First things first: home-made paneer is the best and it is very easy to make. As I’ve said before if you have the skills to bring a liquid to a slow boil and then stir it then you have the skills to make paneer—see here for the method I learned from a friend, the late, great Sue Darlow. But if you don’t have the time to make paneer at home by all means go out and get some from your local desi store. For that matter, Costco has giant blocks of paneer too these days—I’ve not tried it; if you have and have an opinion please do share in the comments. In short, use whatever paneer you have but if nervousness is the only thing stopping you from trying to make your own then just know it’s not difficult. Anyway, when I make paneer my default uses for it are either palak-paneer or matar-paneer. This summer, however, I started making paneer-mirch masala in yet another attempt to use up the endless flood of Hungarian hot wax peppers from my vegetable garden. I played around with a number of variations with spices, the amount of tomato, the amount of gravy etc. and this is my current favourite version. Give it a go.
- 1 lb paneer, cut into cubes
- A handful of Hungarian Hot Wax peppers or similar, deseeded and cut into long pieces
- The following whole garam masala: a large piece cinnamon, three cloves, five pods of green cardamom
- 1 medium onion, sliced thickly
- 1 tspn freshly pounded garlic paste
- 1 tspn freshly pounded ginger paste
- The following ground to a fine powder: 2 tspns coriander seeds, 1 tspn zeera/cumin seeds, 1/2 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds
- 1 tspn hot chilli powder
- 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 cup tomatoes, chopped with the juice
- 1 tspn jaggery/dark brown sugar (optional)
- 2 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 tblspns of neutral oil of choice
- Heat the oil over medium heat till it shimmers and add the whole garam masala.
- As soon as they become fragrant add the onions and saute, stirring often till they are well browned.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the cut up peppers and saute till they are glossy and have begun to shrink.
- Add the powdered spices, chilli powder, turmeric and salt and saute for another minute or two.
- Add the chopped tomato, mix in and saute till it’s completely cooked down and the oil separates.
- Add the water, salt and jaggery (if using), lower the heat to medium low and cook till the gravy is at a texture you like.
- Add the paneer, shake the pan gently to distribute it evenly in the sauce, cover and cook at a simmer for another 5-7 minutes.
- Taste, adjust for salt and serve with rice or chapatis.
- You might fry the cubed paneer lightly at first if you like. But I prefer both the softer texture of un-fried paneer and not adding extra oil to the dish.
- You can use milder peppers and/or milder chilli powder if you prefer but the dish should have at least a little heat to it for contrast.
- After adding two cups of water I roughly simmer one cup’s worth away as I like to make this relatively thick for eating with chapatis. See what you prefer.