In previous recipes, I have already explained a little bit about the famed Indian paneer, a very popular ingredient in Punjabi cooking. Paneer pasanda is a mild dish that comes from the Mughal court. Originally a meat dish, the dish was modified to meet the dietary requirements of a large vegetarian population of the subcontinent. ‘Pasanda’ means favourite, and apparently referred to the cut of meat that was to be used in the curry. This, obviously, makes little sense with regard to paneer but nonetheless, the name of the preparation did not change along with its main ingredient.
In taste, paneer pasanda is similar to Shahi paneer, another dish from the Mughlai cuisine. However, the latter is creamier and milder than the former as it is generously treated with cashew or almond paste and cream. Shahi, meaning imperial, is a befitting name. Anyway, back to paneer pasanda – it is a very easy dish to prepare, with no complicated ingredients or preparations required. In fact, it is difficult to mess up and is a great recipe for morale for those new to the kitchen and its ways. So on to this simple yet delicious dish:
- Paneer – 250 grammes
- Ghee – 2 tablespoons
- Onion – 1, medium
- Tomatoes – 4, medium
- Carrot – 1, medium
- Ginger – 1 inch piece
- Green chilli – 1, medium
- Garlic – 6-8 flakes
- Cloves – 5
- Cardamom – 4
- Kasuri methi (fenugreek powder) – 2 teaspoons
- Garam masala – 1 teaspoon
- Red chilli powder – ½ teaspoon
- Sugar – ½ teaspoon
- Salt – 1 teaspoon
- [Optional] Saunf (fennel seeds) – 1 teaspoon
- [Optional] Flour – 2 teaspoons
- [Optional] Water – 1½ cups
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- Chop the onion, ginger, and green chilli finely; crush the garlic.
- Heat the ghee in a kadhai (wok) on a high flame; add the ginger, cloves, green chilli, garlic, and onion, each separated by a few seconds and in that order. Lower the flame to medium; cook until the onions turn transparent
- Crush the cardamom; chop the carrot finely. Add both to the mix in the kadhai. Cook for about a minute
- Chop the tomatoes into quarters; put them in a mixer and blend them for about five seconds, just enough to make a coarse puree. Add the tomatoes to the kadhai and lower the flame to low. Cover and cook for about five to seven minutes.
- [Optional] At this point, you can add a cup of water if the mixture is too dry. However, if the tomatoes, onions, and carrots are really juicy, they will release their own juices into the kadhai and no water will be required.
- If you have added water, bring to a boil and then remove from the flame. If not, remove from the flame and set aside to cool.
- Once cool, transfer the entire contents of the kadhai into a mixer. Blend for about ten seconds or until you are left with a smooth gravy.
- [Optional] It is customary in restaurants to strain the gravy at this point but I prefer not to, giving the dish a slightly thicker texture; besides, all the fibre you would strain out is healthy for you!
- Heat the kasuri methi in a little ghee for about half a minute and add it to the gravy. An alternative here that I have tried is switching out the kasuri methi for about a teaspoon of saunf. I liked the outcome because the final dish is supposed to be just slightly sweet. Saunf certainly helps towards that goal, though I like the dish with kasuri methi too.
- Return the gravy to the kadhai and put on a medium flame. If the gravy is too watery, add the flour and it will act as a thickening agent. However, if you did not strain the gravy, you will probably not need to do this.
- Add the garam masala, red chilli powder, sugar, and salt. and stir.
- Cut the paneer into approximately ¾-inch cubes and add to the gravy. Cook on a low to medium flame for a few minutes.
Serve with either an Indian bread like naan or kulcha or with lightly flavoured rice, such as jeera rice.