I love cooking. If I didn’t have to do the dishes, I would end up cooking every other night. But, my tiredness from when I return from work, and said dislike for doing the dishes lends an air of purpose to my cooking sessions. These are the times when I don’t limit myself to something as simple as pasta or rice. Some of my favorite ingredients to use are mushrooms, tofu, and paneer (Indian cottage cheese). This is about one such time when I ended up with a surprise rendition of paneer.
When I used to share an apartment with the roommate, our joint grocery sessions would always involve generous stocking of the refrigerator with these. A particularly tiring day and a fully stocked refrigerator made me want to try out a spicy paneer and mushroom dish to accompany boiled brown rice. While the rice itself was very plain and easy to make, I went all ahead with the paneer. I took out spices from the racks that I hadn’t used in a while, cut up mushrooms into really thin slices, and used the stems to make stock instead of just throwing them away. The fact that fresh paneer was brought from the dairy instead of the frozen cubes made me warm. It’s not that I don’t like the frozen paneer we so easily get in the supermarkets, they just don’t stand on the same level as soft, fresh paneer straight from the dairy.
Slightly less than hour later, I was at the dining table staring at the dinner spread. A plate of cut vegetables with lemon juice sprinkled upon it, a small pot of starchy steaming hot brown rice, and a pan of the best damn paneer and mushroom gravy that I could have made. I picked the lid off the pan and just stared at it. I confess that it looked beautiful. A thick, brown, liquid broth in which swam tiny pieces of onions and tomatoes, as chunks of soft paneer gently floated to the top, joined by thin slices of button mushrooms. Thin wafts of steam were coming off the surface as a handful of cumin seeds (jeera) stood in abandon.
The cumin seeds were a nice touch. Their presence added more substance to a picture that would have otherwise felt incomplete. I remember to not have planned on using them, but it felt a very happy accident to have them. Something felt different about them though. Not just that I wouldn’t normally use them, they didn’t seem to look like normal cumin seeds. They were missing the multiple ridges that run across their length.
I then realized that I actually did not have cumin in the house, having finished my stock in the previous week. A brought a spoon full of it up to examine, only to realize that they were little beetles. The pests had infested a particular old batch of spice that I hadn’t used for quite some time. My feeling of joy at having made such a wonderful dish, was soon turned to disgust. I had almost ended up having bug broth for dinner. With Gusto.
With a feeling of relief that I had observed it before eating, I threw away the star item of my dinner. I made do with mixing a large spoonful of Chinese sauce with the rice, and a lesson to pay more attention to how I store and handle my spices.