Friday, 23 August 2013

Muttar Paneer (Rich Tomato Gravy with Peas and Indian Cheese)

Green peas are considered old fashioned comfort food in these parts.  When they’re directly from the garden, even more comforting still!  We had a goodly batch, so I wanted to do something special with them.  A cup of raw peas went into a potato salad, and the rest were reserved for this delicious vegetarian main course.

Green peas are rich in Vitamin K, manganese, Vitamin C, folate, fibre, the list goes on.  In recent years they were dissed as a poor choice of a vegetable—because they were usually overcooked and turned to vitaminless starch—but much of that attitude is changing.  The humble pea that populated my childhood’s dinner plate is making a comeback.  This recipe glorifies the charming green little guys, and oh, it’s tasty and fairly quick. 

Oh the beauty of fresh garden peas!
1 stick cinnamon
10 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
3 cloves
½ teaspoon fenugreek seed
3 green cardamom, bashed and ground a bit
2 black cardamom, bashed and husked
1 flake mace
¼ teaspoon black cumin
3 Kashmiri dried chilies
1 Indian bay leaf
½ teaspoon turmeric powder 

1 tablespoon good quality cooking oil (canola, grapeseed, or even ghee)
½ teaspoon cumin seed
Just as pretty growing!
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 inch ginger root, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 Thai chili, finely diced
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cups water (or more)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 cup cubed paneer
2 cups green peas (fresh or frozen)
¼ cup cream (17%)

Start by gently roasting the whole spices.  Put the ground turmeric directly into a spice grinder, but the whole spices into the pan you will be using for this dish.  Dry roast them on medium high heat until they smell gorgeous and are slightly darker.  

Keep the bay leaf and cinnamon stick in the pan, but add the rest of the spices to the spice grinder, and buzz to a powder, about a minute in my machine.  Set aside. 

These have a small white flower.
Pour oil into the pan with the bay leaf and cinnamon, and turn on to medium high.  Sizzle for a few moments, and add the next batch of cumin seed.  Sizzle till they begin to change colour, then add the onion, ginger and chili.  Lower heat to medium, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion becomes translucent and a bit golden at the edges.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.  Add the ground spices, and cook for another minute or two. 

Add tomato, two cups of water and salt, and cook for at least thirty minutes, till the oil begins to separate and the sauce is reduced.  You may need a bit more water if the dish gets too thick, but remember, you’ll be adding cream a little later.  If you’re using frozen paneer, add it now, and let it cook through, at least ten minutes.  If your paneer is fresh, add it at the same time as your peas.  Frozen peas take about two minutes to heat through and cook to a brilliant emerald green.  Fresh peas take about ten minutes.  

Sweetpeas are not edible, only sweet green peas!
In the olden days, peas were boiled till they were grey and mushy, then the boiling water was poured off, all the vitamins down the drain.  No wonder they developed a bad reputation.  Poor innocent things.  You will be cooking your peas directly in the gravy, so all vitamins will be contained within this dish, and no, you would never cook your peas to the point where they tremble and go grey and pale, now would you? Hmmmm?

As soon as the peas are still green but soft, and the cheese is heated through, pour in the cream.  Let that heat through, then ladle into bowls, either with basmati rice or chappatties.  We ate the leftovers for several days, but this would also freeze well, and be especially comforting on a chilly day.  

Sweet fresh garden green peas!