Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Paneer Butter Masala - The dish that lured me into cooking

This is the very first dish I tried cooking in the summer of 99, unless of course if you exclude instant noodles as a predecessor. That's when mum believed her daughter could cook! Ever since, at potlucks, parties, or family get-togethers I’ve always made this dish out of my own will many a times, or have been requested to bring this. There have been several variations since the day I made it first, nothing huge though.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1. 1 pack of paneer – Cottage cheese – I buy Nanak Paneer

2. Onions – 2 medium sized ones

3. Tomatoes – 3 roma tomatoes

4. Green chillis – 2-3 – this can be avoided if your guests or you have a low tolerance for spice intake.

5. Garlic cloves – 3

6. Ginger – ½ inch piece

7. Shah jeera – Black cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon

8. Butter – 2 tablespoons

9. Red chilli powder – 1 teaspoon

10.Garam masala – 1 ½ teaspoon – or you could use whole masalas

11.Cashews – 10 -12

12.Poppy seeds - Cous Cous – ½ teaspoon

13.Dhaniya powder – Coriander powder – 2 teaspoons

14.Jeera powder – Cumin powder – 1 teaspoon

15.Heavy cream – optional – you can use thick milk

16.Coriander leaves and shredded cottage cheese for garnish

Here’s how you dish it up:
1. Presoak the cashews and poppy in very little water. Chop up one onion finely and set aside. Grind the other onion with the tomatoes, green chillis, ginger and garlic, adding water as needed. If you are using whole masalas, you can either grind it along with these, or fry them separately as a whole.

2. Grind the soaked cashew and poppy to a fine thick paste.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter, fry the jeera. If you’re using whole masalas, fry them after the jeera pops. Add the chopped onions and fry them till they turn brown. This browned onions gives the base colour for the dish.

4. Add the cashew-poppy paste. Add the Coriander and Cumin powder and continue frying.

5. Once the raw flavours vanish, add the ground tomato onion paste. Cook this gravy with a pinch of food colour (optional). Add the chilli powder and salt as needed. You can test the taste and add some spice if you want it to be on the high side. The store bought tinned tomato paste adds colour unlike fresh tomatoes. But I prefer the fresh ones.

6. When the gravy is cooked, it begins to splutter and separate. That is when you reduce the heat and throw in the paneer. Some people fry the paneer in butter before doing this. This was an unavoidable step in India because fresh paneer would give away and crumble in heat. However, here in the US, the paneer stays intact and it makes a difference adding them to the gravy in the final stage. They don’t break at all.

7. Sprinkle some garam masala, give the mixture a toss and continue cooking for a minute or two more on low heat.

8. Add the heavy cream to this and give it a final mix. I usually add a little milk. Add the remaining butter and let it blend with the dish.

9. Garnish with chopped corriander and shredded paneer.

As always, this dish didn’t fail me. It was wiped clean and nothing was left behind. This is a dish that never fails in any party. I have another pack of paneer lying in the fridge but I might just cook some Palak Paneer with that later in the week.


  1. I was too busy cooking on Saturday. I couldn't get better pictures of most dishes, leave alone a procedural photo shoot!

  2. is this menu rani chellam's recipe?

  3. No, I began modifying a lot, there wasn't just one version that I tried.