Paneer is a huge favorite of mine and in an odd way signifies a special occassion or a reason to celebrate in my mind. Whenever we eat out a paneer dish is a must on the order and being vegetarian almost an obvious choice. With its nuetral flavor and creamy texture there is hardly anyone who can say they hate it, just not possible. Made entirely from milk with no confusions about rennet or animal enjymes used in the process, its the most vegetarian friendly cheese available. Its the best use of milk thats close to its expiry date and sitting smugly in your refrigerator... but ofcourse that never happens in my place. (heh!)
Most regular north Indian restaurants here have a banal list of paneer dishes on their menu. I categorize them as Green/Orange/Red, and they progress just like the traffic signals, green you may take a chance, orange - give it a second thought, red - stay away! They taste of nothing familiar and are doused with ridiculous amounts of cream/grease and spices. The paneer also is often a chewy, rubbery mass and the whole purpose of eating out to enjoy a meal is lost right there. With such poor examples its hard explaining to the locals here that Indian food is nothing close to what these greasy/bland dishes represent. I was watching Gordan Ramsay's Great Escape on Netflix this past weekend, he sets out on a tour of India to learn about its curries and see what was done wrongly in UK kitchens. Though he does try some pretty dramatic variations of curries the show does focus on the true charm of India's cuisine. Each one has a rich culture and history associated with it based on where it comes from. Each curry has a pedigree of sorts attached to it and you can track down the various influences on the recipe. Its a shame that such rich heritage is then thrown out the window by these restaurants.
With my parents here as an excuse I got a telugu channel package installed at home and along with my mom we cover all the cooking shows on TV. Lots of new ideas with a good dose of weird combinations have filled up our recipes books, and by 'our' I mean my mom painstakingly writing them down and then re-typing them on the laptop for a soft copy! :D One of shows (Abhiruchi/Etv) now has a Iron Chef styled secret ingredient cook-off as one of its segments. The inspiration for this recipe came from one such episode that had paneer as the ingredient of choice. I have since modified the recipe a bit to suit our tastes but the basic idea came from the show. One ingredient that I think was missing in the original is Kasuri methi. It may sound insignificant but when used will surely trigger the 'aha! so this is what they use' moment when it comes to replicating restaurant favorites at home.
Kasuri Methi is regular methi leaves in their dried form. From wiki I learned that it gets its name from Kasur a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan, that grows methi in abundance. A small spoonful, crushed between your palms and sprinkled over the curry close to the very end of the cooking process will add an additional layer of flavor to the dish. The leaves have a strong bitter/sour flavor and fragrance to them and when added to a gravy they compliment the strong spices really well.
Dum PaneerServings: 4Ingredients:
Prep Time: 30mins
Cooking Time: 30-40mins
- 1 - Onion,large ~ 3 cups, sliced
- 3 - Tomatoes, medium sized
- 2 - Green chillies
- 12-15 - Cashews, whole
- 2-3 Tbsp - Oil
- 1/4 tsp - Turmeric
- 1 tsp - Ginger-garlic paste(~ 1 big garlic clove & 1" round of ginger)
- Whole Spices - 1 bay leaf, 2-3 1" shards of cinnamon stick, 2 Green Cardamom pods, 4-5 Cloves
- Spice Powders - 1/2 tsp each of - Garam masala powder, Dhania powder, Cumin powder, Red Chilli powder (optional)
- 2 Tbsp - Curd/Yogurt
- 1-1.5 cups - Paneer cubes
- 1 tsp - Kasuri Methi
- few leaves of Mint/Pudina (optional, I skipped it) and Coriander
- fresh/heavy cream for garnish (optional)
- Salt to taste
Notes: For the 'dum' part of the cooking process, I used a cast iron lid and it did a pretty good job of trapping steam. Another option is to cover the whole pot with aluminum foil and then press it down with the regular lid. If not try the traditional method by making chapathi dough, roll it out like a thick rope and seal the edges of the pan with the lid covered. - Make extras of the browned onion paste and freeze it for a quick gravy another night. - Instead of paneer you can try other veggies like potatoes, capsicum, cauliflower.
- Make a shallow plus slit to pierce through the tomato skins and drop them in boiling water for about a minute to loosen the skin. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and grind them to a paste along with green chilies. Use some of the hot water to give the cashews a quick soak for a few minutes and grind to a fine paste.
- Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan and add the sliced onions. Cook them on medium heat until browned evenly. This takes about 8-10mins, a few charred bits is totally fine, you don't have to slow cook them as you would for caramelized onions. When cooled, blend it to a fine paste too.
- In a deep saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp of oil/butter and add in the whole spices and turmeric. Once they become fragrant carefully add ginger-garlic paste and cook for 15-20secs. Add brown onion paste and tomato-chilli paste next and cook on medium heat for 5-6 mins until the moisture is cooked out of it.
- Reduce the heat a bit and stir in the yogurt. Bring the heat back up to medium and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan as one mass. This is where you would also see the oil separate if you used more but the 2 Tbsp isn't quite enough to do that for the amount of gravy.
- Add in the spice powders, salt, cashew paste and about ~11/2 cups of water to achieve desired consistency. Make it a little looser than you would want the final gravy as it will continue to thicken a bit.
- Taste test for seasonings now, once the paneer is added you don't want to stir it much. Toss in the paneer cubes, kasuri methi, pudina(if using) and coriander leaves and cover with a heavy lid to ensure that moisture does not escape out of the pan. (This step is crucial step in the recipe, the Notes section has more details.) Heat on the lowest setting on your cooking range for about 15mins.
- Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with fresh cream/coriander leaves and serve hot with roti or rice.
The flavors in this dish will take you by surprise. The browned onions that form the base of the gravy add a wonderful richness and depth. Cashew paste and curd mellow out the sharp flavors of the spices with the curd adding a tangy note at the end. Most recipes that use paneer call for it to be added at the very end. In this one though, paneer cubes blend into the whole dish instead of standing out like an after-thought. Cooking it in 'dum' forces all the flavors in the gravy to be absorbed by the paneer making them wonderfully moist and flavorful. If you are feeling awfully indulgent you can add cream and khoya to the gravy, both used in the original, but to me it was rich enough without them.
Feeling really adventurous I looked for a recipe for Rumali roti to pair with dum paneer. If I had to pick just one, then rumali roti will surely top the list of Indian breads for me. Being thin as a rumal/handkerchief it is the perfect vehicle for a rich gravy as it does not over power the flavors in anyway. It's rarely found in restaurants even in Hyderabad these days. I had requested our wedding caterer to make this for the reception dinner but he refused saying it would be tough to make them fresh for the crowd. No regrets though since I hardly got to enjoy a meal that day. It would have been distracting to think about the rumali rotis while sitting through the wedding ceremonies :D
Rumali/Roomali RotiServing: 12-14 rotisPrep time: 10minsCooking time: 30minsIngredients
Method: Make a moist dough and knead it for 3-4 mins until soft and pliable. Cover the dough ball with a moist cloth and allow to rest for 1-2hrs. Roll two small dough balls the sixe of a key lime and stretch them to the size of a small poori. Spread oil on one side of each round and dredge/dust evenly with rice flour. Place one round over the other with floured sides facing each other and press around the edges to form a rough seal. Using a rolling pin stretch the dough to make a very thin roti, as thin as you can get without tears. Heat a wide, shallow pan on high heat and cook the roti for 20-30secs on each side until you see little brown spots on the surface. Any longer and you'll have papads! Transfer to a covered, serving dish and about a minute later when cool enough to handle, separate the two layers to get individual rumals!
- 1 cup All purpose flour/Maida
- 1 cup Whole Wheat flour/Atta
- salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp oil
- Milk and Water to make dough (~ 1.5 cups total).
- Rice flour for dusting ~ 1/2 cup
Source: barely modified from here
The roti's are soft and melt in your mouth. You are gauranteed to lose count of how many you devour so make extras! I made this combination twice this month already and cannot wait to repeat it again. I served it alongside a salad of ripe tomatoes and onions sprinkled with salt, pepper and chaat masala because chaat masala makes everything better :)