So Kashmiris eat a lot of lamb. I know that. You know that. The whole world knows that. We put lamb in almost all our dishes. We do cook lots of seasonal vegetables, but there are almost always, with a few notable exceptions, two versions of every vegetarian recipe : a) without lamb, and, b) with lamb. And guess which version gets picked if you’re having people over? Ahem.
But growing up, I remember every time my mum was faced with a oh-one-of-the-guests-doesn’t-eat-meat moment, her go-to substitute main course was always paneer, which is essentially a fresh, unsalted, soft white cheese. Big square chunks, fried, and then cooked in a beautiful tangy red tomato sauce. And much as I love lamb, this is one dish I will *never* say no to.
Can I also just point out that Ruvangan (tomato) tchaaman (paneer) is the only vegetarian dish in the Wazwan. I rest my case.
And now, here’s the recipe.
500 gms of paneer. It is surprisingly easy to make your own, but if you can get fresh good quality paneer from a shop where you are, go for it.
6-7 big tomatoes, chopped into chunks. The redder the better. (Now, I’ll confess I like to de-seed my tomatoes before I cook them, but you don’t have to. Yup. I’ve got issues.)
3-4 shallots, sliced.
2 fat cloves of garlic, ground.
Whole spices – (obviously. Whole spices in *everything*. Does this mean we love our whole spices even more than we love our lamb? *Shock horror*)
3 black cardamoms.
7 green cardamoms.
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds.
1 stick of cinnamon.
Ground spices – the usual:
1 teaspoon of turmeric (optional – I sometimes leave this out but only because the tomatoes look a lot redder when cooked without).
1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder.
The first thing you need to do is to slice your paneer. Now, what your slices look like will depend in part on what your paneer looks like. I remember in my grandmother’s house, my grandfather used to get the freshest paneer from the milkman. So fresh that a knife would cause it crumble and fall apart. So he always used a length of thread to cut large square chunks of it. Oh but I digress.
So basically once you’ve sliced your paneer (into large squares, smaller cubes, whatever works) you need to fry it, and depending on how much paneer you have and how big your pan is, you might need to do this in batches. (Or, if you have a deep fryer, you could even use that.)
Take a wide bottomed shallow pan, pour a generous amount of oil into the pan, and put the paneer in. Now please be aware that this will splatter. A lot. So be careful and make sure you use a splatter guard. Once the paneer is nicely fried – you’re looking for a reddish/light brownish/golden hue – use a slotted spoon to take the slices out and dunk them into a bowl of cold water. This gets rid of the excess oil but also prevents the paneer from falling apart.
So the paneer’s done. On to the sauce. Into the same pan that you used to fry your paneer, add all of your whole spices and fry till fragrant – 2/3 minutes. Add the shallots and fry till soft and translucent. Next put the garlic in and fry for about a minute or two – you do not want the garlic to burn. Time for the ground spices to go in. Once everything is nicely mixed and fried, add the tomatoes. Give everything a good old stir. Add salt. Cover and simmer. What you want to do with the tomatoes is to cook them down till the water has all evaporated and you have a lovely rich thick red sauce.
Into this add your fried paneer, along with some of the water it was in. Bring to boil and cook everything together on a medium flame for another 10 minutes or so.
Garnish with coriander and serve with.. I wonder what we should serve this with..? Should we just say lots of fluffy white rice? Just this once? Hah.