Renowned for its vegetarian cuisine, the Indian subcontinent has a massive population that relies purely on a meat free diet. From home cooked curries, street food, snacks and restaurant meals the variety is endless. Sheer abundance of lentils, beans and seasonal vegetables alongside an array of spices to lift the flavours of these ingredients makes it a viable diet and also one that is universally considered to be one of the best cuisines to offer a sustainable vegetarian meal.
Travelling through little by lanes of Old Delhi when I visit India is always a reminder of how popular Paneer is. You can spot loads of dairy shops that stock freshly made paneer. Indian cottage cheese or Paneer as it is commonly known is a versatile ingredient used in Indian vegetarian cooking. It has a mild flavour which is great as it soaks up all the goodness of spices. Paneer also cooks very quickly which makes it a great choice for a quick paneer tikka or in a curry. Similar to Halloumi in texture and does not disintegrate when simmered in gravies. I’m a huge fan of Indian cheese and all the more as I also rustle up homemade paneer using just a couple of ingredients (milk and lemon juice). It is also readily available in stores now.
Matar Paneer is a delicious recipe that hails from the north of India that is an all time favourite. The ingredients to make this simple dish start with a tomato base and basic spices including turmeric, coriander and cumin powder. The key is to cook the paneer prior to making the gravy which keeps the edges crisp yet moist. My little tip to ensure paneer doesn’t overcook is to fry it and then soak it in water while making the curry. Add the paneer right at the end while the gravy is simmering.
I would recommend making matar paneer a few hours prior to serving the dish. It helps the paneer to soak up all the flavours from the curry and spices.
Grind the cumin seeds and coriander seeds to a powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Set aside. Blend the ginger and garlic with a splash of water to a smooth paste and set aside. Dab any excess moisture from the paneer on kitchen paper and cut into bite size cubes.
Heat vegetable oil for shallow frying in a pan over a medium heat. Add the paneer cubes in batches and fry. Make sure they get an even colour and go a light brown (this should take around 2-3 minutes) Drain over kitchen paper and add to a bowl of warm water. Let it soak while you make the gravy.
Heat oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and fry for 12-14 minutes. Stir well as they begin to change colour turn the heat low and add the ginger and garlic paste. Fry well for 2 minutes stirring continuously.
Add the cumin, coriander powder along with the turmeric and chilli powder. Fry for a minute and add a splash of water making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and continue cooking the raw flavour of the spices for a further minute. Tip in the blended tomatoes simmer the curry over a low heat for 8-10 minutes with lid on. Stir a couple of times through the cooking process. Add 200mls water along with the sugar and salt. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes with the lid on.
Add frozen green peas along with the garam masala. Drain the water from the paneer and add the cubes to the curry. Stir well making sure to coat all the pieces with the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes and turn the heat off. Garnish with coriander and serve with paratha or pulao and raita.