Paneer is always seen on an Indian table, it is a staple. The quality of paneer is always discussed furiously and vendors are coveted for their soft and delicate paneer blocks that sell out quickly.
Here is a recipe from the Deccan region that follows the Awadh style of cooking. It is a rich curry that is loaded with bold spices and tamarind for a tart flavour. The sauce smothers the paneer in complex flavours that is typical of the region. This is a dish that will surprise your guests and become a mainstay in your kitchen as a great variation for paneer dishes.
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For the spice paste:
4 oz. grated fresh coconut
8-10 dried red chillies, or to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons tamarind extract
1 tablespoon ginger paste
6-8 cloves garlic
1/2-3/4 cup water
for the batter:
2 1/2 oz chickpea (besan) batter
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced
11 oz. paneer, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt, to taste
Add all the ingredients for the spice paste to a blender and purèe to a smooth paste. Set aside.
Mix all the ingredients for the batter. Dip the paneer in the batter to coat well. Fill a pot with 2-inches of oil. Deep fry the paneer pieces till the batter is golden. Remove and drain on paper towels/ Set aside.
Note: for a healthier version, I omit this step and use the paneer as is.
Heat the oil in a wok. Add the onions and fry till golden, about 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook till they are completely broken down and you have a sauce, about 15 minutes. Add the spice paste and cook for another 15 minutes till the sauce is thick and the oils have started to pool on the top. Taste for salt.
Place the hot paneer on a platter. Lade the sauce over the paneer. Serve immediately.