Last weekend, I made paneer makhani again. I am getting addicted to this stuff. Paneer makhani, or paneer butter masala as it’s sometimes called, is really quick to make, makes you feel like a super chef and quite tasty too. I had a half hour to squeeze in cooking between grocery shopping and gardening, and this was perfect. If it is so good it makes me feel like superwoman, I decided it is worth blogging about.
I never liked making paneer dishes because I always thought of the fat and the calories. Until last month. I have made paneer makhani three times in the last four weeks. And I am not even feeling guilty. It’s low-fat paneer, I tell myself. Paneer is full of calcium, so it can’t be all bad, right?
There are three ways to get paneer cubes if you are in the US – (i) buy it at the local Indian grocery store, (ii) make it at home, and (iii) Lekhni’s way.
I am frequently forgetful and always lazy. So I usually forget all about paneer when I visit the Indian grocery store. I would also like to make sure I use organic, low-fat paneer, which is not a choice I have in the Indian store.
I am too lazy to make paneer at home – curdling milk and tying it up and waiting for a whole day…the whole process seems rather too time-consuming and messy. Especially when you consider that I can never boil milk without having it pour all over my cooktop.
So here is what I do – I buy organic, low-fat cottage cheese. This solves the problem, as cottage cheese is available in any grocery store, and you can get all the organic and other good stuff too. The only issue – cottage cheese is not cubed, it comes in tiny globules that look like white boondis in whey. I want my paneer to be in nice little cubes, not any of the boondi stuff. I can try pressing the cottage cheese and see if it hardens, or I can refrigerate it and hope it hardens, but again, I suspect these methods will take too much time.
Not a problem. Every paneer recipe calls for frying the paneer cubes in ghee or butter before you add it to the masala. So when you are preparing the paneer dish, all you need to do is fry the cottage cheese in ghee (or butter). You will notice it clumps up nicely when you fry it. You then take it out from the pan and drain out the excess melted butter squeeze the paneer a little so that it becomes completely dry.
Now your paneer will be in one large ball. All you need to do is flatten it out. Place it between two cutting boards or any other surface and press for a minute. Proceed to cut the paneer into little cubes.
Here is how I make Paneer Butter Masala/ Paneer Makhani. You will find some great recipes out there and I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, just showing you how the easy way works. This recipe serves 2-3.
1. Soak 1 tbsp cashew pieces in warm water for 15-20 minutes.
2. Grind 1 tomato, some onion and an inch of ginger into a puree. Or you can use ginger-garlic paste and tomato puree.
3. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the cottage cheese. Fry a little until it clumps together and turns just a little brown. Simmer the cottage cheese – if you turn up the heat too much, the cottage cheese will all dissolve. But on a low flame, the cottage cheese will clump together into one solid mass within a couple of minutes. (On the other hand, if you want a thicker gravy with some paneer in the gravy, first heat up the pan and dissolve some cottage cheese in it, then simmer and add more cottage cheese).
4. Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl. Now fry the onion-tomato puree (or the ginger garlic paste and tomato puree) in the same pan until the oil separates out. If you are really pressed for time, use two pans – one for the paneer and another for the puree.
5. Add all the spices you like to the puree – garam masala, dhania powder, asafoetida, turmeric powder. For chilli powder, I add the Kashmiri chilli powder, not too spicy and nice orange color. Also add a pinch of kasuri methi.
6. Simmer this stuff for a while and then throw in the cashew paste, the whey-butter mix from the paneer.
7. While the masala mix simmers, cool the paneer (hopefully clumped by now) and squeeze it a few times and press it between 2 cutting boards, or just flatten it with your palm. The paneer should be a nice solid mass now. You should be easily able to cut into into cubes.
8. Add the paneer to the masala just before serving. If you add it too early, there is the risk that it might dissolve.
The advantage with my method that the prep time reduces considerably. Of course, you can decrease the time even more with store-bought paneer. Although, if it is frozen rock-solid, you may want to soak the store bought paneer in warm water, or microwave it before adding it to the masala mix.