Anyone who loves Indian food is sure to have eaten paneer or vegetables cooked in butter-masala sauce. Of course it is aromatic, with all those spices doing a tango in there. And yes, it boasts a vibrant golden color, thanks to that Indian kitchen essential, turmeric. But what is it that imparts the incredible richness and melt-in-the-mouth texture?
Butter and/or cream? Only to an extent.
The real star in most cases, be it Paneer Makhni (cottage cheese in a rich creamy gravy), Malai Kofta (vegetable or cottage cheese balls stuffed with dried fruit in a thick creamy sauce) is a cream-colored comma-shaped nut…
You guessed it: cashew nut!
The standard way to cook the basic North-Indian-style gravy/curry/sauce is this:
You heat some vegetable oil, add finely chopped onions, followed by minced garlic and ginger, finely chopped tomatoes and turmeric-coriander-chilli powder, adding salt to taste. You keep stirring and cooking this until the vegetables form a thick mass and the oil leaves the sides of the paste.
But this is only the homely, simple way. When guests are invited, or when eating out in a restaurant, we add a touch of glamour to this version by tossing in some cashew nut paste.
Cashew nut paste is easily prepared. You soak ½ cup cashew nuts in 3/4 cup of hot water for about 15 minutes. Then you grind the cashew nuts in a blender.
This rich, thick paste does a wonderful job of melding the vegetables together. Plus, the gold of turmeric is now mellowed with a lovely creamy color, and the masala has acquired an irresistibly delicate flavor!
Bonus: cashews pack in a wealth of minerals and vitamins. Although high in calories, they contain “heart-friendly” monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids that help to lower our bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol. In my next post, I’ll jot down some exciting ideas and recipes starring cashew nuts.
Meanwhile, I invite you to try a cashew nut masala sauce in your kitchen tonight!