In the weeks leading up to my recent three month trip to Calcutta, I dreamed of how I would go to my nani’s house and stand beside her and soak in each little thing that she had to teach about cooking. I wasn’t disappointed. I spent several mornings in nani’s house this winter, peering into a blackened wok, learning how to make several beloved family favorites like goond ka laddu, gatta matar ka chaval, paneer capsicum, kala aloo dum, and stuffed green chilli peppers. I brought my camera, my tattered notebook and lots of questions: garlic first or onions? electric blender or mortar and pestle? Nothing seemed too difficult or complicated in nani’s kitchen.
Now that I’m back here, I can feel nani’s snowy haired presence beside me issuing clear, simple and easy directions. I’m terribly grateful for having had the chance to learn from her. When I make her paneer at home for the first time, I am pleased to discover that my dish tastes almost like hers.
Nani’s paneer is rich and creamy from the milk and crushed cashews. The gently pounded whole spices and garlic cooked first add a wonderful aroma to the dish, along with the later addition of kasuri methi. The green peppers and bits of cashew present a surprise element of crunch.
Paneer with crushed cashews
1/2 cup onion paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 cup tomato pulp, made by briefly boiling the tomatoes, removing the skin and crushing to pulp
1 cup chopped green pepper, also called capsicum
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tbsp kasuri methi
Pinch of garam masala
1 inch piece of cinnamon, pounded gently to release aroma
2 black cardamoms, pounded gently
2 cloves, pounded gently
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 tbsp of oil
200g or 1/2 lb of paneer, cut into big chunks
1 cup of milk
10 raw cashews,coarsely crushed
salt to taste
1. Heat 2-3 tbsp of oil in a heavy bottomed wok or pan, and sputter cumin seeds. At the same time, add the cinnamon stick, cardamom and cloves. Add the garlic paste and cook for a few seconds, taking care that it doesn’t burn. Next add the ginger paste and onion paste. Add a little sugar (aids in browning the onions) and cook for a few minutes until the onions turn golden brown and release oil.
2. Add the tomato paste, chopped capsicum and turmeric. Cook until the oil is released. This takes a little while.
3. Add the kasuri methi and the roughly crushed cashews. Add 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to boil.
4. Add a pinch of garam masala (optional), salt to taste and paneer. Cook for a few more minutes until paneer is heated through. Serve hot.