Simmered Kashmiri Paneer
We learned this home-style dish from an Australian named Kate, whom we met in Rajasthan. She had learned the dish from her Kashmiri husband’s family. A slow-simmered tomato sauce bathes slices of golden fried paneer (fresh pressed cheese). The dish is vegetarian, with the rich and subtle spicing that is characteristic of the Kashmiri kitchen, and easy to make ahead. It’s worth taking the time to first fry the slices of paneer, and to let the sauce simmer down to a thick rich flavor.
The chiles used in Kashmir are milder than the ones in most other parts of the Subcontinent, and the dried chile powder tastes more like Spanish pimentón, slightly smoky and sweet and less hot than regular cayenne. If you have pimentón, do use it here.
- 2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, or substitute 3 cups crushed good-quality canned tomatoes
- About 1 pound paneer (page 345 or store-bought)
- About ⅔ cup ghee, peanut or safflower oil, or raw sesame oil for frying
- ½ cup minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
- 3 tablespoons minced ginger or ginger mashed to a paste
- 3 cups chopped onions (½-inch dice)
- 3 to 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons minced seeded green cayenne chile
- 3 brown cardamom pods, smashed, or substitute 5 green cardamom pods, smashed
- 2 cloves (optional)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ to 1 teaspoon Spanish pimentón (see headnote) or ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
- If using fresh tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- To peel the tomatoes, immerse them in the water for 30 seconds, then lift out and refresh in a bowl of cold water.
- Peel the tomatoes and remove and discard the cores.
- Crush the tomatoes between your fingers into a bowl and set aside, loosely covered.
- Slice the paneer into rectangles ½ inch thick and about 1 by 2 inches, and set aside.
- Fill a wide heavy skillet or wok or a karhai (see Glossary) with just over ¼ inch ghee or oil.
- Heat over medium-low heat, then add only as many paneer slices as will fit in the pan without overlapping and cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per batch.
- Lift out, letting the oil drain off, and place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining paneer.
- Measure out ⅓ cup ghee or oil from the pan and pour into a large heavy-bottomed nonreactive saucepan (reserve the remaining ghee or oil for another purpose).
- Heat over medium-high heat, then add the garlic and ginger, lower the heat to medium, and stir-fry for about a minute.
- Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and pale honey in color but not caramelized to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and stir in, then add 3 cups water.
- The mixture should be very liquid; if your tomatoes are not very juicy, add up to another cup of water.
- Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Add the green chile, cardamom, cloves, if using, turmeric, pimentón or cayenne, and salt.
- Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- You may need to lower the heat a little more partway through the cooking as the mixture thickens.
- Add the paneer to the sauce and simmer for another 45 minutes.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. (We like to add a generous, untraditional, grinding of black pepper to the sauce just before serving.)
- Serve as a main dish with basmati rice, accompanied by an easy green such as Pea Tendrils with Coconut (page 71) and by Fresh White Radish Slices with Salt (page 54) or Zinet’s Young Ginger Pickle (page 346).
- Kate’s instructions included placing the fried slices of paneer in cold water to soak until you are ready to add them to the sauce. We’ve found that if they’re slow fried until a little browned and crisping at the edges, they’re not oily, and we like the crispy texture, so we don’t soak them. If you prefer a chewy texture, place the fried paneer in a pan of cold water until ready to add it into the sauce.
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