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On Spinach and Paneer Stew
Subhash Batra

Late in December, my wife Betty and I were eating in the Pub at Carolina Meadows with a few friends.  Jody (the Executive Chef) came over for a chat. Among other things he asked me to GO EASY ON HIM next month when the new menu would roll out. He said it would include a new item called “spinach and cheese stew,” which would contain Paneer (Indian cheese) cubed and browned (satayed) with cooked and pureed spinach seasoned with a small amount of Garam Masala (one of many Indian spice mixtures). I said,” You are describing the Saag Paneer, why not call it so?” Jody replied, “That will sound Indian and will discourage some residents from ordering it fearing it will be spicy.”  (My take on “spicy” a bit later)

Two weeks later, it was on the menu. I ordered it, liked it and told Jody so. A few days later another resident, Judy Tilson, asked me if I had tried it, and if I liked it. I said, “yes.” She said Hugh (Tilson) ordered it the night before and loved it. She asked if I would l write a blog about this dish and my other experiences in our dinning venues.

Sorry, I do not do blogs—too much responsibility. But I will share some of my thoughts. I admire Chef Jodi’s effort, which was especially encouraged by the VP of Dining Services Todd Ohle, to introduce some ethnic recipes. In that quest, Jodi has introduced some Indian inspired dishes. Barring a few mishaps, he has done a good/great job. As a pescatarian, (I eat fish, no meat) my recent dining/eating experiences in CM have gradually improved since Jody’s arrival, despite some occasional disappointments. I hope Jodi and Tod will continue this effort. It is vital to make CM ethnically diverse—two Indians are not enough. I hope to see some fish (not catfish) tikka masala, and the like. While I cannot partake of the chicken tikka masala, offered by Jody and team, many residents tell me they have enjoyed it.  I also enjoy Japanese, Chinese and Thai offerings, except when the sauces are syrupy sweet—sadly often. With apologies to some, I do not enjoy boiled or steamed vegetables as sides. But recent satayed spinach with a touch of garlic was refreshing. A similar treatment to the mixed beans, with, at least, a TOUCH of salt added during cooking, would go a long way to make them appealing. And so on.

Back to my take on “spicy.” Almost always in US kitchens the word spicy stands for peppery hot. To me that is sad. I consider most Italian food flavored with herbs as spicy but not “hot.” The same goes for good Spanish or French cuisine. Most spices added in North India, without red pepper (or chilies), if used appropriately can add good taste and amazing flavors; and yes  you have to use SOME salt and cook (briefly) the spices in at least some fat (good fats). In addition, onions, garlic, cilantro are wonderful flavor enhancers.

The spices in India have been used in local cuisine because they are also natural medicines for many ORDINARY ailments. Only recently (20-30 years??) has the Western world has discovered the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric (for centuries used in everyday food in south east Asia). Much the same can be said about cinnamon, onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, and so on. Food as medicine is NOW becoming the latest mantra in Western Medicine.

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