For a dish that has “butter” in its name, one would think paneer makhani needs a generous amount of butter to achieve glossy, creamy perfection. One would be wrong. A little pat added towards the end seems to be enough. Of course, you can cook the whole thing in butter, but sometimes I feel that adding a lot of butter actually takes the spotlight away from the paneer.
I love paneer. I love how delicately flavored this cheese is. It doesn’t overpower the dish it is used in.You can easily include it in your weeknight dinner or prepare party-worthy dishes too. Made from whole milk, paneer is on the fatty side; but it is also a good source of calcium, has almost no sodium, and can be good for you, in moderation.
But if you are in the mood to indulge, you can lightly fry the paneer before adding it in any curry. It elevates a simple paneer makhani to the next level. Just be sure to add it to the curry and not eat all of it. I may or may not have started to do that!
This is a simple recipe. Just remember to use the following as the base for the masala – onion paste, tomato puree, ginger-garlic paste and a simple combination of spice powders. An easy trick to end up with restaurant-like creamy, smooth curry is to blend everything together before adding the paneer. A light hand of cream or milk towards the end will finish it off nicely. Restaurants add red food color to most of their dishes, but you can naturally enhance the color by using Kashmiri red chili powder.
If you are feeling overly indulgent, you can add cashew nut paste too, but then you will end up with Shahi (Royal) Paneer, which is also good, but not exactly what I have in mind right now. This recipe is quick, easy and dare I say, light!
You will need:
- Oil – 3 tbsp
- Paneer – around 300g, cubed
- Whole spices – 1″ piece of cinnamon, 3 cloves, 2 cardamom pods, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- Onion – 1 large, finely chopped or ground to a paste
- Ginger and garlic paste – 1 1/2 tsp
- Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
- Red chili powder – 1 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 tsp
- Garam masala – 1/2 tsp
- Tomatoes – 2 large, pureed
- Cilantro leaves – 2 tbsp, chopped (plus a little extra for the garnish)
- Cream or milk – 3-4 tbsp
- Butter – 1 tbsp
*Kasuri methi or dried fenugreek leaves – 1 tsp, crushed
- Heat oil in a pan. Fry the paneer pieces lightly on all sides. Remove and keep aside.
- In the same pan (there should be some oil left), add the whole spices and allow them to sputter and become fragrant.
- Add onion and saute till golden. Add ginger and garlic pastes and saute well till the raw smell goes away.
- Add the masala powders and mix well.
- Add the pureed tomatoes. Cook till the oil separates and the gravy becomes thick. At this stage, you can blend the gravy, if you want a really smooth paneer masala.
- Return the blended gravy to the pan. Add 1/2 – 1 cup water and salt and bring to a boil. Add the fried paneer cubes and simmer for a couple of minutes.
- Finally, add the dried fenugreek leaves, cream and butter and mix gently. Do this on a low heat, so as not to curdle the cream.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve hot.
* – In North Indian cuisine, the final touch is a generous pinch of kasuri methi or dried fenugreek leaves. It adds a wonderful flavor to the paneer masala. If you don’t use it much for everyday cooking, don’t feel obliged to go and buy a whole packet. It is good to have, but not absolutely essential.
Paneer butter masala goes excellently well with a light pulao or Indian flat breads like rotis, naan or chapatis. Slice some onions and lemon wedges for a fresh side.
I hope you try this simple recipe and let me know how it turns out. And, if you are an expert on paneer dishes, do tell me what variations you introduce to this dish.