Muttar Paneer, My Favourite Curry

As promised, it’s curry recipe time. But first let me say a few words about that ubiquitous word ‘curry’. The word Curry is simply the anglicised form of the Tamil word kaṟi meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice’. This makes sense as rice is central to all Indian meals, as it is in other parts of Asia, and the ‘curries’ are often presented in small bowls to add to your rice and not the other way around. If you order a large Thali in India, you will be offered unlimited rice along with little teacup sized scoops of spicy and bland accompaniments- perhaps some mild chickpeas flavoured with sour tamarind, a crunchy fried fingerling, some bland soupy dal, or a dry curry of spicy potato or cauliflower, along with some hot chutney and dahi (plain yoghurt). A good Indian curry recipe involves subtlety in spicing, variation in texture and balance. Some people associate the word curry with heat, but this is a misconception: there are more mildly spiced aromatic curries than hot versions. There are no prizes for choking on chilli, eyes weeping in pain. A good banquet of curries might include one hot dish such as a Madras or Vindaloo, alongside others that are medium or mildly spiced, with some wet and some dry dishes. 

Unfortunately, there’s no chance for a banquet here any time soon, given the restrictions on social gathering. So it’s down to one curry at a time in this household of two, made with care, and served with all the sides- basmati jeera rice, naan, chutney and dahi. We have time on our side.

 

Muttar Paneer ( peas and curd) Serves 4 or more as part of a banquet

This is a two part recipe. The first step involves making the curd (paneer) which can made the day before, or anytime up to 3 hours before you make the curry. The recipe for paneer, including photos of the process, follows this main recipe.

  • 4 Tables neutral flavoured oil, such as canola or a mixture of half oil and half ghee ( my preference for a richer sauce)
  • 250 gr paneer, cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 6 or more cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic puree*
  • 2 tsp ginger puree*
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2- 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 200 gr canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with skins removed, finely chopped.
  • 350 gr whey or water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 125 gr frozen peas
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 Tblsp cream
  • 2 Tblsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat half the oil and ghee in a medium sized heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the paneer, sprinkling with a few pinches of turmeric if you wish. Cook till golden brown, turning gently.  Remove and drain.

Add the remaining oil to the same saucepan. Add the cardamom, stir about for a few seconds, then add the onion,and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if need be, till soft. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 more minutes or until the onion is soft and a pale golden colour.

Add the ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4- 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of whey, (or water if you’ve used a commercial paneer ) stirring frequently until the oil separates from the spice paste. Then add the rest of the liquid, and salt. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes.

Add the paneer and peas to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and cream and remove from heat. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander if you happen to have some. Mint works well too.

Serve with rice, naan and thin yoghurt or raita.

* the best way to produce ginger puree is grating it on a fine microplane, while garlic puree is best made bashed in a mortar and pestle. If I’m making a few different curries, I start with this step and make a bulk lot of each. 

Paneer recipe

Making paneer is the one of the easiest and most satisfying things to do. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to those tough blocks sealed in plastic found in the fridges of Indian Delis. You will also be able to use the whey in your curry, so nothing is wasted. The whey keeps well for over a week and can be used in all sorts of curries and soups.

Ingredients for paneer to yield around 250 gr

  • 2 litres full cream milk
  • 3 tablespoons strained lemon juice

Boil the milk, making sure that it just reaches boiling point and doesn’t develop a skin or begin to froth. Stir occasionally while doing this. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and stir about until curds and whey separate. Leave it for 5 minutes, then tip into a muslin lined strainer over a bowl. The bowl will collect the whey. Wrap the curds tightly in the cloth, making a flattish shape, then place in the fridge on a plate with a heavy weight on top. Keep the whey and store in a bottle. The curd will be ready to use in 3 hours. Cut as required.

The pics below show the stages of paneer making. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. The result is worth it.

The following chart gives an approximate guide of yield of paneer ( curd cheese) to milk. I used 1 litre of full cream milk for my most recent batch which produced 130 gr of paneer, enough for a large curry for two. The time before, my batch of 2 litres of milk produced a yield of 260 gr which is consistent, using full fat generic brand supermarket milk . UHT milk is not recommended. 

An approximate guide to yield of curd from milk. Use this chart to reduce or increase the recipe for paneer as required. Chart courtesy of Kurma Dasa. Who remembers cooking with Kurma?

For Maree Tink, who also enjoys making Muttar Paneer.

22 thoughts on “Muttar Paneer, My Favourite Curry”

  1. Fran – if I had a dollar for each time I have tried to explain the correct meaning of ‘curry’ to those standing by, I could buy a pretty big-ticket item ! ‘Oh, come’on !’ !! Thank you for this recipe. I have not made paneer for ages . . . and it is so easy . . . and I do want to taste your main recipe as soon as possible and shall measure each ingredient very carefully to get just the taste you enjoy at home . . . be well . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Eha, be well. This dish is an old Indian classic, so popular in Australia. Paneer making is a nice little distraction, so long as you can get your hands on some fresh milk.

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  2. This sounds really delicious! It’s amazing that generations and a half a world away, my mom would make “teacup cheese” in exactly the same process using the milk and lemon juice. She placed the drained curds in a teacup, pressed it overnight, and inverted it on a pretty plate the next day!

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  3. That sounds delicious. Words do what they want to do. The word “curry” has escaped its original boundaries and now means something different in many parts of the English-speaking world. However, it’s good to remind people of where it came from.

    Isn’t cottage cheese basically the same as this? I wonder if you could press cottage cheese into a mold and use it in this recipe. Other curds from a non-ethnic store are usually fermented just a bit, though I think some of the varieties of middle-eastern white cheese would be similar.

    be well… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Yes, food morphs along the way, much like a virus, with rather unpleasant results. I can remember the atrocious concoctions of my childhood, the dishes they called curries, consisting of sausages and sultanas stewed in a British curry flavoured sauce. We have come along way since then, thanks to our wonderful Indian community in Melbourne, as well as travels in India, good cookbooks and readily available fresh spices. Definitions of food often provide a clue to producing a more flavoursome and authentic dish. For me, that’s the appealing aspect of food writing, that’s what I usually write about.

      Cottage cheese is basically a curd cheese, though it would be quite difficult to mass it together to cut into squares for frying. Most of the other cheeses you mention don’t work well, due added salt, sour fermented taste, or rubbery texture. I remember in the 80s when I used to make this dish for the family. I used firm ricotta cheese. The only problem was that it disintegrated on frying, the resulting dish looking like baby vomit. Paneer is a simple, bland carrier of sauce, providing protein to a vegetarian dish. As I mentioned in the post, it takes around 10 minutes to make, from a 2 litre container of fresh milk, costing AU$2.50. You can lead a horse to water………

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  4. The penny has dropped I think, to make solid curd cheese I should use the same process as for ricotta but omit the salt.
    We’re eating more curries… I’ve managed to come up with a fragrant fresh ginger laden coconut rice that is palatable to the G.O. on occasion.

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  5. A category called Indian food tries to lump together things as diverse as Finnish and Italian food. On the other hand, the restricted range of kitchens in restaurants have universalized certain things as Indian food. It will be a very uncommon Odiya who eats vindaloo at home, and an unusual Tamil family which makes a paneer-based curry. That’s why I like the low murmur of paneer muttering, “This is Indian restaurant cooking, seldom made at home.”

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    1. Yes, regional indian food is diverse, and when i was in Kerala, the offerings were Keralan and not mixed regional foods. During lockdown, it’s necessary to copy Indian restaurant food, as we only know it in Melbourne, in order to satisfy our cravings. I’ve been making muttar paneer now for 40 years at home: I haven’t eaten meat since my first visut to india in 1978. Paneer curries are firm favorites.

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      1. I must say I don’t mind restaurant food in India. Yes, paneer is a nice vegetable protein. But in most parts of India beans and pulses are the preferred proteins. Dals of various kinds, and things that resemble bread, but are made of vegetable proteins (thepla is made with besan)

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  6. Being an Indian , I have to say your Matar Paneer looks fabulous! Brava to you!
    This is a very common dish in North of India. You won’t find it as a menu in the Southern Indian restaurants. Since our food is diverse, you’ll see several versions of this dish even in the North.
    I tend to use a lot of fresh grated ginger in the curry, not the paste… The flavor is immense.. !!

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    1. But my paste is made from fresh ginger….. grated to a paste.. rather than chopped. Yes, I’ve eaten this dish when in northern india, and of course in Melbourne, home to many Indian Australians, who we love very much.

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