In my early adolescence I took to experimenting with dishes that were seemingly more exotic than the staple Gujarati curries my mother cooked for us every day. I remember the time I was first introduced to the springy texture of paneer, an Indian soft cheese. It was at once a curious and satisfying experience and one I had sought to recreate in my own kitchen.
Paneer was to be my new muse. With it, I would create something delicious and exciting. Food to make my father proud and my mother surprised. I did it too. A dish concocted spontaneously with whatever I could lay my hands on from the fridge and cupboard. Back then, it didn’t really have a name. After some further tast-testing amongst family members, I came upon the realisation that what I’d ‘created’ had already existed for several centuries! Originating in Northern India – The Punjab – It was called kadhai paneer and regulary enjoyed by the Mughals.
‘Oh well’ I thought, it may already exist in India but for me it’ll always be my first dabble into Indian cooking beyond my gujarati roots, and one I introduced to my family. And they’re definitely not complaining.
1 medium red onion
1 green chilli
2 tbsp oil
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cumin and coriander powder (dhana jeeru)
2″x 2″piece of fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
4-5 tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes
1-2 medium bell peppers (red/yellow or green)
2 1\2 tsp red chilli powder
1\4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
1\2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 1\2 tbsp honey
1 1\2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1. Finely slice the onion and green chilli.
2. In a wok or large kadhai, add oil and heat. Once hot, add the onion, chilli and bay leaves. Add the cumin coriander powder and stir on medium/low heat so that it is quietly sizzling.
3. In the meantime, peel and chop the ginger and garlic into little pieces and add. Stir.
4. Blend the tomatoes to make a puree. Add to the wok.
5*. Whilst the masala is cooking, chop the block of paneer into little cubes. Slice peppers into strips and add to the wok. Stir.
6. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt, cinnamon, honey and lemon. Stir and allow it to cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes until the paneer is soft.
7. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with a flatbread of your choice – Naan, chappatis etc…
*You can add a range of veg beyond peppers if you wish, such as mushrooms, sweetcorn and peas. I’ve even added pineapple slices to it once, to give it a sweet and sour taste. Have a play around. It’ll be delicious all the same.