Sweet dreams are made of cheese
Who am I to diss a brie?
I cheddar the world and the feta cheese
Everybody’s looking for stilton
-A perfectly cheesy parody of this classic song
A good cheese plate is a go-to staple when entertaining or even for a simple night-in. But where I have been stumped in the past is where is the easy cheese plate equivalent when serving an Indian meal? (Note: Indian hors d'oeuvres are typically as labor intensive (if not more) than the entrees themselves and therefore the last thing I want to make in addition to the meal.) To remedy this, I put together an Indian inspired platter that is still a basic cheese plate but incorporates in some Indian flavors and items. What definitely made this a bit more challenging is that cheese is not typically a part of Indian cuisine (with the exception of paneer..more on that later), so it does take a little bit of creativity and a few specialty items.
Like with any cheese plate, you want to stick to your basic cheese board principles by including a variety of textures and flavors which typically includes: one aged cheese, one soft cheese, one firm cheese and one blue cheese. Then you can add in your various accompaniments which include seasonal fruit, sweet preserves or honey and savory snacks like nuts or cured meats. Here's what I tried, but really there are endless possibilities.
Soft cheese—Paneer: Paneer is really the only true, Indian cheese. Commonly used in Indian dishes (yum..saag paneer), it is usually cooked but can also be enjoyed on its own. You can either make your own paneer (it's surprisingly easy) or pick it up at your local Indian grocery store or Whole Foods. Paneer's taste is super mild: so if you are serving it on your platter you want to drizzle some olive oil on top and some sea salt and pepper and have a savory accompaniment for it. I decided to make a spicy, Indian eggplant spread (recipe below) and served it with Trader Joe's brioche toasts. The result was like a delicious eggplant-paneer curry tartine. (If you are a paneer purist and you are appalled at the thought of eating paneer raw, grilled paneer would work just as well)
Blue cheese—Stilton: A good, pungent cheese like Stilton always pairs nicely with a sweet jam or honey. So, I just used a jarred sweet mango chutney (or try this homemade version) to add some Indian flavor but also complement the cheese. You could also try making a tomato chutney to pair with it and it would be equally as delicious.
Firm cheese—Chai BellaVitano: To add some variety, I chose a hard, cow milk's cheese with a nutty, fruity flavor. The Indian twist is that the cheesemaker, Sartori, hand-coats a blend of Chai spices including black tea, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves on the edible rind. (The Balsamic BellaVitano is just as tasty. The cheese is immersed in a balsamic vinegar.)
Other traditional options: Mimolette, Manchego
Aged cheese—Mahon Reserva: Honestly, you could go with any of your favorite aged cheeses here. I just went to my favorite local cheese shop, Scardello and asked for a recommendation from one of their reserves. Just remember to balance out the flavors from the other cheeses. So, I picked this Spanish cheese because it it is a little sweet and buttery but also sharp.
Other traditional options: Aged cheddar, Comte
Accompaniments: In addition to the mango chutney and spicy eggplant spread, I added some fruit and savory snacks. For some western flair, a cheese board regular: toasted marcona almonds (I used rosemary garlic ones) and for some easter flair, Indian snacks like the Indian chex-mix: Haldiram's Khatta Meeta.
Other great Indian flavor options would be curry flavored salami or pistachios.
Spicy Eggplant spread (a variation of this recipe)
1 medium eggplant (sliced in half)
1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tbs. grated garlic
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander powder
1/4 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 medium tomato, diced
1 green pepper (jalapeño, serrano, etc), minced
1/4 tsp. red chile powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1. Roast the eggplant in the oven at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes (or until soft).
2. After the eggplant is roasted, let it cool, and scoop out the meat into a bowl.
3. In a pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
4. Add the cumin and let it cook for about 30 seconds. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for about 5 minutes.
5. Add the coriander powder, garam masala, and turmeric and cook for 5 minutes.
6. Add the roasted eggplant meat, tomato and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chile powder and salt and stir to combine.
7. Turn off the heat and blend the mixture together using an immersion blender or use a regular blender.
The dip can be served warm or room temperature.
A few other (very) basic cheese plate tips: Remember to take out your cheese from the refrigerator about an hour before serving so that the flavor is not muted. Keep your stinkiest cheese (yes, that's you Stilton) as far away from the other cheese (you may even consider putting it on a separate board). Have several cheese knives (ideally one per cheese and spread). To make a pretty cheese plate, arrange the cheese with the cut side out. To finish the plate, fill in the spaces with your accompaniments, different types of crackers or bread and put your largest element like fruit, in the middle. For an extra pretty plate, Barefoot Contessa makes some gorgeous cheese plates and she recommends adding lemon leaves to add a touch of greenery.
Image source: SD