How to Make Matar Paneer
We asked Indian-ish author Priya Krishna for her go to entertaining dish—and it has something for everyone.
Making Indian food at home can seem intimidating: Take one look at a long list of spices and you’re likely to cave to takeout tikka masala. But making Indian food easy and approachable is exactly what Priya Krishna does in her new book Indian-ish ($17; amazon.com). I invited Priya into the test kitchen so she could show me how to make one of her favorite, easy entertaining dishes—Matar Paneer—and answer some questions about the basics of bringing Indian flavors home.
Matar paneer is a savory mixture of pressed cheese, or paneer, simmered in a super flavorful spiced tomato sauce. Priya says, “Matar paneer is the definition of a party dish. It’s the sort of thing that you can serve to anyone—it looks really pretty and is always a crowd-pleaser (Cheese! Tomato sauce! Cumin-studded peas!).” We love a good make-ahead dish around here. I loved this one so much, in fact, that I made it not once, not twice, but three (!) times in one week. It even freezes well. But there are a few tricks to getting it right. Priya walked me through the details.
Instead of your go-to olive oil, or even vegetable oil, this matar paneer recipe (like a lot of Indian sautés) starts with ghee, or highly clarified butter. Ghee has a slightly nutty flavor and, unlike butter, can be used over high heat. Plus, because it’s clarified of its milk solids, it can be easier to digest for those with dairy sensitivities. Look for it in jars, either in the international foods aisle (it’s shelf-stable) or the refrigerated section of your supermarket (near the butter). Or make your own ghee with our easy recipe.
Don't Skimp On Spice
What I love about this recipe is that the spices add robust flavor but they’re not so out-of-the-ordinary that they require an Amazon shopping spree. A combination of onion, ginger, and fresh chile marries with a hefty dose (2 tablespoons) of coriander seed, 4 cardamom pods, and a little cumin seed. The only ingredient you might not recognize is asafoetida, what Priya calls Indian MSG. Don’t freak out: A little goes a long way (just a ¼ teaspoon here) and, while optional, it gives the finished dish that mysterious oomph usually reserved for takeout.
Meet Your Cheese
Paneer has a mild flavor similar to unsalted mozzarella—making it great for soaking up flavorful bases like spiced spinach (saag paneer) or tomato sauce—but it doesn’t melt. It’s kind of like if pressed mozzarella (think Polly-O brand) had a baby with tofu. Speaking of which, you can use extra-firm tofu in place of the paneer if you can’t find it. Just be sure to press as much liquid out of the tofu as possible. Simply slice into planks and place between a few layers of paper towels. Set aside while you prep the rest of your ingredients and you should be good to go.
Pick A Side
Priya’s go-to serve-with is Roti, a whole wheat flat bread “you can eat a lot of without getting really full the way you would if you were eating naan.” But naan is a great choice, too. Or rice. Or any simply steamed grain of your choice. The secret is to keep your side simple: There’s so much big flavor in this mater paneer, you want to let the superstar shine.