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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

paneer curry with peas. also saag paneer... with peas!

for 3 weeks in a row i had "paneer curry with peas" on the menu list for the week. and for 3 weeks in a row, it went ignored. the reason i never managed to cross "paneer curry with peas" off the list is what the rest of the line said: "-- make the paneer." from what i can tell, paneer is one of the easiest cheeses to make. but somehow, buying a gallon of milk and spending a couple of hours turning it into fresh cheese was enough of a perceived hassle that i simply skipped over it, and added it to the next list, week after week...

then, one magical day at the farmers market as i was wandering aimlessly, $20 still in my pocket and fresh out of ideas for how to spend it, i saw a sign from appel farms-- "Paneer~ $4.75lb." SOLD!

paneer is a fresh cheese (as in unaged, like mozzarella) with a mild flavor and a firm texture which shows up frequently in indian cuisine. one of paneer's qualities is that it doesn't melt, even in a hot pan, so many recipes using it call for frying the cheese in cubes.

i bought one pound and split into two different meals. the first, a curry with peas and tomatoes, was one i wanted to try specifically because my recent freezer inventory let me know that i am still behind schedule, as far as using up all the stuff i put away last fall. the second, a saag paneer, is a recipe sent to me by our friend scot several years ago, and it would use the lovely baby spinach available at the markets right now. (i added peas. had to, gotta use 'em up!)

the verdict-- loved them both. LOVED. the curry with peas was thick and flavorful, and the combination of spices was great. the saag seemed like it would be spicier than it ended up to be, surprisingly. that's just perfect for me, but for those who like a little burn, you may want to spice it up with more pepper and/or ginger. also, while i thoroughly enjoy, even crave, the thick, creamy, gloppy dishes at some indian restaurants, i really appreciated that these are lighter in texture, and chances are in caloric content!

paneer curry with peas
bon appetit, april 2010

1 Tbsp flour
1/2 lb paneer (or tofu) cut into 1" cubes
2 Tbsp ghee, divided (i used peanut oil because i had some and ghee was $8!)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced with seeds (more if you like heat!)
2 cups (or 14 oz) crushed tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen (thawed if frozen)
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
prepared jasmine (or basmati) rice

toss paneer with flour in a bowl to coat. heat ghee or vegetable oil in heavy nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. add cheese to pan in batches if necessary and fry, turning occasionally, until sides are golden brown, about 4 minutes. transfer to plate and set aside.

heat remaining ghee or oil over medium heat. add cumin and stir, cooking about one minute. add chopped onion and cook, stirring, until translucent and softened. add ginger, garlic, coriander, and minced jalapeno and stir one minute. add tomatoes and their juice, 1/4 cup water, and turneric. bring to simmer, cover, and reduce heat to low. cook covered until beginning to thicken, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

add peas and fried paneer and stir. cook over medium-low heat another 5 minutes or so, until cheese heats through and peas are tender. stir in cilantro and garam masala. season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with rice.

saag paneer (with peas!)
from scot (my notes in parentheses)

1 1-inch cube ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 to 1 fresh green hot pepper (i used jalapeno)
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 to 1lb paneer, cubed (scot notes that they have also used mexican queso fresco, the dry crumbly kind rather than the melty kind, when paneer couldn't be found)
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp salt
2 10-oz boxes of frozen spinach, thawed and drained well (i was using fresh and accidentally bought only 1/4 lb, which, of course, cooked down into almost nothing. a pound might have done it. so i added about a cup of peas leftover from the curry. it was just fine.)
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp heavy cream (scot says they use milk)
jasmine or basmati rice

put ginger, garlic, and chili in a blender or food processor and process into a paste.

heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. add the paneer and fry until they are golden on all sides. remove with a slotted spoon to a plate in a single layer and sprinkle evenly with salt, garam masala, and cayenne. set aside.

put the paste from the food processor into the hot oil in the pan. fry, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. add spinach and 1/2 tsp salt and stir for about a minute. cover pan, lower heat, and cook gently for 15 minutes. (i added the fresh spinach and cooked until wilted, then stirred in the peas.) add a tablespoon or two of water if it becomes too dry. add paneer and cream, bring to a simmer, and cook covered over low heat for 10 minutes. season to taste, and serve over rice.

paneer-- appel farms
tomatoes, peas, and onions-- our freezer, from our fall preservation
spinach-- alm hill gardens


  1. That sounds amazing! I grew up eating Indian food, mostly vegetarian Indian food, but still the only thing I can make is pakoras, and even those are questionable.

    Have you made ghee before? I tried it once, burned it, and ended up using peanut oil instead. My dad is a ghee making expert, though, I should make it along side him one day to learn the proper way to do it.

    I'm desperate for good Indian food now - I haven't ever had any as good as the meals we had in the temple.

  2. you could totally make this! it was seriously easy. i mean, it won't be close to the temple food, but it's really good! once you get a couple of things chopped and a couple of things measured, it's just mix and simmer! (well, and fry the cheese. but you could even sub tofu and skip that part, i bet.)

    i haven't made ghee, or even cooked with it. it's clarified butter, right? if you learn from your dad i'd love a lesson! $8 for a little tub of it offends my sensibilities. :)

  3. I was totally going to make muttar paneer this weekend. You beat me to the punch.

  4. got a good recipe? i've got a lot more peas and tomatoes to get through. :) i'll happily make this one again, but if you have one that you like a lot i'd love to try it.

  5. This looks easy and delicious! I do happen to know a technique to make ghee. I saw it here

  6. thanks for the ghee recipe! i'll have to give it a shot.

  7. This tasted great... We loved it. ;)