I’ve been sick for the past week and when I’m sick, I usually want three things:
A) All the sleep ever.
B) TV marathons – especially the first three seasons of Buffy.
C) Mom’s cooking.
Unfortunately, I live a good thousand miles away from Mom so when it comes to Indian food, I have two options – pick it up from the Indian joint in town or make it myself.
As much as I love India Garden, I figured it was time I learned how to make mutter paneer myself. Mutter Paneer is a Punjabi dish with peas (mutter), farmer cheese (paneer) and heavy cream and is my usual at Indian restaurants. My uncle makes a killer version of it (it takes all of my willpower not to shove my face into the steaming pot when he makes it) and my goal today is to do him proud.
First things first – music. Last time I made Indian food, I opted for a staple of my childhood – Lata Mangeshkar. Today, I will again be paying tribute to my childhood by cooking to The Birth of Southall Bhangra.
To my sister – that’s a thing. That is an actual thing in this world. Also, Cornershop has a song called Shut Southall Down about the riots in 1981.
To everyone else – I grew up in Southall and this music was pretty much the soundtrack of my life for 11 years.
In all honesty, I listened to about five tracks and then, I switched over to Nicki Minaj. Hey, she’s got Indian ancestry. It counts.
Now, let’s get to cooking (please excuse the janky quality of the pictures. I lost my camera USB cord and took all the photos on my phone).
12oz of peas (I used one Steamfresh pack and added about half a bowl extra that I had in the fridge because I really like peas)
1 can of crushed tomatoes (I don’t know how to read, so I picked up diced tomatoes instead)
1/4 cup of half-and-half
1/2 package of paneer (available at any Indian supermarket but if you can’t find it – you can sub in tofu…but why the hell would you opt to eat soy instead of cheese?)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
Chop up the paneer into bite-sized cubes.
Grab a big saucepan, cover the bottom with oil and pan-fry the paneer cubes. Yes, we are frying the cheese. Shocking that I love this meal, right? Fry until golden-brown and make sure you turn frequently to ensure that everything’s nice and even. Once brown, pop your paneer paper-towel lined plate so that all the excess oil is absorbed. Set aside.
Grab a big pot and cover the bottom with oil. Wait until heated and add your cumin and mustard seeds. These suckers pop, so be careful.
Add your tumeric and again, be careful. Not because of the popping but because tumeric stains are impossible to remove. Trust me. I know.
Add tomatoes and stand back because this mixture will rear and seethe like an angry ex. Then, add your chili powder.
Add your peas and stir. Simmer for fifteen minutes.
Remember that paneer you set aside? Grab about half of it and add it to your peas, which should be bubbling away merrily on the stove. Replace the lid and simmer for ten minutes. As for the remaining paneer, stick it in the freezer for next time.
Add half a cup of half-and-half (I couldn’t find my half cup measure, so I used two 1/4 cup measures. Yay for public school teaching me rudimentary fractions!). Stir. Simmer for five more minutes.
Remove from stove and let sit.
Last time I made flatbread to enjoy with my meal, it ended up somewhat disastrous. But this time, I not only have enough flour but I also have a secret weapon.
Please don’t feel obligated to use a rolling pin and board. I can assure you that your mom will not yell at you if you don’t.
In a large bowl, mix a cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of cumin. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil and a couple of tablespoons of water.
Work with your hands until the dough forms into a ball.
The goal is to get your flatbread as round as you can. As evidenced by the photograph above, I failed miserably at that goal.
Cook ’em up on a hot skillet. You’ll know they’re done when brown spots appear on the surface.
Serve immediately. Eat with your fingers. Add tamarind chutney if you have it on hand. Be happy.
Final verdict – Not as good as India Garden’s and certainly not as good as my uncle’s BUT for Indian comfort food that didn’t require me going out in the snow and risking almost certain death? Damn tasty. Next time – less peas, crushed tomatoes and NO musical tributes to my hometown.
If you make it, let me know what you think. I hope you like it.