Easy paneer curry recipe in a spicy masala sauce, a super delicious vegetarian twist on the famous chicken tikka masala.
An amazing paneer curry recipe - soft Indian cheese pieces in an aromatic masala sauce.
Even if you are not familiar with Indian food, you might have heard of chicken tikka masala. It is probably the best-known and most-loved Indian dish in the West. 2001 it was even declared as a “true British national dish”.
Apparently, chicken tikka masala is not even an authentic Indian dish; it seems to have been first cooked by Bangladeshi migrant chefs during the 1960s in Britain. Or by a Pakistani restaurant owner living in Glasgow in the 1970s, nobody is quite certain about the origins.
I had chicken tikka masala for the first time in Britain as well; it was a common dish to take away in an Indian restaurant close to our house. I have even cooked it myself a few times over the years and loved it every time.
This paneer tikka masala is the vegetarian version of that amazing chicken dish.
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What is paneer?
Fresh unsalted cheese is widely produced and consumed in the Indian subcontinent, mostly in North India, but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
It is made by curdling hot milk with the help of food acids, like lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt, or citric acid. It doesn't contain rennet, and that makes it super for vegetarians as well. After curdling the milk, the solid parts and the whey are separated by giving the solids into a muslin cloth, draining them well, and then pressing them into a rather firm block of cheese.
It is not a fermented or aged kind of cheese; it can be eaten immediately after making it. And that's great news as well, paneer is very easy to make at home, and if you don't have to leave it to ferment either, you can definitely decide on cooking a paneer dish on a whim, so to speak.
What is tikka masala?
The word tikka means bits or pieces, so in cooking, the word refers to small pieces of meat or cutlets. The marinade used to marinate these pieces is also called tikka. The marinated meat or cheese cubes are then baked, grilled, or cooked in the pan and are served in a spicy and comforting masala sauce.
Masala is a blend of spices. For this recipe, the masala sauce is made with tomatoes and a spice mix containing cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, chili powder, coriander, fenugreek, and paprika.
How to paneer curry?
Marinate the cheese:
- Make the marinade by mixing the Greek yogurt with ginger, garlic (or ginger garlic paste, if you happen to have any), and spices like garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and lemon juice.
- Cut the cheese into rather large cubes, about 3 cm/ 1.2 inches, and add them to the marinade. Add some large cubes of green or red bell pepper and onions cut into larger chunks as well. Cut the onion into chunks, but make sure to separate the onion layers.
- Cover the bowl with cling film, place it in the fridge, and leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- You have several options. Traditionally, you will stick the cubes on skewers; that's the proper way, so to speak.
- However, as you have to remove the cubes from the skewers before adding them to the masala sauce, I don't see the point in spending so much time with the “skewering” and “unskewering” of the meat or paneer.
- I prefer to bake the cubes; this way, I make sure I don't burn them (like I sometimes do under the preheated grill if I don't pay enough attention). I place the cheese and vegetable cubes on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil. Most of the marinade will remain attached to the cubes; leave it there.
- Do use aluminum foil; it will make your life easier when cleaning the baking tray; the baked marinade sticking to the pan won't be easily removed without soaking and scrubbing.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius/400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes or until browned at the edges.
- If you want to use the grill, place the cubes on the baking tray lined with aluminum foil as well (baking paper would catch fire under the grill) and grill for about 15 minutes, checking often and turning the pieces on all sides in order to make sure nothing burns.
Cook in the pan:
- To cook the paneer tikka in the pan, pour a little oil into a non-stick pan and cook the cheese and vegetables, turning often on all sides, until nicely browned at the edges. Use tongs to flip the pieces.
I do recommend the oven method; it makes the least work.
How to make masala sauce?
- Heat 2 tablespoons ghee or 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a larger saucepan, large enough to hold the sauce and the cheese cubes as well.
- Roast the green cardamom, cinnamon stick, and cumin seeds.
- Add 1 large chopped onion, ginger, and garlic, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the spices and cook them shortly.
- Add the tomatoes (canned are perfect), sugar, salt, and some water, and simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes.
- You can puree the sauce to your liking at this point; I did blend it, but not perfectly so. The sauce is smoother, but you can still feel a few bits here and there. It is really up to you how smooth you make it.
- Add the roasted paneer and vegetables to the sauce, and stir very carefully to avoid breaking the cheese. Everything should be coated in sauce. Leave the pot on very low heat until the food is heated through, but don't let the sauce come to a boil again.
How to serve?
- Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve immediately with naan bread, rotis, or rice.
- If reheating this Indian paneer curry, do it on low heat and add a little more cream or water if the leftovers seem too dry.
And if you would like to get more curry inspiration, have a look at some of these recipes:
Paneer Curry Recipe (Tikka Masala)
- 14 oz paneer 400 g
- 1 green or red bell pepper
- 1 medium red onion
- 6 tablespoons Greek yogurt
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ginger grated (about 2 cm/ 0.8 inches ginger)
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
- ¾ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ – ½ teaspoon chili powder more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons ghee OR 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 large onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ⅛ teaspoon fenugreek optional (leave it out if you don't have it)
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder
- 1 can tomatoes 14 oz/ 400 g
- 1 cup water 230 ml
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4-5 tablespoons heavy cream
- small bunch of fresh coriander
- Make the marinade: Place the yogurt, grated ginger, grated garlic cloves, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, ground cumin and coriander, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl large enough to hold the paneer and vegetable cubes as well.
- Chop ingredients: Cut the paneer into 3 cm/ 1.2 inches. Cut the bell pepper into cubes about as large as the paneer cubes. Cut the red onion into similar-sized chunks and separate the layers of the onion, so that you only have a single layer onion pieces.
- Marinate paneer: Place the paneer, peppers, and onions into the marinade. Stir well but carefully, taking care not to break the paneer pieces. All cheese and vegetable pieces should be coated with the marinade.Cover the bowl with cling film, place it in the fridge, and leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- When ready to cook the marinated paneer you have several options.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F/ 200°C. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil. Bake the paneer cubes in the oven for about 20 minutes or until browned at the edges.
- Preheat the grill. Place the paneer and vegetable cubes on the baking tray lined with aluminum foil as well (baking paper would catch fire under the grill) and grill for about 15 minutes, checking often to make sure that the paneer and the marinade don't burn. Use tongs to turn the paneer pieces around.
- To cook the paneer tikka in the pan, pour a little oil into a non-stick pan and cook, turning often, on all sides, until nicely browned at the edges.
- Chop the onion finely.
- Fry spices: Heat the ghee or oil and butter mixture in a large saucepan, large enough to hold the paneer as well later. Add the green cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and cumin seeds to the pan and cook, stirring often for about 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.
- Saute vegetables: Add the chopped onions, grated ginger, and garlic and cook on medium-low heat, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until the onion is softer.
- Add the turmeric, chili, ground coriander, fenugreek, and sweet paprika, and stir for about 2 minutes.
- Simmer: Pour in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, the water, sugar, and salt. Stir well. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the sauce loses the raw tomato taste and thickens slightly.
- Add paneer: Stir in the heavy cream. Add the roasted paneer and vegetable pieces to the pan and stir very carefully until they are coated with the masala sauce.
- Leave the pan on the heat source until heated through, but don't let the sauce come to a boil again.
- Sprinkle with coriander and serve immediately with naan bread, rotis, or rice.