"Oh you are so lucky!" was what everyone exclaimed when I'd give them the address of where we lived. It was always an easy address to remember, in any country we were living in at that time. Hotel & Resort xxx. The advantages of being a hoteliers daughter - not having a house to call home but a whole hotel. I did not really realize the power of this fact until I actually started school.
Somehow having a beach, a few pools, restaurants, all kinds of sporting activities at my fingertips quickly advanced me to the top of the most popular lists in any of the schools I was visiting. I loved it - my brother not so. I was 8-12, still impressionable and did not understand that these advantages or lists did not acquire the best or the most loyal sorts of friends one would have hoped to secure.
For my parents it was always a balance act. Now that I am a parent myself, I can imagine it must have been a difficult task to convey the message when one was living a life of double standards. On one hand we were "like every other normal child", but we just had to look around at our surroundings and saw that we were not. I did not know many normal kids who had a kitchen called Room Service.
For my brother and myself it was the most natural thing and we grew up without any expected airs of being better than others. My mother made sure of that. So, while we had our own hotel room each, we still were in charge of clearing up the mess we left. Yes, the housekeeping made our beds and made sure we had fresh towels everyday, but just like every other child it was our responsibility to pick up after ourselves. Yes, we were spoilt by the pastry chef who always had a sweet treat ready for us when we got "home" from school, but my mum also made sure that the mini bar was not ladened with chocolates and sweet drinks but with fruit and healthy snacks.
My parents did a brilliant job with those double standards, and while we knew there was something special in the way we were growing up, we were very much kept within our boundaries, in fact even more so because of our situation, by both of them.
I wasn’t much older than Soeren, maybe 8 years old. One day I had just returned from school, it happened rarely, but I found myself alone in my room. My mum seemed to be out and the nanny was not around. It was lunch time and nothing was ordered. So, having seen my parents do this several times, I picked up the phone, dialed room service. Just as I had seen my dad and mum, I announced my name and informed them of my room number. I then proceeded to order every item on the menu, reading the menu back to front without stopping.
A few minutes later the nanny appeared and soon there was a knock on the door, as she opened the door, she was surprised, or maybe it was shock, to see 5 or 6 waiters pushing 5 or 6 trolleys in front of them loaded with the food I had ordered from the menu! Unfortunately for us my mum came back before we could hide or eat up all the evidence.
My mother visited the room service manager that day and asked how was it possible that an 8 year old girl order the whole menu and not even one person on the entire staff object. The answer was close at hand – they were obliged to do so due to the position my dad had at the hotel. My mother was stumped! What happened to using common sense?
That day the lesson I was taught by my parents was to use my common sense despite what others think!
One of the disadvantages, and there certainly were a few, of living in a hotel was the fact that there came a point when you could not bear to look at the menu in any of the restaurants or room service. The food literally hung out of our throats. Too fine, too rich and too fancy – there were often times when we just craved the simple and the homey. At times like these it was good that my dad was in the position he was in, for my mum could simply walk into an unused part of the kitchen, get her ingredients and begin working her magic.
Mutter paneer is an all-time favorite of mine. This popular North Indian dish is often found in Indian restaurants around the world but nothing compares to the way my mother would make it.
Mutter paneer is basically a flavorful vegetarian dish made of soft homemade Indian cheese called paneer, which is lightly pan friend then added to a spiced gravy with peas and tomatoes.
In this recipe I’ve adapted my mother’s recipe over the years and instead of a thin gravy, I have created a creamier version, with an intensive fruity flavored tomato sauce, which coats the soft homemade paneer.
Printable version of recipe here
250g paneer, cut into cubes
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 inch thick piece of ginger, roughly cut
3 large cloves garlic
1 green chili
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
250g chunky tomato passata
2 teaspoon garam masala
300g fresh or frozen peas, if using frozen do not thaw them
pinch of sea salt
handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- To pan-fry the paneer cubes heat a small glug of oil in a skillet to medium and place the paneer cubes in a single layer. Cook them, turning occasionally until all the surfaces is a light golden color. Carefully remove the cheese cubes and allow the drain on kitchen paper towels. Set aside.
- Pulse together onion, garlic, ginger and chili in a food processor until finely pureed.
- Pour a drizzle of oil into a saucepan and heat to medium-high. Sprinkle the black cumin seeds and bay leaf and cook for approx 6-8 seconds, until the cumin seeds are fragrant and turn slightly brown.
- Add the onion-garlic mixture and stir-fry for approx. 6 minutes until the mixture takes one a reddish golden color.
- Pour the passata and mix. Lower the heat to medium, then add the garam masala and salt. Allow to simmer covered for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and simmer for another 5 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick.
- Add about 50ml of water, then the peas and stir. Simmer for another 8 minutes or until the peas are tender. Keep an eye on the consistency of the gravy. If you find it is becoming too dry add a few tablespoons of water.
- Fold in the cream, then finally add the paneer and allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Serve sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves. Is perfect with naans or pitas and even better with a light pilaf.
The Food Guide Tips:
- Make your own homemade paneer
- Find out everything about the Indian spice kitchen
While my mother’s version is based on the classic Punjabi style of making mutter paneer, what I like about my version is that the gravy is thicker and heavily coats the paneer, so each bite of the cheese is accompanied by a plethora of incredible flavors. Paneer itself is fairly bland and flavorless, but with a rich and full bodied tasting gravy it adds a heavenly highlight. The sauce itself is fruity and tangy and wonderfully aromatic and must be wiped clean with morsels of rotis.
This is a perfect side dish and can be accompanied by any of your favorite Indian flatbreads. It works well with a creamy butter chicken for a more elaborate meal.
Delicious Indian curries from WFLH:
|Coconut Potato Curry with Basil & Cashews||Chicken Tikka Masala||Egg Curry in a Creamy Coconut Gravy|
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