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Mutter Paneer, finally!

In Punjabi, Vegetarian on March 11, 2015 at 5:51 pm
mutter paneer 03

Lunch: mutter paneer, Jaini aloo, Punjabi masala papad, and roti

You may as well roll your eyes and wonder if it is possible for anyone in India, from North to South, and from East to West, to not have a family-favourite recipe for mutter paneer.  Heck, by now, half of America and the UK must have a house recipe they swear by.  But not so yours truly.  Believe you me, barring the rather successful attempt last month, I cannot remember when I cooked mutter paneer last.  It used to turn out so bleh that I stopped trying, turning instead to tchaman kaliya that has the added benefit of combining better with rice – the carb of my choice.

As you already know, the rest of the resident family is partial to roti.  It is my considered opinion that Kashmiri dishes lose half their charm when not served with rice.  The pros and cons of all this is that paneer is served on our plates only occasionally.

With the winter vegetables starting to look poor reflections of themselves by late spring, I picked up a packet of paneer instead from the friendly neighbourhood Mother Dairy Fruit and Vegetable store last month.  And, keeping the roti-eaters in mind I decided to take a stab at mutter paneer again.  Very deliberately I set about changing a few things in my recipe in the hope of getting something respectable at the end.

I didn’t think I could either drop or add a new ingredient.  It is my guess that sometimes Punjabi cuisine gets confused with Mughlai and cooks create an ingredient list that stretches long and may even include nuts – cashews in particular.  Such recipes are usually also generous in their use of butter or cream seemingly celebrating the origins of a dish in a community known for their love of milk and its products.  However, I do not recall the food our Punjabi neighbours shared with us being particularly rich or heavy. My food memories, incidentally, are very sharp.

This meant, in trying to improve my dish I was not going to add cashew paste, malai (cream), or butter.  One change I made was grating the onions and tomatoes instead of chopping them.  The other small difference was the addition of a pinch of sugar while sauteing the onions.  I’m surprised I did this for a dish that already had so many sweet ingredients -onions, sweet peas, and paneer.  The list of spices stayed the same – cumin for tempering, and coriander, turmeric, and red chili powder, the standard trinity of spices that I add to most of the food that makes up my Punjabi repertoire.  I am not sure if I used to add garam masala in this earlier or not; likely not, since it a spice blend I use sparingly and in only a few dishes.  In this trial I decided I would add a little bit.  As luck would have it, I was out of garam masala.  I was not inclined to make a whole batch just then and pounded the requisite spices in the mortar and pestle to yield a little more than half a teaspoon of freshly ground masala.

I don’t know whether it was a great bunch of sweet peas, or it was the freshly ground spices, or that scant pinch of sugar that made the difference, or that the proportion of the trinity of the usual spices was in perfect balance which gave me the dish I was hoping for.  Or, maybe, just maybe, it was always this good but I was partial to Kashmiri cuisine.😉

In other thing that have changed is that I’ve started making better use of my smart phone.  Instead of using scraps of paper to write down the ingredients, now I use ‘Notes’ on the phone!  When I tested the recipe this week, it was readily accessible, with the exact quantity of ingredients used and the steps clearly written down.  This time I used my ready Punjabi garam masala and the result was consistent.  Of course, the garam masala was a fresh batch. If you are not sure about the freshness of your spices I suggest you do what I’d done – grind a few spices in your mortar and pestle.

Try my recipe for mutter paneer if you don’t already have a favourite one.  Or, if you are looking for a change.

Mutter paneer

Mutter paneer

Mutter Paneer
Peas with Paneer
Serves 5

200 gms paneer* (such as from Mother Dairy or Paras Dairy), cut into 1 cm cubes
2 medium onions, grated
2 medium tomatoes, grated (discard the skin)
1 t grated ginger
1/2 t cumin seeds
3/4 t hot chili powder
3/4 t Kashmiri chili powder
2 1/2 t coriander powder
1/2-3/4 t fresh garam masala (or grind together a small piece of cassia bark, 2 cloves, a few peppercorns, half a black cardamom, a green cardamom, and a pinch of mace)
pinch of sugar
salt
5 t peanut oil
750gms fresh pea-pods, about 2C+ shelled (or frozen)
fresh coriander, chopped

Smear a teaspoon oil on a cast iron skillet and heat it on high. When hot add cubed paneer (in batches if using a small pan) and sear on all sides till lightly browned. It takes only a few seconds for paneer to go from golden brown to charred on a hot pan so give full attention to the job at hand.  Remove to a bowl filled with a cup of hot water and let soak. You need not add any more oil even if all the oil is soaked up by the first batch.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan of your pressure cooker. Add cumin. Once the cumin splutters, add grated onions and ginger. Saute on medium heat till the paste starts leaving the sides of the pan and the onions are light brown (adding a pinch each of sugar and salt half way through), about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue to cook on medium heat stirring occasionally to prevent the contents from scorching. Saute till the paste is no longer sticking to the sides and has browned a little. [This is the till-the-oil-separates stage but there isn’t much oil in the recipe for it to float.] Add the dry masalas and stir till fragrant. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander and stir. Add paneer with its soaking water to the pan. Add peas (frozen peas may be added without thawing). Season with salt. Add more water if needed. The final dish should not be soupy but be a thick curry. Close the lid of the pressure cooker and cook on medium heat for 3-4 whistles, about 10 minutes. Wait for the pressure to subside. Open the lid and add a generous amount of fresh coriander leaves and mix. Serve with rotis.

* I find that these packaged brands of paneer are well drained, almost dry.  They fry very quickly because there is no liquid to evaporate.  They also absorb a lot of liquid and more than double in size when soaked.  If you are using paneer from a vendor who stores it soaked in water, you will need to buy more to compensate for the weight of water.  For the same reason, you might also want to cut bigger cubes because this paneer may not swell much.

  1. This looks delicious and I would love to try it as I don’t have a favourite recipe, and my earlier attempts at this have produced a rather mundane curry. Plus–the kid will eat anything with paneer in it! My one question though is how important is the kashmiri chilli powder to the recipe. I don’t have any, and I am afraid if I set about getting it first it might be months before I get to it.

    Oh-and what you wrote about the difference between fresh and Mother Dairy paneer makes perfect sense. I have often bought the former, and wondered why it looked so dismally less post cooking. Now I know!

    Kashmiri mirch is a mild chili known for the deep red colour it imparts. It is also called deghi mirch and you can get it at any grocer, even the grocer at the corner! You can omit it altogether but then the colour of the curry will not be the bright red-orange. Rajasthani chilies are also a bright red but they are also hot. I don’t know which ones you use but most will be hotter than the Kashmiri chili!

    • Thank You Anita for this explanation. I really had no idea, and now with peas and paneer in the fridge this is on tomorrow’s menu!

      Hope you got around to cooking it and were happy with the result!

  2. I do not have a favorite recipe of Mutter paneer as it’s not a favorite in our household. My husband is not a big paneer fan although I love it. Your recipe is so simple. I might give it a try next time. I almost always grind my garam masala fresh and it truly makes a difference. The ingredients in a garama masala are more volatile I think and they lose the sharpness of flavor very quickly (or it’s my whim?).

    Yes, you’re right about the freshness of spices. I have learned and now make garam masala in very small batches but it is a good idea ot grind it fresh especially when you use it as infrequently as I do. Still Punjabi Garam masala, over other spice blends, is fragrant a little longer as the spices are usually not roasted.

    Try the recipe and see if you like it!

  3. The mutter paneer looks delicious. I so agree with you that most dishes (not just Kashmiri) lose their charm when not served with rice. I guess that is the South Indian in me.🙂

    That may well be one of the reasons why South Indian cuisine seems so much my own! 😉

  4. This mutter paneer looks like the real deal! The color looks awesome. Am going to try it for dinner tomorrow!

    I hope you tested this recipe and that it turned out well enough!

  5. My fav paneer recipe. I am trying this today. And such a relief that cream is not one of the ingredients……coz 99% of the recipe mention it and the curry tastes like paneer makhani with peas and more garam masala.

    And that ubiquitous orange-coloured “shahi paneer” at catered events – I NEVER even taste it! This one was good and you can add lots of peas and make it even better!

    • I trien it today….and it was yummmmmmmmmmm…thanks
      🙂 Thanks for the feedback!

  6. Not a huge fan of M-P but here to say I hear you on the rice! My mother, though Tamilian, grew up in Delhi, so we always had rice at lunch and chapatis at dinner – but my one true love remains rice! Guess the S.Indian genes were too strong🙂 I’ve even been known to eat chole with rice, when I really didn’t feel like eating any form of roti🙂

    I’ll let you know that I have now almost completely given up on roti!!😉 Leavened bread is a different animal.

    Growing up, we used to eat roti for lunch – it was easier to pack for school – but dinner had to be rice. On holidays it was served at both meals. I have never bought into the fad that rice makes you fat. If you eat too much of anything, it will make you fat!

  7. […] the food front, we satiated our tummies with Anita’s Tchaman Kalia,  Anita’s mutter paneer, appalam vathal kuzhambu and quinoa stuffed in eggplants (baked with feta cheese…Yummm!). I […]

  8. Made it and thumbs up from the whole family. Thank you for another great recipe!

    Thanks, Nima, for the feedback!🙂

  9. I am in the same boat with matar paneer… Whatever I do, it never looks like the one in your picture, just like my masi’s daughter-in-law makes it (I tried asking for the recipe, what I got back was – just make it like any Punjabi subzi :)). I refuse to add cream-shream or cashews, it’s not supposed to have a smooth, rich, orange gravy. It’s supposed to be light and flavorful, even a little on the runny side. Can’t wait to follow your recipe to the T and try it out. As always – thanks for sharing!

    Yes, I did make it “like any Punjabi subzi” and got it right! I hope you tried it and were happy with the result, Shweta.

  10. Tried this and it turned to be great, thank you for this recipe🙂
    🙂 Thanks for the quick feedback, Sapna!

  11. Navreh Mubarak/Happy Gudi Padwa to you and your family !!!

    Belated wishes to you and your family as well. I hope you feasted a lot!

  12. The recipe looks like lot less work compared to adding ground cashews. I’m going to give it a try. Is there a reasons for pressure cooking the curry ?
    On unrelated note, do you have a fool proof recipe for mutton yakhni pulao? I have a lot of lamb bones in the freezer.
    Thanks,
    Suganya

    I feel pressure cooking is able to mimic the results of a long, slow simmer in much less the time! You could do the slow simmer instead.

    No, I have never cooked a yakhni pulao! [psst: It’s not a real Kashmiri dish!]

  13. It turned out awesome! Thanks a ton for sharing. Pressure cooking here is such a brilliant trick. My masala was a little different as I grind and bhoono (on low flame) onions, garlic, tomatoes, green chilies, ginger in bulk to be used through the week as needed, the masala practically cooks itself while I do other things around the house. Used that masala, just added haldi, mirchi and sookha dhaniya one quick whistle in the pressure cooker and mattar paneer turned out perfect! God bless you Anita🙂

    Yay! It turned out well for you too! Keeping the masala handy is a great idea – takes all the work out from making mutter paneer!

  14. Thanks Anita je.keep on telling about our traditional food .different non veg and veg dishes. Thanks love you vijay

    Thanks for reading, Vijay.

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