Garam Masala Tuesdays: Shahi Paneer

by Shumaila

When I was in India this time, the cook at my parents’ place made this amazing shahi paneer dish at a party that my parents hosted. Now, I have made shahi paneer in the past from a recipe my mother uses. The results have been good, always good. But, both my mom and I liked this recipe. And when I found out it was so easy, I had to try it out for myself.

“Shahi” means royal in Urdu and “paneer” is the name given to Indian cottage cheese. Indian cottage cheese is much firmer than the cottage cheese that we get here in the US.Β Unlike most cheeses in the world, the making of paneer does not involve rennet as the coagulation agent, thus making it completely lacto-vegetarian and providing one of the sources of protein for vegetarians in India. It is generally unsalted.

Shahi Paneer is the slightly richer version of Paneer Makhani or Butter Paneer (the vegetarian counterpart of the famous Butter chicken). A major difference in the nomenclature comes from the use of nuts and raisins- the former includes them in the recipe, the latter doesn’t.

As how all recipes go, there are various versions of shahi paneer out there in the cyber space, in Indian kitchens and in cookbooks. My mom’s recipe uses dried fenugreek recipes (which I have seen other recipes also mention). But this doesn’t. Yes, there are different versions online, but I like this recipe for its straight forwardness.

While the spices might differ from region to region and even from one household to another, the cooking method also has many variations. Some fry the paneer before putting it in the gravy. It helps in preventing the cheese from crumbling in the sauce.

I have also found Soma’s tip on baking it and broiling the paneer pretty helpful. Soma marinades her paneer in red chilli powder, dried fenugreek leaves, yogurt, salt and oil and then bakes them in a preheated 350 F oven for 7 minutes, and broiling for 3 minutes.

You can also fry the paneer pieces in a skillet. Heat some oil, adding a pinch red chilli powder, turmeric powder and some cumin powder. Add the paneer and fry till golden brown on both sides.

Some just put the paneer in raw. I do that sometimes, especially when I am cooking it for V and myself, especially when I do not need any extra oil! But for a party- a one time indulgent, I do go all the way.

Tips I follow while making this recipe:

  • If using store bought paneer, it helps to briefly soak the paneer in salted hot water. Place the paneer in a bowl filled with salted boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Once the cheese is softened, drain and set the paneer aside.
  • Sometimes I add a little sugar to make it a little sweet. Usually raisins are used in this royal curry, but since I am not a fan of them, I did not add any. You can also use ketchup to add sweetness and color to the gravy.
  • It helps wearing gloves while cooking the tomato-onion mixture, because the sauce has a tendency to splutter.
  • The more you cook the gravy, the better flavor it will have, but make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring it.
  • Generally, after removing the onion-tomato mixture, to remove any leftover mixture in the blender, I add the warm water called for in the recipe to the blender, and scoop out any leftover tomato-onion mixture in the blender. That way you don’t waste anything.
  • After draining the water from the onion-tomato mixture, let it cool a bit before blending. If its too hot and you blend it, the hot steam tends to push the lid off the blender, and can cause serious burns. I am speaking from experience and had a red hand once (on a totally different recipe). Using a towel on top so that even if it does overflow from the blender helps my hands from scalding.
  • IF MAKING AHEAD, make the gravy and broil the paneer, if necessary, but reserve adding the paneer to the gravy till the day of serving. Also make the gravy a little thinner, as it will thicken with time. If you do add the paneer, reheat in microwave or oven. Reheating on the stove, might lead to the paneer breaking into pieces while stirring.

This recipe has been linked to Indian Food Palooza

SHAHI PANEER

Shahi Paneer is usually a special occasion dish because of its richness.

I tried the recipe given by the cook for the first time on my own two weeks back. But, the gravy was a little too thick and rich, and a lot for just the two of us. Next time, I halved the recipe and decreased the cashew called for to a quarter of the original recipe. And now its the way I want it. The recipe below is the improvised version.

The best part of this recipe is that it does not require too many spices, and still is quite flavorful. This dish is perfect for those who would like to make Indian food at home, but do not have the necessary spices on hand. It can be served with any Indian bread, such as naan or roti.

Prep time- 30 min (including boiling time)
Cooking time- 30 min
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 kg onions (1 large onion), quartered
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3-4 green chillies ( if you prefer less heat, deseed the chillies)
  • 125 gm tomato (1 roma tomato)
  • 50 gm cashews
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste ( 1 inch ginger & 4 cloves garlic)
  • 250 gms paneer
  • 1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp sugar or 1 tbsp ketchup (See note above)
  • 1/2 cup low fat half & half
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3-4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Peel the ginger, and in a spice grinder, grind the ginger and garlic into a paste. (You might need to add 1/2tsp of water to make the paste smooth).
  2. Wash the tomatoes, and remove the eyes of the tomato, and cut crosses on the other side (as shown in the picture on right above)
  3. Put the tomatoes, onions, coriander seeds, green chillies, and cashews in a big enough sauce pot. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and let it come to a boil (about 10 minutes). Drain the water and blend it to a paste.
  4. In another pan (I use the same sauce pot), heat the butter. Once hot, add in the ginger-garlic paste. Fry till goldenish. Add the onion-tomato paste.
  5. Add 1/4 cup warm water. (see note)
  6. Fry on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the oil separates. (Use your gloves- see note).
  7. Add salt and turmeric powder and let cook for another 15-20 minutes on medium-low flame. (I added 2 tsp red chilli powder as well).
  8. While the sauce is being cooked, cut the paneer into triangles, (or cubes or whatever shape you prefer). I like to cut the paneer into 1 inch long triangles that are about 1/2 inch thick.
  9. Bake/broil/fry the paneer, if you would like. (see note)
  10. Add the roasted cumin powder, in the sauce and mix well. Season with salt and add sugar if required. You can add a little ketchup as well. The ketchup adds a little sweetness, and a little red colour to the gravy.
  11. When ready to serve, reheat the sauce. Add the paneer, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add finely chopped cilantro, cream/milk/half n half. (I used half n half). Serve hot with naan, or roti.