It’s a new year so let’s celebrate by eating paneer. Paneer is a firm, milky Indian cheese. It’s a really satisfying ingredient to use in vegetarian curries because of its robust texture and the way it squeaks when you chew it – similarly to the Cypriot halloumi. It’s an absolute treat.
I first tried saag paneer (curry with spinach and cheese) at a curry house, Akash, in Leicester at university back in 2006. They put on an incredibly bargainous student meal deal for £6 which included poppadums, onion bhajis, a curry, rice and naan, and a bowl of ice cream. It was ludicrous! But the food was surprisingly good, and I was amazed by this new discovery of cheese… in a curry. It added a new dimension to going for a curry as a vegetarian.
Traditional curry houses usually list paneer curries as side dishes to accompany meat, but they very much stand in their own right as the main event and staff don’t usually bat an eyelid if you ask for it as a main. More contemporary restaurants, like Tayabbs in Whitechapel, and Dishoom, who have a few restaurants across London, offer innovative and exciting paneer main dishes that are well worth a try.
I could talk more about my love of paneer, but instead, let’s focus on the matar paneer I made on New Year’s Day 2015. This recipe is taken from Rick Stein’s cookbook, Coast to Coast, inspired by his travels across the world. The curries in this book are a taster of his more recent, exclusively curry-based cookbook, India. I watched the TV series that accompanies this book as Stein travelled around India in search of the perfect curry. I could sit and listen to him all day: his passion for food and flavours is so inspiring. I’d recommend this book for meat eaters and veggies alike as it’s got such a diverse and unusual selection of curries.
As it was New Year’s Day and I’ve been ill, I’ve adapted Rick’s recipe slightly by substituting a couple of the fresh ingredients for supplies I had in the store cupboard.
This dish is really easy to make and only takes 30-40 minutes. The combination of pungent spices work wonderfully together and will be sure to get the tummies of your diners rumbling. And the vibrancy of the green peas, the red tomatoes and the golden paneer pieces make it very visually tempting.
- 3 tbsp sunflower oil
- 250g pack of paneer
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 0.5 tsp crushed chillies
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 0.5 tsp turmeric
- 0.5 tsp cayenne pepper
- 125g chopped tomatoes
- 200g frozen peas
- 0.75 tsp salt
- A sprinkle of ground black pepper
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1. Chop the paneer into equally sized cubes, around 2-4cm, so they cook evenly.
2. Heat half of the sunflower oil in a large, shallow frying pan on a medium heat. Add the paneer and fry gently for 5-10 minutes, turning frequently, until lightly golden on all sides. Take them off the heat and place on kitchen roll on a plate.
3. On a low to medium heat, pour the remaining oil into the pan and add the onion and spices. Stir in well and fry gently for 5 minutes, or until the onion has softened.
4. Add the tomatoes, peas, salt and two tablespoons of water and simmer for five minutes.
5. Stir in the paneer and the black pepper, and cook gently for a further five minutes.
6. Season to taste and serve with basmati rice and mini poppadums (the ones from Marks and Spencer are tasty and only cost £1).
May your 2015 be as colourful and satisfying as this dish was to prepare and eat.