When I was growing up, this dish was made only in fancy restaurants in cities. It included whipping cream and ghee to give it a rich, creamy flavour. In this recipe, I use low-fat yogurt and a combination of herbs and spices that make it very rich and flavourful without any cream.
Place the oil, onion, garlic, and ginger in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Stir regularly. Add the tomato paste and cumin seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add the fenugreek, garam masala, paprika, sugar, turmeric, and salt. Cook for 2 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, yogurt, and water, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the paneer, turn the heat off, cover with a lid, and let it sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice or plain rotis (see page 20 of the book).
Note: To give this dish a spicy kick, add 2 finely chopped green chilies with the tomatoes.
Paneer is Punjabi homemade cheese, even though we had bison and cows in our backyard, my mother never made paneer. The only time we had it was at big social functions such as weddings. At a cooking class I gave, a couple from Mexico told me they had an item similar to paneer—queso blanco—that was used as dessert. They would cut the cheese into smaller chunks, soak them with brown sugar and whipping cream, and bake them for 15 minutes. Here is the recipe for paneer; please feel free to experiment with it. Homemade paneer is always better, but you can also purchase it from an ethnic market. You can serve this as an appetizer with a chutney of your choice (see pages 28 to 35 of the book).
Bring the milk to a boil in a large pot. Add the vinegar and stir until the mixture separates into solids and liquid. Drain the mixture through cheesecloth. Wrap the curd with the cheesecloth, place in a sieve. and put a heavy weight on it, such as a cookie jar or rice container. Let the water drain completely for 20 minutes.
Remove the cheesecloth and cut the paneer into small cubes. Use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 5 days.
Note: Pan-frying helps to keep the paneer cubes from falling apart. Place 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, gently place the paneer in the pan and cook until golden brown. Gently flip the pieces and brown the other side. Pan-fried paneer freezes and thaws very well without crumbling.
In India my mother would put all the garam masala ingredients on a large serving platter and leave them out in the hot sun to toast. We didn't have a food processor—no one in the village had any electric kitchen appliances—so a large stone bowl and a wide wooden stick were used to grind the spices. My mother would cover her face so the spices wouldn't go up her nose while she pounded them for a good half an hour until the masala was the consistency of a fine powder. I've included this recipe so you can choose to make your own but I have also used store-bought garam masala, and the result is almost as satisfactory.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool and process to a fine powder in a grinder, such as a coffee grinder reserved for this purpose. Store in an airtight container in a cool place, for up to 3 months.
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This page created October 2009
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