Long long ago, BH & I were in a hill station on our very first outing as a married couple. The weather was perfect, surroundings beautiful, company endearing :-). We ate a lot, walked a lot and ate some more. The day we were leaving from there, we discovered another joint we had not been to and had a brunch of naan, dal and paneer. I think he called it paneer butter masala. Oh, why do I still remember that taste as if I had it just a few minutes ago? May be it was the magic of the moment, I have had naan and the said paneer butter masala but that taste always eludes me and I come back disappointed yet again with the paneer butter masala not measuring up to the high standards set by that hill station taste. And I don't see the bell pepper either in the paneer butter masalas I have since eater (Kadai Veg or Kadai paneer has less gravy than I would prefer with rotis, so that is out even if it has bell pepper in it).
DD loves paneer and whenever we go out to Indian restaurants, if we have naan, she will have a paneer something with it and we end up ordering a separate side dish for ourselves. Because of her, I started making paneer based curries frequently at home and whenever I make the paneer butter masala, I try to recreate the magic of that day. The taste in this dish comes from the almonds and not from butter.
All of us in the US have an extended weekend and we are enjoying the beautiful weather.
What do you need to make paneer butter masala?
2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
1/2 medium sized onion - chopped into chunks
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch ginger root - cut into thin pieces
3/4 cup of bite size pieces of green bell pepper/Simla mirch
1 cup of paneer pieces
1/2 cup milk - I used 2%
1 Tblsp kasoori methi/dry fenugreek leaves
1 Tsp garam masala powder
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/2 Tsp amchoor/dry mango powder
1.5 Tblsp + 1 Tsp cooking oil
1 Tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1.5 - 2 cups water to adjust consistency of gravy
- Soak almonds in warm water for 30 minutes
- Blanch tomatoes in water until the skin peels (See notes)
- Keep the paneer pieces in warm water until ready for use.
- Heat 1.5 Tblsp oil in a heavy bottom pan, fry the pieces of bell pepper on high heat until the skin is charred, 5-6 minutes, keep aside until needed (See notes for alternate frying instructions).
- To the same pan, add ginger julienne, garlic and fry for 2 minutes.
- Add onion slices and salt and fry until onion turns light pink in color.
- Switch off and let it cool.
- Peel the skin of blanched tomatoes. peel the skin of almonds.
- Take the tomatoes, fried onion mixture and peeled almonds to a blender and make a very smooth paste by adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water. NOTE: Make this mixture very smooth to avoid grainy consistency of the gravy and bring a buttery texture to it.
- Heat a tsp of oil in a heavy pan, add cumin seeds and let it splutter.
- Add the ground masala and fry for 6-8 minutes on medium heat until it is cooked.
- Add the dry powders and crushed kasoori methi. mix and adjust consistency and taste by adding water.
- Add milk and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the paneer pieces and the fried bell pepper, give it a mix and switch off.
- Let the flavors come together for 20-30 minutes before serving.
- Blanching tomatoes par-cooks them, rendering them tasty in gravies. Immerse them in water and microwave for 5-7 minutes (depending on your MW power) or boil water on stove top and add tomotoes, switch off after 2 minutes.
- Always remember to make a diagonal slit on tomatoes before blanching them whole since the expansion of the skin causes it to burst and you will have a mess to clean up later.
- The bell pepper in this dish should not be cooked soft but remain crunchy while having a smoky taste. I sometimes brush them with oil, put in in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Best flavor is if you grilled them :-), try that for a smoky flavor.
- Keeping frozen paneer in warm water helps it to stay soft and also absorb the gravy faster.
- If you really are feeling bad that there is no butter in the paneer butter masala, go ahead and replace the cooking oil with butter :-) but trust me with this recipe, with no butter and processed ketchup, this one makes you reach out for more.
- Replace almonds with cashew nuts for a heavier gravy.