October 2, 2011 § 2 Comments
E: Paneer is something I first tasted in college. I don’t think I really knew what it was until one of my good friends (yes Aditya, if you are reading this, that means you) cooked with it for an Indian dinner we had. Yes it is very dense, and the texture can be a little rubbery, but we are talking about fried cheese here. How could it not be good?
So when we saw that Nigella Lawson, the goddess of food, had a recipe for muttar paneer we simply had to try it. From some of the comments it seemed that her version was a bit plain, so we upped the spicing a little bit (and could probably have afforded to go even a little further). But as it stands it was warm if not spicy, and definitely had a good flavor. It isn’t even that hard to make, though frying the paneer can be messy. I tried to fry it dry but wasn’t thinking properly and used a plain skillet, which it subsequently stuck to. Adding some oil helped to fix that problem, but meant getting spattered with grease. I’d tentatively suggest using a non-stick frying pan that you can cover with a grease screen if necessary.
If you can’t find paneer at whatever grocery store you usually go to, and don’t have an Indian grocery store in your area, Whole Foods probably has it. Ours did. If you can’t find it anywhere, you could make this with tofu. It wouldn’t be made with fried cheese (so, you know, why bother?) but the dish would certainly still be tasty.
So here goes:
8 oz. paneer, cut into small cubes
2 Tbsp. canola oil (+ more for the paneer, if necessary)
1 onion, finely chopped (or food processed)
2 cloves garlic, minced (or food processed)
1 inch of fresh ginger, minced (or food processed)
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika or cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp nutmeg
16 – 20 oz. frozen peas
2 tsp. tomato paste/puree
1 C. vegetable stock
1/4 C. heavy cream (or to taste)
Salt and cracked pepper, to taste
If you want to copy what we did, start off by measuring off your cup or so of vegetable stock for the main dish, and use the rest to get some rice going in a pot. You could use water, but we always end up with excess stock that goes bad so we figured this was a good way to use it up. We added powdered ginger, lemongrass, lime zest, and a little salt to the rice. Feel free to leave it plain or go wild.
Now, handle the vegetables and paneer. Cut the paneer into cubes and set that aside to fry. Choose to either mince the garlic, ginger, and onion (the onion pieces you can leave finely chopped) or just chop roughly and pulse them in a food processor. We chose the former and I actually think it took less time than cleaning the food pro afterward.
Fry the paneer! Either use a nonstick pan with no oil (if you dare), or any kind of pan with some oil. You want the cubes evenly golden brown. If you are like my aforementioned friend you can even go farther and make them dark and crispy, but I was sick of getting splashed with hot oil at this point:
You can re-use some of your oil for the next step if you’d like. Otherwise, add 2 tablespoons or so of canola oil to a large skillet (probably your largest, as this makes a lot of food). Place the onions in and saute them for a few minutes until they start to get translucent. Then add the garlic and ginger, and fry for another few minutes on medium heat. You want to make sure the onion is palatable before you move on, so it should be translucent and basically cooked (about 5-6 minutes total).
Add in your spice mixture, and cook the onions and garlic and ginger with that mixture for 2 minutes or so.
Now you can add in the frozen peas. Dissolve the tomato paste in the cup of vegetable stock, and pour that over the mixture in the pan. Stir, turn down the heat, and let cook covered for 15 minutes or so (according to the original recipe). We didn’t cover ours as we didn’t have anything large enough to cover it with, so we just added some more stock to make up for the moisture lost in the process.
Once the 15 minutes are up, it is time for the final touches. Add the paneer cubes in and make sure they are re-heated to temperature with everything else. Stir in the heavy cream to make everything tastier, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve alone (if you dare) or over rice.
P.S. Aditya, if you’ve gotten this far, how would you fry up paneer? Does it cook alright dry in a nonstick pan? Is there a secret I don’t know about? Or do you just use oil, and endure the spitting of oil everywhere?