2 minutes.
4. Add the ginger. Stir for a minute. Then add paneer, peas, and 2 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, then simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the peas are cooked. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Serves 4 to 6