Meera Sodha’s paneer butter masala

At the start of the last lockdown I was convinced that I’d have tons of time to share recipes, especially ones that were helpful. It is, after all, the whole purpose of this blog and always has been: finding a solution to that eternal question…But then we were locked up good and proper, 16 weeks inside in the end, thanks to my beloved being classified as vulnerable and, you know what, I couldn’t concentrate on a bloody thing.

Between bouts of crying and trying to find food deliveries from a third floor with no access to supermarkets or the outside world, or so it felt, the computer screen served only one purpose: ordering what we needed. And, though I am the first to tell a budding writer that there is no such thing as a ‘muse’, I do think there is such a thing as a ‘mood’. A writer needs to be able to concentrate, to find a calm pleasure in putting one word after the other and to have enough empty space in their head to see the shape of what they want to say, sometimes long before it is said. Yes, even for a blog post. There was no empty space to be had in the spring.

This time, though, I have already started on The Mirror and the Light whereas in March, reading? Ha ha ha. And, this time, I am going to share as many of the recipes I cooked on repeat over the past eight months. Tepsi kebap, caramel chicken, dhal makhani, ramen eggs, sausages baked with red peppers and onions, sage and lemon pork pie…the great thing about being a recipe addict is that there is always just one more wafer to cook. Here’s the first: Meera Sodha’s paneer butter masala. I’ve probably made this every fortnight this year: it’s one-pan, it’s comforting, it makes enough for 4 for dinner with some rice or vegetables, or 2 for dinner and lunch the next day and, even though there have been many boring things about 2020, this is not one of them.

Most supermarkets stock paneer, but you could also try making your own; it’s easy and quick. Sodha suggests that if you use homemade, then it’s best not to fry it; just add it later. However, I prefer it fried; as long as yours is pretty sturdy, it will survive the frying just as well as the shop-bought.

Paneer butter masala (adapted from Fresh India)

Makes enough for 4

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic, 6 cloves
oil, sunflower or rapeseed, not olive
unsalted butter, 30g
tomatoes, 2 x 400g tins (the recipe uses passata but whole tomatoes work just as well)
frozen peas, 250g
ground cinnamon, 1 tsp
ground cloves, ¼ tsp
chilli powder, ½ tsp
honey, 2 tbsp
salt, 1½ tsp

Shopping list
ginger, about 4cm
paneer, 500g
kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves, available in most supermarkets these days but also at the excellent Natco), 1 tbsp
double cream, 100ml
flaked almonds, a handful (optional, to serve)

How to

  1. Peel and finely chop the onion, peel and crush the garlic and peel and grate or finely chop the ginger. (This is a great tool for crushing garlic and grating ginger.)

  2. Cut the paneer into smallish dice then put a tablespoon of oil into a large lidded frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the paneer. Fry until golden on all sides (I find using tongs helps) then remove and keep to one side.

  3. Melt the butter in the same pan, then add the onion and fry until golden. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for a couple of minutes and add the tomatoes. Bash the tomatoes up a bit with a wooden spoon to break them down, cover the pan and lower the heat then leave to cook for about 10 minutes, until you have a thick sauce.

  4. Defrost the peas, if necessary, by putting them in a sieve and pouring over a kettle of boiling water.

  5. When the sauce has thickened stir in the kasoori methi, cinnamon, cloves, chilli powder, honey and salt. Return the fried paneer to the pan, cover again and cook for another 5 minutes.

  6. Finally stir in the defrosted (and drained) peas and cream and cook for a further 5 minutes. Sprinkle with a handful of almonds (if using) and a bit more cream and serve

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