A few weeks ago over at Shiftwork Bites, I wrote about making molé for International Hot and Spicy Foods Day. I had asked various friends and acquaintances for piquant suggestions, and then promptly ignored all of them and made something else, instead. In a gesture of goodwill, and because they all sounded great, I've decided to work my way through those suggestions.
First up is a recipe from one of my coworkers. Palak, from the State of Gujarat, on the Northwestern coast of India, suggested I make Paneer Makhani, also known as Paneer Butter Masala. Its origins lie in Punjab, a state to the land-locked North of Gujarat, but it has become a popular dish in Gujarat, as well as in the rest of India and around the world.
It's a pretty straightforward dish, and the name really tells you all you need to know. Paneer is a firm, mild cheese, notable for its non-melting texture; masala more or less refers to spices; butter should be self-explanatory. Basically, the dish is cubes of firm cheese, cooked in butter and spices. Following Palak's recipe, I assembled my ingredients.
- 2T butter
- 500 grams paneer, cubed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1T ginger-garlic paste (made fresh using my handy microplane)
- 2T red (I used cayenne) chile powder (she indicated 2t, but I had the feeling she was trying to mellow the dish out on our behalf. Turns out I was right, and that she uses about the same amount I did when making this herself)
- ½t turmeric powder
- 1T tomato paste
- ½ C milk
- 1-2C heavy cream
- Salt to taste
- Chopped cilantro, for garnish
The cooking goes in a pretty logical sequence, with butter going into a hot skillet, followed by the paneer; brown that on all sides and set aside. Next in is the chopped onion, which gets a touch of browning; quickly follow that with the ginger-garlic paste, spices, and salt. Combine it all and let it fry a bit in the hot fat. The fragrance is fantastic. Next, add the tomato paste. Stir to combine, then add milk, reduce the heat to low, and cover for about five minutes. Now add the paneer back to the pan, stir in heavy cream, and let the whole thing simmer for a few minutes. Once the flavors have combined and the sauce has thickened slightly, it's ready to serve. Top with freshly chopped cilantro.
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The dish is deeply flavored, with fragrant and pungent garlic and ginger shining through, a healthy but not overbearing heat from the cayenne, both a subtle sweetness and deep, luxurious richness from the cream and butter, and just enough acid from the tomato paste to balance everything out. The cilantro on top adds a fragrant punch to all the other flavors. It was lauded as one of the best Shiftwork Bites dishes, yet.
I served my Paneer Makhani with some naan and a side of Basmati rice cooked with half a stick of cinnamon, black peppercorns, and a few cardamom pods. It was a perfect accompaniment, with the slightly spiced rice soaking up the sauce, and the bread serving as a tasty mop for anything left behind.
I had meant to leave a sample for Palak to taste, but had not taken into consideration that last week's snow warnings were likely to have most of our staff working from home the next day. Indeed, such was the case, and I couldn't get the expert's opinion. I guess that just means I'll have to make it again, so I can get an official judgment, of course.