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Mouthing Off

Say cheese: Because of Indian cooking's vegetarian focus--not to mention India's reverence for cows--dairy products are a big part of the Indian diet, with yogurt, homemade cheese and the clarified butter ghee supplying a major portion of protein. The cheese chenna, made from boiled, curdled milk, and the pressed version, paneer, are so easy to make at home that any self-respecting Indian-food fanatic should have some on hand all the time. Once you do, all that's necessary for a quick, authentic, healthy Indian meal is to whip up a curry and steam some basmati rice.

The following recipes for Indian cheese have to be followed exactly to ensure success; splurge for a lemon rather than using who-knows-how-old bottled juice, and don't be tempted to save on fat by using skim milk.

Chenna
2 quarts whole milk
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Brink milk to a rolling boil in a large, heavy saucepan, stirring constantly to keep it from sticking or boiling over. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Put pan back on low heat and stir until the curds separate from the whey (the whey is a faint yellow; the curds are white), about twenty seconds. Place a colander over a bowl and line the colander with cheesecloth. Pour contents of the pan into the colander and let drain until curds cool. Wrap cheesecloth around curds and gently squeeze until no more liquid comes out. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Paneer
Put chenna back into the colander and press down to flatten it; place a heavy item, such as a saucepan filled with water or a thick cookbook, on top of the cheese and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour--the longer it sits, the firmer it gets. Wrap it and keep it in the refrigerator (it'll hold up for at least two weeks). Cut the paneer in squares to cook.

Paneer Curry
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
3/4 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 dried red chiles, soaked, drained and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
3 curry leaves, or 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 cups paneer, cubed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chile powder (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Heat ghee or oil in large skillet over medium-high and saute onion, garlic, chiles, ginger and curry for three to four minutes. Add paneer and peas and toss until cheese begins to turn golden, three to four minutes more. Add spices and toss to coat cheese; add tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Spoon over steamed basmati rice. Serves 2.

Tandoor mercies: If you want Indian food in more elegant surroundings than you'll find at India Palace (reviewed on the previous page), Delhi Darbar, at 1514 Blake Street, still serves up an impressive lunch buffet for $5.95. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that the restaurant has been in business for over a decade, back when lower downtown had yet to be dubbed LoDo--and long before the current shakeout in eateries in that neighborhood. Across the street, the spot at 1525 Blake that had been occupied by the Firehouse Bar & Grill until a few weeks ago is already turning into a Denver incarnation of Rio Grande, the Mexican restaurant that packs them in at 1101 Walnut in Boulder. LoDo might be a tougher market, though, particularly since Las Delicias III (there are five altogether) plans to stay put for now at 1530 Blake--the landlord can't find any takers willing to pay the huge rent he'd like to collect at that address. Would-be restaurateurs have plenty of other already empty spots they can choose from in the area, given the recent closings of Hi Ricky and Larry Walker's at Union Station.

But no doubt someone will come along to fill them--and probably soon. According to the National Restaurant Association, Colorado will be number one (tied with Texas) in restaurant-industry growth in 1999. Forget finding people to eat at all those restaurants--first the restaurants need to find people willing to work at them. To aid in this quest, the Colorado Restaurant Association hosted another job fair this past week designed to lure people away from other industries. Still, the situation is getting dire--which means service will continue to be dreadful in all too many eateries. I hear from restaurants every day that are dropping lunch, cutting hours and begging for employees.

Two restaurants recently managed to hire new chefs, although for the Brown Palace (321 17th Street), it was a rehire: Former sous chef Mark Black is back as the executive chef. Chives American Bistro (1120 East Sixth Avenue) nabbed Papillon's former chef du partie, Alex Samir Aniba. His new menu looks great--it's more strongly Asian-influenced and a little gutsier than what Chives had been offering. Cliff Young, who swears he's moving to France any day now, is working in the meantime as general manager of Pacific Star (1735 Lawrence Street), which is owned by his pal Bobby Rifkin.

Slice of life: National Pie Day is January 23, and that's when you should head to Boulder for the Fifth Annual National Pie Championships, which will be held at the Hotel Boulderado, 2115 13th Street. (Call 303-442-2911 for more information.)

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