Malai Paneer (Cottage Cheese in Cream Sauce)
I just love paneer. Period. I don’t care how it is cooked or presented. Quite an abomination for someone who is known for her non-vegetarian cravings! My husband, on the other hand, runs a mile away from it. His excuse is, since he was in Delhi for two years he just got over-fed or fed-up with paneer. He says he doesn’t remember any dish where paneer is not added!
At home in Guwahati, I remember my mom making paneer since we did not get it in shops for a long time. She would curdle the milk and tie it up in muslin cloth, keeping a heavy grinding stone on the top. The resultant paneer would be silky soft and so flavourful. When I moved to Mumbai, I stayed in a hostel where we were not served paneer owing to its high cost. That was when I discovered the joy of having it ‘raw’ with tomato sauce! I would buy some paneer from Punjab & Sind (the best!) and run to my room upstairs to taste my loot. I would either crumble the meltingly soft paneer or cut into thick strips before dipping them into tomato sauce. One slab of 150 gms paneer would last me a happy afternoon and many pages of a book. Yes, I have the habit of eating and reading, that is how I enjoy both to the optimum.
I guess the quality of paneer that I had in Mumbai and Delhi spoilt me for life. The paneer that we get here in Bangalore just do not measure up to the standards of the touch-and-it-will-crumble paneer of Mumbai and Delhi. I have tried out many brands but they are either very bland or hard or both. I have now taken to frying the paneer cubes with a little turmeric and salt instead of just adding them plain to gravies.
Today’s recipe belongs to J, a dear ex-colleague of mine, a sardarni from Amritsar. We had met up for her birthday treat a few days back and while waiting for the starters, traded recipes much to the chagrin of our male friends. The recipe sounded so simple and delicious that I decided to make it during the weekend. I had invited my sister and her husband (and their baby) for dinner and since both of them were fond of paneer, I felt it was the right time to launch this new recipe I had learnt! So here goes…
250 gm paneer – cut into cubes
5 cloves of garlic - minced
½ spoon each of turmeric and coriander powder
½ cup tomato puree
¾ cup fresh cream
½ cup water
2 tablespoon Refined oil
Salt to taste
2 large onions
2 green chillies
1 inch ginger
Lightly fry the paneer cubes, sprinkling just a pinch of turmeric and salt over them. You can choose not to fry the paneer. I did because of the blandness of stuff we get here. Keep them aside.
Now, put some more oil in the kadai, if required, and sauté the minced garlic. Let the oil be infused with the flavor of the garlic. After the garlic turns golden, tip in the ground mixture of onions, ginger and chillies.
Now here is the thing, my friend had asked me to grind 4 ripe tomatoes with the onions. But I did not have tomatoes at home! Instead, I had tomato puree (Sacrilege! She would have screamed), and I decided to use that. You can go ahead and add tomatoes rather than the puree.
Anyways, back to our steaming kadai. Continue frying the onion mixture till it loses its ‘rawness’ and becomes brown. Add the spice powders – turmeric and coriander. You can also add garam masala, if you wish. I am not much of a spice person and generally keep the intake to a minimum. Now, add the tomato puree and keep stirring in low heat till the puree becomes half its original quantity.
After that, put half a cup of water into the mixture and bring it to a gentle boil. This is to ensure that the cream does not split when added. Now, tip in the cream and stir well. Finally, add the fried paneer pieces, add salt and let it simmer for 2 minutes before taking it off the gas. Garnish it with your choice of greens. I had some fresh spring onions. Serve alongside hot rotis or as I did, with pulao.
I am sure your eyes would have popped out when you ran through the list of ingredients and came across the point about the quantity of fresh cream. Yes, it is definitely a rich dish, but trust me, it does not seem like that at all! The tomato cuts across the richness of the cream quite well and lends a nice tanginess.