Paneer is the most common cheese used in Indian cooking. However, for centuries paneer, or cheese of any kind was not present in Indian cuisine as Hindus believed that souring of milk was not respectful to the cow. Paneer was introduced to India by Persian and Afghan invaders who originally made it from goat milk. The term "paneer" comes from the word "peynir" which means cheese in Turkish. A second historical theory suggests the paneer was brought to India by the Portuguese who taught the technique to the Bengalis, hence the second term "chenna". No matter the origin, paneer dominates North Indian cuisine and is cooked in an unlimited variety of ways.
This is a rather simple dish but one that is lovely. The combination of green peppers, tomatoes and eggplant is a classic and the addition of soft fried paneer makes this dish a luxury. the flavours are mild and lovely with the vegetables contributing to the flavour profile. Traditionally the dish has everything mixed together in a curry form, I took the liberty to plate it differently to highlight the paneer and eggplant.
Yamuna Devi's cookbook is probably the first cookbook I bought when I moved to the US 30 years ago for my PhD. Over the years, I have cooked almost half the recipes, it is the cookbook that taught me technique, and flavour profiles and always gave me a wonderful meal. This vegetarian cookbook is essential on any shelf, it is the bible of Indian vegetarian cuisine.
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2 + 2 tablespoons ghee
1 pack panir cheese, cut into thin rectangles
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
12-15 curry leaves
A generous pinch of asafoetida
1-2 green chillies, cut vertically
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 tablespoons cilantro, minced
2 green bell peppers, cored and cut into small dice
3 medium tomatoes, finely diced
salt, to taste
8-10 baby eggplant, slit into quarters
1 cup water
Cilantro, minced, to garnish
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide frying pan and fry the paneer till it is browned on the top and bottom. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot and add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and sautè for 30 seconds till the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the curry leaves and asafetida immediately followed by the green chillies and ginger. Stir for 30 seconds till the ginger no longer smells raw.
Add the ground coriander seeds and garam masala and give a quick stir. Add the cilantro and mix in well. Add the green peppers and cook on medium heat till the peppers are soft about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and salt and cook on low heat for 15 minutes till the tomatoes have broken down and formed a sauce. Add the eggplants and water and simmer gently with the lid closed for 15 minutes till the eggplants are cooked through and soft. stir the pot occasionally so that the spices do not stick to the bottom and burn. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
To assemble, heat the paneer and place it in the centre of a large platter in a grid pattern. Remove the eggplants from the sauce and set aside. Spoon the curry around the paneer along the edges. Place the eggplants over the curry in a decorative pattern. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.