We were out looking at possible wedding venues a few months ago, and were at what has turned out to be our choice location: The Sheraton Parkview. Like many venues, they deal with The Host, a popular Indian caterer in the Toronto area and, as luck would have it, The Host has a restaurant location directly below the Sheraton in an underground mall. A perfect chance to “test” some wedding menu options!
One of our meal picks was a tawa paneer dish – paneer pan-fried with peppers and onion. It was good, and seemed simple enough to make at home. I gave it a few whirls and had quality results each time (it also works well with mushrooms) but I got the idea to build a sauce base for it as well, thinking I was inventing a brand new curry. I wasn’t – what I was actually doing is making a jalfrezi-style curry.
Now, I made this with homemade paneer, but I won’t hold it against you if you went for the store-bought stuff. Especially if it was on sale for 3 dollars like the last time I visited BJ Supermarket. What a steal. Anyway, this recipe is really simple, with big spice flavours. I used a balti-style masala for the garam masala here, so adjust the amount as you see fit.
- 2-4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 225 g / 0.5 lb of paneer
- 1 medium-sized green pepper
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 2 ripe tomatoes (I used 2 large plum tomatoes)
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 0.5″ of peeled ginger
- 1-3 green chilies, seeds and stems removed (optional)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1-2 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp salt
- cilantro garnish
What you will need: large non-stick frying pan, knife and cutting board, measuring spoons, some kind of stirring utensil, tongs or spatula, paper towels, bowls for organization, small food processor (optional)
- Mise-en-place: Prep all vegetables prior to beginning. Cut both the pepper and onion into 1″ cubes (or a bit smaller) and put aside together. Peel the garlic and ginger, cut the tomato in smaller chunks, (seed the chilies and rough-chop, if using) and process them all together into a smooth paste. If you don’t have a food processor, rough-chop the tomatoes and finely chop the garlic and ginger (and seeded green chili, if using). Measure the garam masala, turmeric, cayenne, and salt into a small bowl together.
- Fry the Paneer: Line a plate with a few sheets of paper towels. Cut your paneer in triangles (isosceles or scalene preferred, nerds) about 2″ width maximum and about 1/3″ thick. I do this because fried cheese triangles look prettier than half-inch cubes. Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat (5 on mine). When the oil is hot, lay out the triangles – I have no idea how many there will be, maybe a dozen? – in an even layer. Fry both the large flat surfaces (I like to use tongs to handle the cheese and avoid splashing oil, but use whatever you’re comfortable with) for a few minutes or until you get some nice golden brown crispness happening. This is going to add a nice texture to the final product – a crisp/chewy element to contrast with the sauce. When the paneer is nicely fried on both sides, remove them from the oil and lay them out on the paper towel-plate to drain excess oil.
- Now the easier steps. Keep the pan and oil hot on medium heat. Add the tsp of cumin seeds and fry them for about 15-20 seconds until fragrant (but not burnt – they shouldn’t go black, otherwise pour the oil out and start over with new cumin)
- Once we’ve flavoured the oil, add the chopped onion and green peppers. Fry the onions until translucent, hopefully with some golden brown edges. While waiting for this to happen, smell the delicious aroma of cumin-oil frying onions and peppers. This make take 5 minutes or so.
- When the onions have coloured a bit, pour in the blend of tomato, garlic and ginger. Be careful doing this. If your oil is crazy-hot, the liquid from the tomato will pop and splash back at you. It will not be pleasant.
- Into the tomato sauce, add the garam masala, turmeric, cayenne and salt mixture. Stir it! You may need to add 1/2 cup of hot water as well, depending on how much water the tomatoes have in them. Or wait until after step 7 and add a few splashes of water to keep a nice sauce texture.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to med-low (2-3) and simmer until the tomato cooks, darkens, and develops a deep flavour – about 20 minutes.
- Once the sauce is tasty, add the paneer triangles into the sauce. Gently, so you don’t break them into pieces. I do this by sitting them on the surface, then spooning sauce over top of them, rather than attempting to stir the cheese in with a spoon. Let the paneer triangles simmer in the curry for 5 minutes, just enough to bring them up to temperature.
- Spoon into a bowl and garnish with a few tbsp of chopped cilantro.