There’s no real stone-fruit season in Chennai. Sure, you have those few weeks around this time every year that you get plums, peaches and if you’re lucky, cherries and nectarines. But other than plums and the odd batch of rock-hard peaches that come from nearby hill stations, stores rely solely on produce from other states and abroad.
Either way, I wait eagerly for this time of year. If the fruits are not good enough to sink your teeth into, cooking is a great way to bring out their flavours. And more so if they’re adamant about not ripening even after you’ve pulled every trick in the book—wrapping them in newspaper, in rice, bunging them into a bag with an avocado—I’ve tried it all.
Roasting or grilling is almost always my chosen method to get around this. Quick to toss in salads or a dessert (crumble! crisp!), or even served alongside some chicken for a light lunch. The inspiration to use paneer came from a Cypriot dish that used grilled peaches with Halloumi. Halloumi is not the easiest to come by, and besides, it’s always nice to use a local alternative if you can find one. I’ll say this though – paneer has the tendency to quickly dry out and turn rubbery. So use the best quality you can find and also fry them up just before serving; the rest of the salad can be made ahead if that’s easier for you.
Halve the plums and roast them with orange zest and juice. (The stones are usually a pain to wrangle out so do this when they’ve cooked and softened.) The plums will leach out some of their juices into the orange juice upon roasting, turning what will essentially become the dressing, into the most vibrant candy pink. Look at it!
Stir in shallots, olive oil, honey, pepper and salt into this plum-orange juice and spoon over everything. I realize there is no dearth of salads with large slabs of cheese on my page these days, but this one was especially good. And I know I’ll be making it until the wee end of stone-fruit season.
ROASTED PLUM AND PANEER SALAD
- 4 large plums or 6-8 small ones
- 125 grams paneer
- 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon ground pepper
- Salt, to taste
- Lettuce or salad greens, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Halve the plums. Zest the orange with a grater. Get only the top layer without grating into the white pith underneath. Place the plums and zest in a small baking dish and squeeze the orange over them. Cover with foil and roast for 20 mins, or until the plums are tender without falling apart.
- Once cool enough to handle, pit the plums and slice each half into 3-4 wedges. Add the shallots, honey, olive oil, pepper and salt to the orange juice leftover in the dish. This is your dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Slice the paneer into thin slabs. Pan-fry them until golden and blistered on both sides.
- Dress the lettuce with half the dressing. Top with paneer and plums and spoon over the remaining dressing. Serve immediately. If you’re making this in advance, fry the paneer just before serving; the rest of the salad can be made ahead.