Indian Green Peas with Pan-Fried Cheese
Finally a mutter paneer recipe that is spicy and assertive enough for my table. I have to admit that in the past I had grown to avoid this classic dish, because restaurant versions are so bland. Luckily I recently discovered this recipe which demands a serious amount of fresh chiles and ginger.
I found this recipe in Raghavan Iyer’s heavy tome of a cookbook called 660 Curries. Over the past few months, this cookbook has captured my heart. Not only are its options inexhaustible, but each recipe I’ve assembled has been surprisingly phenomenal. I promise to share other recipes soon (like his sensational mustard-green-saag paneer and his fresh corn with curry leaves).
For those of you unfamiliar with paneer, it’s a dense Indian cheese that holds its shape when folded into hot curries. It is often pan-fried before being added to curries (although many Indian restaurants cut corners by tossing in small cold cubes). You can find paneer in Indian groceries, and some Arab markets in my area carry it as well. In a pinch, I confess that I’ve substituted the salty haloum cheese from Cyprus. It was unorthodox, but tasty.
This recipe is so addictive that you might want to double the recipe, and share leftovers with friends all week.
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
3 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 1 1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)
3 large garlic cloves
2 fresh green chiles (Thai, cayenne or serrano), stems removed, but seeds intact
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 Cup tomato sauce, canned or homemade
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt
1 1/2 Cups frozen peas (no need to thaw)
1/4 Cup heavy whipping cream (or half-and-half)
8 ounces paneer
1/4 cup canola oil for frying the paneer
1. Combine the onion, ginger, garlic, and chiles in a food processor, and pulse until they are minced.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds and bay leaf, and cook until the cumin sizzles, turns reddish brown, and smells nutty, 5-10 second. Immediately add the minced onion blend and stir-fry until it is light reddish brown, 5-7 minutes.
3. Stir in the tomato sauce, garam masala, and salt. The sauce will quickly start to bubble up and splatter, so lower the heat to medium. Simmer the sauce, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until some oil appears on the surface and around the edges, providing a glistening sheen, 5-10 minutes.
4. Pour in 1/4 Cup water and add the frozen peas.
Cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender and olive green in color, 8-10 minutes.
5. In the meantime, prepare the paneer. Cut the paneer into 1-inch cubes. To pan-fry them, heat 1/4 cup canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cubes in a single layer and cook, turning them occasionally, until all sides are honey-brown and crispy, 7-10 minutes. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
6. Fold the cream (or half-and-half) and paneer into the peas.
Cover the pan and simmer, occasionally stirring gently, until the cream and cheese have warmed through, about 5 minutes.
7. Remove the bay leaf and serve.