Cows in India are sacred. They are the ‘mother’ animal. The milk they give sustains, and blesses, and therefore, cows are not on the menu. What is on the menu is an astounding variety of dairy products. Yogurts, both sweet or plain are popular. Different recipes for Lassi are found in every home, and then of course the various sweets made with dairy. From creamy Kalakand, to spongy Rasgullas, and the famous Bengali Sandesh, sweets in many textures and flavors are frequently on the menu. One of the staples of the Indian household is Paneer, an easily made Indian cheese. If you have ever eaten Haloumi, you will have a fairly good idea what texture to expect with Paneer. Paneer is used to make recipes such as the one I will be posting today, it is also used to make sweets (when kept in different texture called ‘chenna’, such as Rasgulla, Sandesh, etc. While you can buy Paneer at your Indian grocer, I prefer to make it fresh myself. Or more honestly, I refuse to eat paneer I didnt make myself. I find commercially made paneer disagreeable in both flavor and texture. In fact, until a few months ago, I refused to cook or eat paneer. That is because I didn’t make my own paneer, and I didn’t have a good recipe. Then upon the requests of several friends, I agreed to cook an Indian vegetarian dinner. And of course, paneer had to be in it. I made fresh paneer (because I was to lazy to drive to the next town and visit our Indian grocer), and found a recipe I felt I could live with.
Imagine my surprise when I tasted the dish I had just cooked and loved it. I am forty something and hated paneer all my life. But this was yummy.
2 cups paneer, cut into cubes
1 cup potato cut into cubes the same size or slightly smaller than the paneer
1 small red onion, cut into chunks
1/2 inch thick piece of ginger, roughly cut
1 large clove garlic
½ tsp sugar
1 dried red chili (optional, depends on how spicy you like it)
Vegetable or Canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 cup finely diced canned or fresh tomato
(if you use fresh tomato, you must be sure to peel it)
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp garam masala
½ cup fresh or frozen peas, if using frozen do not thaw them
3/4 cup half cream and half yogurt
Salt to taste
A handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
Heat a tablespoon or two in a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Fry the paneer cubes in a single layer. If the skillet is too hot, the paneer gets a bit too melty, not good. Also, single layer is a must otherwise they stick together. Turn carefully. The paneer will brown quickly so don’t leave. Once nicely golden brown, remove and drain on a plate lined with a kitchen towel.
Heat some more oil if needed and brown the potato cubes. Drain on a plate lined with a kitchen towel.
Use a paper towel and wipe out the skillet.
In a blender pulse together the onion, garlic and ginger until finely pureed. Keep aside.
Pour a teaspoon of oil in to the skillet and heat to medium heat. Sprinkle in the cumin and add the bay-leaf. About 5-10 seconds later the cumin will be browned and fragrant. If the oil was too hot the bayleaf and cumin will turn bitter, if that happens to you, discard and start over.
Now add the onion mixture, the sugar, and saute until a lovely brown color. You may need to sprinkle a bit of water now and then to prevent it from getting too dry and sticking.
Add the tomato and tomato paste, the garam masala and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes on low. If the sauce is too chunky after five minutes, add a little water and continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Add a half cup of water and the potatoes, stir to coat well. Heat through. Check the potatoes. If they are almost done, add the paneer. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and then add the peas and the cream/yogurt mixture*. Stir to combine. Make sure your sauce isn’t too dry. If necessary add water in small increments, like a tablespoon at a time. Simmer for a few minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves if you like.
This tastes wonderful with just about everything. Roti, naan, rice, pilaf, everything goes well.
* a note on adding yogurt or cream to a very warm sauce when cooking Indian food. If your yogurt or cream comes straight from the refrigerator, place the needed amount first into a bowl and add a few spoons of the warm sauce to it while stirring constantly. By doing this you are ‘tempering’ the yogurt or cream which will prevent curdling. Add the tempered yogurt or cream to the sauce with the heat turned off or the skillet removed from the heat source.
I will be posting my method for making fresh paneer in the near future. A link will be added. Meanwhile, if you would like to make your own paneer click on the link to the original recipe on ‘What’s for lunch, Honey’, at the bottom of that page is a link to a page discussing how to make paneer.
edited for content: Here is my promised paneer making method. https://archiedown.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/how-to-make-paneer-an-indian-cheese/