Although I’ve known about Paneer for a long time I didn’t start using it at home until about a year ago, when Michael and I started our Meat-Free Monday journey. If you’re not familiar with Paneer it’s one of those hard set (rather than aged) cheeses that holds its shape and doesn’t melt when cooked. This makes it a perfect protein source for many dishes as it brings texture and delicate flavour without being too, for want of a better word, “cheesy”.
Most of the time you’ll see it used is in South Asian food, which fairly reflects its origin, and for me a well made paneer curry can be every bit as satisfying as one containing meat. Yes, the texture and flavours will be different but the experience is wonderful in its own right. I’m no expert on Indian food, and won’t pretend to be either, but it’s always been my understanding that the national cuisine contains a lot of Vegetarian options and with ingredients like paneer you can see why.
I think it’s important to fry the paneer before adding it to the curry, to give it a golden exterior and a bit more structural strength when you add it into the sauce. Though hopefully you’ll have more restraint than me and won’t pop any freshly fried, crisp cubes of paneer into your mouth whilst waiting for the onions to soften…
As you can see from the picture above I used a selection of spices in this curry – rather than a pre-bought curry powder – to give me a rounded flavour without excess heat. As I’ve mentioned before, Michael has a lower chilli tolerance than me so this curry is light on heat. If you like things to have a little more kick then add in one or two green chillies when you’re frying the spices.
I served this curry straight after cooking it but suspect that you could make the sauce a day in advance then add in the paneer and heat it all through the following day if you wanted the flavours to deepen a little. I quite like it with the freshly cooked taste, as it keep it nice and light, but each to their own.
Here it’s been served with steamed basmati rice and plain naan bread. I also made a quick pickle with onion, cucumber, tomatoes, cider vinegar and coriander to serve alongside – which went perfectly with some crisp poppadoms too. That said, as with any curry, you can keep this meal as simple or as complex as you like.
Paneer & Spinach Curry
With a subtle blend of spices in a rich tomato sauce this Paneer and Spinach curry brings both colour and flavour to Meat-Free Monday.
- 2 tbsp Coconut Oil
- 250 g Paneer drained and cut into cubes
- 1 Onion peeled and chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic crushed
- 3 cm Root Ginger peeled and grated
- 1 tsp Ground Coriander
- 2 tsp Garam Masala
- ½ tsp Turmeric
- ½ tsp Ground Cumin
- ½ tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tsp Salt
- 1 tbsp Tomato Purée
- 400 g Tinned Chopped Tomatoes
- 100 g Fresh Spinach
- 1 small Handful Fresh Coriander
Heat the coconut oil in a deep frying pan or sauté pan over a medium heat. Add in the cubes of Paneer and fry for a minute or two on each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and put to one side on a plate with a piece of kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil.
Put the remaining coconut oil intto the pan and return to the heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-10 minutes until softened and translucent.
Add in the garlic, ginger and spices, then stir fry for a further 2 minutes until fragrant. Make sure you keep stirring the mixture to stop it from burning.
Pour in the tomato puree and chopped tomatoes and stir until everything is well mixed. Bring to the boil, the loosely cover and simmer for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, blanch the spinach in boiling water and drain well. Coarsely chop the spinach then add to the tomato mixture along with the crispy cubes of paneer. Stire well then loosely cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced further.
Top with the coriander then serve with steamed basmati rice.