When making this dish, I thought the most time consuming step would be making the paneer, but actually coming up with a name for it took quite sometime as well :-) Basically it is a tomato-based curry with peas and homemade paneer, but that didn’t sound appealing enough so I tried to come up with an Indian name as best as I could. Following my successful attempt at making ricotta, I decided my next attempt at cheese making should be the Indian cheese paneer. The method is pretty much the same, using heat and acid (vinegar or lemon juice) to curdle the milk proteins, but unlike the ricotta, it requires more draining and pressing to make it into a solid block. All in all, not quite as difficult as I thought at the beginning, and all worth it in the end since this might have been the best paneer I’ve tasted, not that I am biased or anything :-) The curry uses a combination of spices that I sometimes don’t even bother measuring precisely, so it can be easily adjusted to individual preferences. You can use fresh tomatoes, but for this recipe I used canned diced ones. You can also choose to process the tomatoes first into a sauce for a smoother sauce. The peas are optional, and so is the cream, or you can replace the cream with yogurt. Frying the paneer can be skipped for a slightly healthier dish, but I find that the frying step improves the dish quite a bit.
Ingredients (serves 2-4):
- ~1/2 lb paneer (half gallon whole milk, 4 Tb vinegar or lemon juice), cubed
- vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup diced onions
- 1 serrano chile, sliced
- 1 inch ginger, chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
- pinch of asafetida (found at Indian grocery stores)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 Tb ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1 can diced tomatoes (or a few fresh tomatoes chopped)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 – 1 cup green peas
- 1 tsp garam masala
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro for garnish (a few Tbs)
To make the paneer, follow the first steps in the ricotta making (bring milk to almost boiling, add acid, stir). Upon adding the vinegar, stir the curdles in such a way that they can clump together.
Strain the mixture. Wash the cheese with water to remove the residual vinegar. Let it drain for 5 minutes (you can hang it over the sink by the faucet). Place the paneer on a plate trying to move the cheesecloth to the side to avoid defects in shape. Cover it with another plate or a cutting board in my case, place weight on top and let it drain/compact for 1-2 hrs.
Once the paneer is pressed into a compact mass and you’re ready to use it, slice it into cubes. For the record, mine weighed 250 grams.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, chile, garlic, ginger, and cook until the onion has softened (3 – 5 min). Add the cumin, asafetida, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, cardamom, and cook until fragrant (1 min). I somehow always manage to get turmeric everywhere, so be careful because it can stain!
Add tomatoes and cook until they starts to leave some oil and are reduced by about half.
Add paneer and green peas to the tomato sauce.
Add cream, garam masala, and cook for a few more minutes until the peas are tender and flavors are blended. Season with salt if necessary (depending on the sodium content of your canned tomatoes, this step can be optional).
Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro!
While I am not sure how authentic my tweaked recipe is, this is one delicious curry and the paneer turned out amazing! Sometimes, when a dish requires lengthy prep-work, I almost don’t want to be impressed by the result :-) Now that I know how good homemade paneer can taste, I might not be able to settle for store bought easily. The good news is that the paneer can be made ahead and refrigerated!