I have shied away from Indian cooking in the past due to the spiciness of the dishes, but recently bought 660 Curries so that I could tackle Indian dishes while limiting the chilis, peppers, etc that add the heat. I am on a quest to make butter chicken as good as at Amaya (without resorting to their prepared sauces) but I got side-tracked by one of his “Contemporary Curries”: Saffron Marinated Paneer Cheese with Fresh Basil, Cashews and Pomegranate Seeds.
I have a long list of bookmarked recipes but serendipitously, I had nearly everything ready for this dish when I spotted it at Lisa’s Kitchen. I had paneer that I had picked up from the store but still unsure how to prepare it, half a pomegranate leftover from an eggplant and pomegranate salad (to be shared in short time), a bit of cream leftover from a wild rice pudding (to be shared in due time!), a balcony pot rife with basil and had picked up saffron while travelling in Turkey. I just needed to replenish my green onions, which I typically have in my fridge.
Lisa, as well as its original cookbook 660 Curries (which I picked up based on Lisa’s glowing recommendations) called this dish heavenly and implied it was better than sex! How could I resist? Contemporary curries is where it’s at!
This was a wonderful dish with paneer marinated with silky saffron and chili flakes in a bath of cream (yes, it can be marinated!) to which basil and green onions are added to the sauce. The paneer is broiled and browned so that it is warm and slightly melted but still keeps its shape. It is topped with crushed cashews and fresh, juicy pomegranate seeds which bring the dish to the next level. It is such a merriment of awkward/fusion ingredients that sing beautifully together.
I bought Aleppo chili flakes while in Turkey and think this is one of the best gifts I got as it has allowed me to slowly increase the heat in my kitchen. The chili flakes are not that spicy because the chili seeds have been removed but they impart a lovely warm flavour. They are my go-t0 when a recipe calls for chilies. My version has a bit of spice but still mild. For those that like heat, feel free to use real chilies.
Next time I want to cook with paneer, I may try to make it myself, as there are plenty of other dishes I’d love to try. Here are other enticing recipes with paneer:
Paneer Kofta (Cheese balls) from KO Rasoi and eCurry
Mutter Paneer (Paneer with peas) from What’s For Lunch, Honey?
Palak Paneer (Paneer with spinach) from eCurry
Paneer Butter Masala (Paneer in a creamy sauce) from Fun and Food Blog
Paneer Mushroom Masala (Paneer with mushrooms) from Lisa’s Kitchen
Macaroni and Paneer Cheese from Lisa’s Kitchen
Paneer Bhurji (Scrambled Paneer) from Chef in You
Paneer Cigar Rolls from Chef in You
Saffron Marinated Paneer Cheese with Fresh Basil, Cashews and Pomegranate Seeds
2/3 cup heavy cream or kefir
1/2 scant teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 tsp chili flakes (or 3 – 4 green chilies, seeded and finely chopped)
400 grams of paneer cheese, cut into fingers, roughly 1 inch thick and 3 inches long and 1/2 inches wide
2/3 cup scallions, finely chopped (include some of the green tops)
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (omitted)
1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (from half a large pomegranate)
1/4 cup dry roasted cashews or peanuts, coarsely crushed
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream or kefir to a boil over medium heat. Sprinkle in the saffron and remove from heat. The cream should turn a warm yellow. Add the salt and chili flakes, stir and set aside. Add the paneer as a single layer, gently stir to make sure the paneer is covered with the cream and refrigerate, covered, between 30-60 minutes. The paneer is done when it is sponge-like to touch.
2. Remove the paneer strips from the marinade and transfer to a greased or non-stick broiling pan. Broil on the top rack of the oven, turning the paneer every few minutes. Bake until they are golden brown on both sides, about 10 – 12 minutes total. Transfer to a serving plate.
3. Bring the marinade to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, until the mixture thickens. Stir in the scallions, basil and cilantro (if using). Pour the sauce over the broiled paneer and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and roasted cashews.