They are those extraordinary moments and those exceptional days that make or break us. All other, or rather the bulk of our days are routine, and business as usual. We wake up, do what we have to, and retire. And on these “just another day(s)”, we don’t expect magic, nothing glorious…just some comfort, ease, rest and a slice of peace!
Today was nothing unusual for me. It was a day full of work and kids have been good, as generally. And just like any other day, in the evening and on my way to the kitchen, this million dollar question pops up in my head for the nth time. “What should I make for dinner tonight?” Really, what? I had about a pound of fresh Paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in my refrigerator. I like this thing about the Paneer — extremely easy to cook and provides such an extravaganza! And as always, my freezer is an Akshayapatra (Sanskrit word for an “inexhaustible vessel of food”) of frozen green peas, courtesy Mr. Hubby’s grocery trips and my shopping list. I thought the classic Indian Matar Paneer would make an easy and a great treat for our tummies tonight.
But then to provide myself the luxury of not cooking another supper again in the next part of the day, and in order to sustain this one side dish for a little longer, I had to add something that would provide more body and volume. There are very rare dishes in this world that cannot use potatoes in them. Yes, potatoes! Like round potatoes, or “Gol Aloo-r moton“, Ma would say in Bangla, when she found me participating in every discussion of the house. I was very chatty and curious as a little girl and loved to get into all conversations in my house — relevant, irrelevant, ones that required me or most others that didn’t! I wasn’t one, but Potatoes are extremely versatile. Probably the most versatile vegetables I’ve known, that finds it’s place in all of our Global cuisines.
Now, with a few potatoes walking into the scene, we had the noble Aloo Matar Paneer on our menu for dinner. An ordinarily extraordinary side, that goes very well with Indian breads and rice with equal brilliance. Aloo matar Paneer and Matar Paneer are typical North Indian dishes in which the paneer is ideally cut into small cubes — in fact smaller than the paneer is cut for most other lavish paneer-based dishes. Several vegetarians communities take pride in slicing paneer with precision and customarily to match the tradition of the dish being prepared. In most elaborate paneer-based food items, the paneer is cut into thin rectangular slabs or sometimes into triangles. However, Matar Paneer and Aloo Matar Paneer are dishes that as a rule, generally should contain smaller cubed and often pre-fried paneer pieces in both homestyle as well as restaurant-style versions.
This one’s an extremely popular North Indian vegetarian comfort food. There’re only a few other foods that can match this repute of being common part of regular meals and yet considered a luxury! So, here’s three cheers for the three musketeers in Aloo Matar Paneer!!! And to my hippity hip hooray dinner time eating them!!
Serves: 4 – 6
- 400 gm (14oz) Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese — sliced into thick 0.5 inch squares
- 2 large potatoes — peeled and cubed
- 1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 inch ginger, chopped
- 1 Indian hot green chilly
- 1 dry red chilly
- 6-7 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
- 2 black cardamoms (bari elaichi)
- 2 green cardamoms (choti elaichi)
- 10 cloves (lavang)
- 2 inch cinnamon (dalchini) — broken into halves
- 1 large (or 2 small) bay leaf (tejpatti)
- 1/3 tsp asafoetida (hing)
- 1 tbsp ground coriander (dhania powder)
- 1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
- 1/2 tbsp red chilly powder (paprika)
- 1 tsp garam masala powder (Indian ground mixed spices)
- 4 tbsp heavy cream
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup light olive or vegetable oil
- A handful of cleaned/washed and shredded Cilantro or Coriander leaves (dhania patti) OR dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) to finish
- In a blender, add the tomatoes first, then the onions, garlic, ginger, dry red chilly and the green chilly. Blend them together into a smooth puree.
- Heat oil in a deep cooking pot or kadai over medium-high heat. Add asafoetida and the whole spices (cumin seeds, cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, black and green cardamoms) and let them splutter for a couple seconds. [**If you’d like your paneer pieces fried, then fry them lightly in oil first until the sides are golden brown. Then using a slotted spoon, fish them out from oil on to an absorbent paper and reserve. Then proceed with adding whole spices in the remaining oil.]
- As soon as the spices begin to splutter, carefully pour in the puree. Reduce the stove to medium heat and saute the mixture for a couple minutes, until it is nicely fried and starts leaving oil from it’s sides. Keep stirring and turning the mixture to prevent burning them.
- Add red chilly powder, turmeric, coriander powder and garam masala powder. Stir and mix well. Cook for half minute.
- Add cubed potato pieces and green peas into the kadai and stir with the mixture together for about 1 minute.
- Add about 2 cups of water and adjust salt. Let them all simmer for a while until the potatoes and peas are well cooked.
- When the vegetables are well done, add the paneer cubes and heavy cream. Let simmer on low heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until the paneer softens. At this time pour in a little more water (and adjust salt if needed), if you’d like more curry.
- If you are adding Kasuri Methi, cook for a minute before switching off the stove (to allow the dried leaves to absorb moisture and soften). Add shredded coriander leaves after removing the pot from heat and stir well to mix.
- Transfer the Aloo Matar Paneer to a serving bowl and serve hot with your favorite Indian bread or rice. Have a comforting day you all!