I have eaten this dish so many times at restaurants in India and always yearn to recreate a similar taste. Saying that there are very few places in India that give you the truly authentic taste of what Kashmiri food is all about. There are festivals hosted by restaurants to celebrate the cuisine including some that also boast of signature dishes as a regular part of their menus. Also a few that I have heard of including Kong poush in Mumbai and Wazwan at Baner in Pune city.
A popular dish from Kashmir this paneer preparation is made with whole spices simmered with tomatoes along with ground ginger and fennel. My mother mentioned recently that she would ideally cook this with fresh tomatoes which are boiled whole, skinned and then added to the curry although I prefer tomato puree which gives it a thick gravy and also is a quick option. That’s my little cheat!
There are elements of influence from the Kashmiri pandit community here; this dish does not include garlic or onions. Like the Brahmin community in India (where I hail from) they don’t tend to add it to their dishes. Also ingredients commonly used in this regional cuisine include ginger, mustard oil and saffron. All of which lend a unique flavour.
If you’re unable to get hold of mustard oil feel free to swap it for regular sunflower or vegetable oil. I have also used shahi jeera a spice common to Indian curries and tandoori dishes.
In a bowl add 500mls of warm water and set aside. In a frying pan heat oil and fry the cubes of paneer in batches until golden brown. The paneer might splutter slightly so make sure the heat is on medium. Drain on kitchen paper and add the fried paneer to the bowl of warm water. Let it soak while you make the curry. This helps the paneer to retain its moisture and stay soft.
Add 3 tablespoons of the oil to a heavy bottom sauce pan. Add asafoetida and let it sizzle for a few seconds. Now add cinnamon stick, bay leaves and green cardamom. Fry the spices for a minute as they begin to splutter and release their flavour into the oil. Add the shahi jeera and fry for 2-3 seconds.
On a low heat add the tomato puree. Stir well making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add the chilli, ginger and fennel powder. Stir and fry for 2 minutes as they blend with the paste. Add 350mls of the soaking paneer liquid and continue to cook on a medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-7minutes without the lid. The curry should have a thick consistency if it is too thick add a little more of the soaking liquid.
Crush the saffron into the gravy and whisk in the yoghurt. Simmer for a further 8 minutes and now tip the paneer chunks into the pot. Stir gently making sure they don’t break. You don’t really need to cook the paneer but just make sure the gravy coats the pieces well. Season to taste.
Garnish with fresh coriander and pinch of garam masala powder. Serve with parathas or preferably rice.