Paneer Butter (less) Masala
There are some dishes which are very popular, so much so that they're automatically identified with a particular cuisine or style of cooking. If you did a Food Blog Search (I'm not even talking about a net search) for one such recipe, you would probably end up with hundreds of matching results, from which you could take your pick.
Why, then, am I also doing a post with one such "much written recipe"? I am doing it for two reasons. The first being that my blog is a collection of recipes of the food I cook in my kitchen and so I would be documenting my effort. The second reason would be probably the reason why that recipe is there on so many food blogs; because that particular dish is so good that so many people have their versions online.
And then I believe that my version might offer a variation on the main theme, either in the ingredients or the way I cook that particular dish. Paneer butter masala is one such food preparation. There are so many recipes (some with video footage on cooking it) out there for this Punjabidish, one more recipe (mine) isn't going to make too much of a difference!
There was a time when I hardly used to cook this at home even though we liked paneer butter masala. This was because almost every time we used to eat out and were ordering Punjabi food, our daughter would insist on paneer butter masala (a.k.a. PBM). It got to a point where we used to first extract a promise from her that she would not ask for PBM before we ventured out of the house to eat! Akshaya has long got over that PBM phase now, though she still enjoys this butter laden paneer dish. So nowadays I do cook paneer butter masala at home and almost always this butterless version.
Paneer butter masala, also known as "Paneer makhani" (makhan is the Hindi word for butter) is a preparation of fried paneer (an Indian cheese) in a spiced butter rich, creamy, onion and tomato based gravy. Traditionally, this dish is loaded with calories from lots of butter, cream and paneer. One can however, try and make this a little less fattening by making some changes and this is where my recipe for paneer butter (less) masala comes in.
I substitute oil for butter, and use much less of it. I also pan fry/ sauté the paneer instead of deep frying it. Paneer made from low-fat milk can also reduce the calories further. I do not use cream at all here, but use yogurt made from low-fat milk instead.
I do however use a bit of cashew paste to enrich the gravy, or else this dish would lose out on texture and taste quite a bit. That does not mean that all these changes make this dish tasteless. On the contrary, this makes for very tasty lower calorie dish which has earned a stamp of approval from my resident PBM expert and taster and that counts for a lot.
- Soak the cashews in about 1/2 a cup of water for about half an hour. Drain the water and then grind the cashewnuts to a paste adding a bout a couple of tsps of water, as required. Keep aside.
- If your paneer cubes looks wet, pat them dry. Then sprinkle all purpose flour over the paneer and toss so the paneer cubes are well coated. If you fry paneer as it is, it sometimes tends to get mushy and sticks to the pan. Coating it with flour ensures that paneer doesn't stick and get mushy when fried/ sautéed.
- Heat the oil in a pan, and add the paneer cubes ensuring that each cube touches the oil in the bottom of the pan. Brown them to a deep golden colour, over medium heat. Toss frequently so the paneer browns uniformly with a somewhat crisp crust. When they're done, remove from the pan and put into the warm milk. Keep aside.
- To the remaining oil in the pan, add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté for a minute. Now add the puréed/ grated onion and sauté till the raw smell of the onions disappear. If the mixture appears to be drying out, add a tbsp of water whenever required.
- Now add the puréed tomato and cook for a few minutes till it looks done. Add the turmeric and coriander powders and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add the garam masala, sauté for another minute and add the paneer along with the milk in which it was soaked.
- Mix well, gently, and add the salt. Also add the kasuri methi and 1/4 cup of water. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Now add the cashew paste and mix well, till no white streaks are visible. Your paneer masala should now have a rather thick sauce-like gravy.
- Add the yogurt-cornstarch mixture and mix well, taking care to see that the paneer doesn't get broken. Cook for a minute. At this point, if you feel the gravy is too thick, add a couple of tbsps of water to adjust to required consistency. Paneer butter masala should have a reasonably thick gravy which doesn't really flow.
- Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander. Serve warm with chappathis, naan or kulchas.
- Important: Make sure you add only 1/4 tsp cornstarch to the yogurt. The cornstarch is not to thicken the gravy but to ensure that the yogurt does not split/ curdle when added to the paneer masala.