The Taste of India: Matar Paneer (Peas with Paneer)

Vegetarian recipes to warm your palate.


| February/March 1993


This Punjabi dish, with some variation in spices, is eaten over all of northern India. Paneer is a fresh milk cheese with an interesting, slightly chewy consistency. It’s easy to make, but requires planning ahead. You can substitute a diced 6- or 8-ounce cake of pressed tofu for it in this recipe.

• 1 medium-sized onion, peeled and chopped
• About a 1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
• 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
• Paneer (see recipe below) plus 2 cups of the whey (or 6 to 8 ounces tofu plus 2 cups water)
• 1 whole dried hot red pepper
• 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
• 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 3 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and minced
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh or 10-ounce package defrosted frozen peas

Put the chopped onion and ginger into the container of an electric blender or food processor along with 1/3 cup water and blend until you have a smooth paste. Leave paste in the blender container.

Heat the oil in a heavy, 10-inch-wide pot (preferably teflon-lined) over a medium flame. When hot, put in the pieces of paneer (or tofu) in a single layer and fry them until they are golden brown on all sides. This happens pretty fast. With a slotted spoon, remove fried paneer to a plate. Put the dried red pepper into the same oil. Within 2 seconds, turn the pepper over so that it browns on both sides. Now put in the contents of the blender (keep your face averted as the paste might splatter). Fry, stirring constantly, for 10–12 minutes, or until paste turns light brown. Add the coriander and turmeric and fry, stirring, for another minute. Put in the minced tomatoes. Stir and fry for another 3 to 4 minutes or until tomatoes turn a dark reddish brown. Now pour in 2 cups of the whey (or water if you’re using tofu). Add the salt and the black pepper. Mix well and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Lift cover and put in the paneer pieces and the peas. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until peas are cooked.

Paneer

• 5 cups whole milk
• 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Bring the milk to a boil. As soon as it begins to bubble, pour in the lemon juice, stir once, and take the pot off the heat. Leave it for 15 minutes. The milk will curdle and the curds will separate from the whey.

Strain the curds through three layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze out as much whey as you can easily. (Do not discard this whey. Refrigerate it and use it in cooking instead of water.) Tie up the curds in the cheesecloth, and hang the bundle to drip overnight.

Next morning, remove the hanging bundle and untie it. Gently flatten it out to make a 4-inch patty, keeping the cheese loosely wrapped in the cheesecloth. Put the patty on a sturdy plate and place a flat, heavy object, such as a heavy pot filled with water, on top of it. Leave the weight on the cheese for 4 to 5 hours. After the cheese has been pressed, it should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.





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