I’ve been given many quizzical glances by Dad because of my love for Paneer. He says he can’t believe someone can love paneer so much that they’d want to eat it every day. Funnily, I do believe I can, even if I’m practically unable to, I sure would want to! 😀 Alas, in a Bengali household, it’s the Bong version ‘Chhana’ or Chhena that’s more common. There are several dishes Bengalis make with ‘Chhana’, but some things call for Paneer, and Paneer is what I got.
None of us are big fans of tomato-based gravies at home. Also, no offense, but I find most recipes to be very generic; the same old ‘butter masala’, ‘makhanwala’, ‘makhan’, etc. This particular recipe had caught my eye sometime back, and at first glance, it seemed like the usual makhani gravy, but simpler. I still wanted to try it though, just because Paneer Lababdar, sounds exotic 😛 luckily it tasted great too!
Contrary to the exotic name, Paneer Lababdar is actually quite an easy dish to prepare and requires minimal elbow-grease. The base is a creamy tomato gravy and the dish has a tangy and mellow sweetness to it from the cashews and cream. It goes great with plain roti, Naan or even Kulchas.
I have heard that many Bengali households eat meat (mutton) on Holi, though I have no idea if this is a hard and fast rule. Either way, I was itching to eat Paneer, and thus this was the designated meal on Holi night at ours. We enjoyed it with some piping hot coriander flavoured parathas, though you could even have it with rice, Naan or Kulchas.
A point to note….I’ve found that most people don’t fry their paneer, not to mention restaurants where paneer is never fried before being dunked into their gravies. However, we have always fried paneer before it’s cooked in gravy, though sometimes I like to experiment, like with this dish where I’ve grilled the paneer steaks and then added them to the gravy 🙂 Also, you will find several recipes call for boiling the tomatoes, ginger-garlic and cashews in water before making a paste, while others don’t. I would suggest you go the route best suited to you, though personally I love blanching the tomatoes and cashews first. The water/stock can be used to flavour the gravy.
- Paneer/Cottage cheese – 250 gms, cut into cubes (I have cut them into 2 inch steaks)
- Tomatoes – 2 to 3 large (about 200 gms), chopped/quartered
- Cashews – 12 to 15
- Ginger – 1/2 inch piece, chopped
- Garlic – 6 to 8 cloves
- Onions – 2 medium, chopped finely
- Bay leaves – 2
- Cumin powder – 1/2 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 tsp
- Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
- Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
- Kashmiri red chili powder – 1 tsp for colour
- Garam masala powder – 1 tsp
- Sugar – 1/2 tsp
- Kasuri methi – 1 tsp approx, dry roasted and crushed
- Cream or Malai – 2 to 3 tbsp (you can use low-fat Amul cream too)
- Butter – 2 tbsp (plus 1 tbsp for garnish)
- Some crushed kasuri methi and cream for garnish
- In a saucepan, heat 1 cup of water. To this, add the chopped tomatoes, cashews, ginger and garlic.
- Simmer on low flame for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened completely.
- Strain the mixture (reserve the stock), and let it cool to room temp.
- Now using an immersion blender or a mixer, grind the tomato-cashew mixture into a smooth paste, until no chunks remain. (You can remove the skin of the tomatoes if you wish..I didn’t).
- Keep this paste aside, and heat a pan with butter.
- When the butter melts, add the bay leaves, and toss for a few seconds.
- Next add the chopped onion and saute well, until they begin to turn golden.
- Add turmeric and chili powder, and mix.
- Add the tomato-cashew paste, ensuring the flame is low to avoid too much sputtering.
- Saute the masala for 2 to 3 minutes until it starts leaving the sides of the pan; the oil will start separating from the masala.
- Season with cumin and coriander powder, salt, sugar, garam masala and Kashmiri red chili powder.
- Mix well and add water (at this stage, add the reserved tomato stock), and the paneer pieces.
- Add a lid and let the paneer simmer in the gravy for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Once gravy begins to dry up, add the crushed kasuri methi, and the cream that has been well-beaten/whisked.
- Mix the gravy, and add a dollop of butter.
- Garnish with a dash of cream and some crushed kasuri methi.
- Serve hot with rice, roti, paratha, etc.