This morning I wake up bright up and early. I am going to make my mother-in-law’s matar paneer for the first time. Her delicious recipe comes from various North Indian neighbors, such as “Singh Bhabhiji” from her old residential colony in Bombay. So I call mummy who is back in Vizag to talk about the recipe. We debate on ratios first, which is a wise thing to do as I have discovered in Indian cooking. I have a packet of Nanak-branded paneer, which is about 400g or 2 cups of paneer. Mummy thinks that 2 cups of peas should balance the two cups of paneer, along with a sauce that has been made with 2 cups of chopped onions and an equal quantity of tomato puree. The tomato puree is going to be different today. I usually take fresh tomatoes and puree them in the food processor. Today I am going to dip them in hot water for a few minutes, remove the skins and then puree the tomatoes. The sauce that results from this process is different in flavor and texture, sweeter and smoother, it seems.
The recipe takes a little while to make, about an hour including clean-up, and I’ve realized that an hour is usually a reasonable time to make an Indian dish. Shorter doesn’t work, and longer is just depressing. I start feeling as though I am a kitchen slave when the clock starts ticking over the allotted hour. The trick to feeling less like a slave, I have learnt, is to indeed watch the clock. For instance I always believe that emptying the dishwasher, a task that I detest, has taken hours out of my precious lifetime. When I actually measure how long it takes — I find that it’s no more than a 5 or 7 minute task. Even the dreaded clean-up after cooking, when timed, seems to take no more than 15 minutes.
I discover that the matar paneer is surprisingly easy to make. It comes out fairly well but I find that I am searching for my mother-in-law’s dish when I taste it. To make this dish truly my own, I will have to make it a couple more times, and then I will be certain of what my matar paneer tastes like.
400g or 2 cups of paneer, chopped
2 cups of frozen green peas, soaked in warm water to defrost and then drained
2 cups of onions, diced
2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
A thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely
2 cups of tomato puree, made with fresh whole tomatoes dipped briefly into boiling water and then the skin removed.
1/4 cup of whole fat plain yogurt, called dahi
2 tsps of coriander powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
1 tsp of garam masala
1/2 tsp of red chilli powder, optional
3 tbsps of ghee
Salt to taste
1. Heat the ghee in a pan on medium heat. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a medium brown. Add the tomato puree and cook until the mixture glistens with the ghee that is released. This will take a while, about 20+ minutes.
2. Add the yogurt and keep stirring until it disappears into the sauce.
3. Add coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala and chilli powder (if using), along with salt. Taste, and add a pinch more of the spices if needed, taking care to not over-spice the dish. Add the chopped paneer and the drained peas. Add some water, about 1-2 cups. Bring to boil and allow to cook for a few minutes in order that the paneer imbibes the flavors of the sauce. Remove from flame and serve hot.