Citizens, shahi paneer is a preparation of paneer (a type of fresh Indian cheese) in a thick gravy made up of cream, tomatoes and spices and is mainly eaten with roti, naan, rice, other breads. The recipe originates in the Indian state of Punjab – Paneer is the word for cottage cheese, and shahi is the term for royal (in reference to the Imperial Court).
It specifically dates to the Mughal (or Mogul) Empire (Urdu: مغلیہ سلطنت, Mug̱ẖliyah Salṭanat) or Mogul Empire, established and ruled by a Muslim Persianate dynasty that extended over large parts of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Much of the food originating from this period of Indian history is elaborate and rich and despite this dish being basically vegetarian, it is enjoyed greatly by dedicated carnivore TFD (and in fact most people). It is a dish filled with spices, almond paste, cheese and cream that makes it thick creamy and spicy to the taste.
My version of this classic recipe lives up to its Imperial pedigree with the inclusion of Saffron, the most royal (and expensive!) of all spices!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Paneer – 1 ½ cups, soak in warm water for 15 minutes
Onion – 1, very large, blanched and pureed
Tomato – 1, large, blanched and pureed
Green chili-ginger paste – 2 tsp (made from 2 jalapeños + ½” ginger piece)
Bay leaf – 1
Cinnamon stick – 1″
Black cardamom – 1, halved
Cashew nuts – 8, soaked in ¼ cup saffron-infused milk and ground to a paste
Turmeric Powder – ¼ tsp
Cardamom powder (elaichi powder) – ½ tsp
Malai or fresh cream – 2 tbsp or up to ¼ cup for extra creaminess
Full fat or 70-80% fat Yogurt – 2 tbsp, beaten smooth
Kasuri methi (Dried fenugreek leaves) – ½ tsp (optional)
Oil – 1 ½ tbsp
Ghee – 1 ½ tbsp
Coriander leaves – 3 tbsp, for garnish
Salt to taste
Dry roast for 2-3 minutes and grind to a fine powder for Garam Masala:
Coriander Seeds – 1 tsp
Green cardamoms – 3
Black peppercorns – 6
Clove – 2
Cinnamon stick – ½” piece
Caraway seeds – ½ tsp
To blanch onions, peel the onions, make a cross at the root end. Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large vessel and carefully drop the onions in the hot water. Continue to boil for 4-5 mts or till al dente.
Turn off heat and immediately remove the blanched onions and place them in cold water. This process will stop the onions from overcooking. Drain from cold water once they cool completely.
Follow the same procedure for tomatoes. Make a cross at the bottom end of the tomatoes and place them in a vessel of boiling water. Tomatoes require lesser time in boiling water as compared to onions. Let the tomatoes cook in boiling water for 2-3 mts.
Immediately remove them and place in cold water and once they cool completely, drain the water and peel the tomatoes.
Grind blanched onion and tomato to separate pastes in a food processor.
Grind cashew nuts along with the milk to a smooth paste and set aside.
Heat oil and ghee in a heavy bottomed vessel.
Once hot, add the bay leaf, cinnamon and black cardamom. Add the ground onion paste and saute for 6 mts. Remove bay leaf, cinnamon and black cardamom.
Add ginger-green chili paste, turmeric powder and kasuri methi and saute for 4 mts. Add the tomato puree and cook for 6-7 mts.
Add the cashew nut paste, mix well and cook for a mt. Add the beaten yogurt and mix well. Add a cup of water and allow to simmer for 4 mts on low flame.
Add paneer cubes and mix gently. Simmer for 8-10 minutes and add the ground garam masala powder and mix. Finally add the fresh cream and cardamom powder and mix.
Turn off flame and allow the curry to rest for 15 mts.
Remove to a serving bowl. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve warm with kulcha, butter naan, roti or pulao.