kitchen firsts: paneer curry
Paneer (fresh Indian cheese) is an ingredient that I’ve been waiting to do as a kitchen first all year, and a chilly fall evening seemed like the perfect time to whip up some warming curry. I waded through recipe options just enough to notice that there are about a million things you can do with paneer (or rather, a million different recipes for two or three things to do with paneer), and we settled on a nice looking mattar paneer recipe (paneer and pea curry) that sounded perfect for a blustery day. We adapted things along the way just a bit and were delighted to find that this dish can be really easy! Perfect for a weeknight, and a great way to incorporate a satisfying vegetarian recipe into your repertoire.
Paneer, a very mild tasting cheese with a texture study enough to fry, is pretty widely available in grocery stores with well-stocked cheese sections, and all of the other ingredients in the recipe are easily source-able as well. This is a very accessible Indian dish, and for someone with as little experience cooking and eating Indian cuisine as me, it was a great way to get started– it’s warm and spicy, but the mild paneer and sweet peas keep it just familiar enough to please spice-lovers and spice-fearers alike. Give it a try! Serve it hot with steamed rice and some nice flatbread (roti, naan, or just pita would do) to sop up the sauce.
The changes we made to the initial recipe made things a little simpler. First, we used our knife skills to mince things into reasonable-sized dice, to avoid the hassle of dirtying the food processor, and I was pleased to find that skipping the processor had no effect on the overall dish (besides a reduction in dishes!). We also adjusted a few quantities for balance, and replaced the heavy cream called for in the original recipe with sour cream in order to make the dish a bit lighter. We loved the flavor and creaminess the sour cream added, and appreciated the flexibility of being able to use regular, light, or fat free sour cream rather than dumping a bunch of heavy cream in with the otherwise healthy ingredients. All in all, I’m sure this will be joining my weeknight repertoire– healthy, vegetarian-friendly (although you could use chicken in the place of the paneer if you like), and easy to whip up in one pan.
Mattar Paneer (Pea and Paneer Curry)
Adapted from What’s for Lunch Honey?
1/2 to 1 lb paneer, cubed
2 T canola oil
1 small onion, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 inch section of ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (chunky tomato puree)
2 tsp garam masala
pinch of salt
1/2 cup water
1 bag frozen peas (at least 10 oz, up to a pound) – do not thaw
1/2 cup sour cream
to serve: naan, roti, or pita; white or brown rice; cilantro, for sprinkling
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the paneer in a single layer and allow it to brown evenly, turning gently to get all the sides. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain, leaving the oil behind in the pan.
Return the skillet to the heat and turn it up to medium high. Add the bay leaf and cumin seeds, stir them around for a few seconds until they’re fragrant, then add the onion, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger. Saute until softened, 5-7 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes, garam masala, and a pinch of salt. Reduce the and simmer until the sauce is thickened, 5-10 minutes.
Add the water and frozen peas and stir to combine. Simmer until the peas are tender, about 5-8 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash more water to loosen it. When the peas are cooked, add the sour cream and stir it in, then return the fried paneer to the pan. Let it all heat through and then serve over steamed rice.