This simple recipe, matar paneer, comes from the Punjab. It is a light dish, yet with robust flavours. It highlights the paneer, has a spicy tomato sauce, and has bursts of flavour from the just-cooked peas.
If there was one dish in this collection to encourage you to make you own paneer, this would be the one. If you don’t want to make the paneer yourself, avoid supermarket paneer and try to source fresh paneer from an Indian grocer. You want to find a lighter, less dense variety.
The preparation of the sauce or masala is important. You must have some patience to allow the sauce to reduce to the right consistency. If you don’t, the dish can be watery and insipid. Admittedly the paneer will likely absorb the excess fluids, but the flavours will not have developed.
As presented here it is a side dish for four, or a simple main meal for two. If serving as a main meal, an ideal accompaniment would be some naan, served straight from the cooker as you finish cooking them.
- 15 g raw cashews crushed into small pieces
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 400 g paneer cut into 2cm cubes
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 15 g ginger finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 indian bay leaf
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp coriander seeds toasted and ground
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 250 g green peas
- 1 cup coriander leaves
Place cashew nut pieces in a cup, and add enough hot water to just cover. Set aside to soak for 15 minutes.
Grind the soaked cashew nuts into a coarse paste and set aside.
Heat three tablespoons of the oil in a large pan or kadai, and once hot, add the paneer cubes. Make sure they are in one layer and don’t overcrowd the pan. If necessary, do this in batches. Fry the paneer, turning pieces often, for about five minutes, or until they have golden, crispy edges. Remove from pan, place onto absorbent paper, and set aside.
Add onion to hot pan, mix well and fry for around five minutes, or until onion softens.
Once onion has softened, add garlic and ginger, mix well and fry for five minutes or until mixture becomes golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, mix well, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for another five minutes, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have softened, and the oil starts to separate. Remove pan from the heat, set aside, and allow to cool.
Once the onion and tomato mix has cooled enough to be safe to handle, transfer it to a small blender and puree until you have a smooth paste. You may need to add a little water, one tablespoon at a time, to keep the paste smooth.
Wipe the pan clean, return to high heat and add another one tablespoon of the oil.
Add the cumin seeds and bay leaf to the hot pan and fry for around one minute, or until seeds start to sizzle. Add the turmeric, ground coriander seeds and chilli powder and mix well. Fry for another minute until mix becomes aromatic.
Reduce the heat, add the tomato and onion paste and the cashew paste, mix well, and bring to a simmer.
Once the mix is simmering, add the salt and garam masala, and ½ cup of water. Mix well, then add the fried paneer. Allow to simmer for five minutes, adjusting the consistency of the dish by careful addition of water, one tablespoon at a time.
Whilst the mix is simmering, blanch the peas by placing them in a small pot of boiling salted water for not more than two minutes. Remove from pot and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process. The peas should have started to soften, and should be bright green in colour.
Just before you are ready to serve, add the peas to the pan, and allow them to heat, but do not allow them to overcook.
Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves and serve.