Traditionally the cheese in this Indian dish would be pan-fried, then added to the vegetable sauce. The grill changes everything. Look for paneer in natural food stores or Indian markets. If you can’t find it, substitute halloumi or queso fresco, which also won’t lose their shape when grilled directly over the fire. Serve this with basmati, Chapati, or Naan.
Recipe by Mark Bittman, from How to Grill Everything.
Photo by: Christina Holmes
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
1. If you’re using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes. Start the coals or heat the gas grill for medium-high heat direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.
2. Thread the red onion and bell pepper onto skewers. Brush with oil. Toss the tomatoes in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon oil until coated. Thread the tomatoes onto skewers or pour onto a perforated grill pan.
3. Put the paneer, onion and pepper skewers, and tomatoes on the grill directly over the fire. Close the lid. Cook the cheese, turning once, until it is browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board. Cook the tomatoes, turning the skewers or shaking the pan several times, until they wrinkle and brown or char in a few places, 5 to 10 minutes; transfer to a platter. Cook the onion and bell peppers, turning them occasionally, until softened and browned in places, 10 to 20 minutes. Transfer to the platter and remove from the skewers. Cut the paneer into 1-inch or smaller cubes. (You can grill the vegetables and paneer several hours or even the day before; let cool, cover, and refrigerate.)
4. Put the onion chunks in a blender or food processor along with the ginger and garlic and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the container as needed.
5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion puree (no need to wash the blender or work bowl), cumin, turmeric, and red pepper and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until fragrant and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Puree the grilled tomatoes. Add the onion mixture and cook, stirring a few times, until a lot of the liquid has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, ½ cup water, and the grilled paneer and vegetables. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding more red pepper if you like. Return to the stove and adjust the heat to a gentle bubble. Cook the paneer and vegetables are heated through. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.
My take on the classic: Omit the grilled onions and peppers. Substitute 1 tablespoon garam masala for the cumin and turmeric. In step 6, after you add the tomatoes to the onion puree and it starts to bubble, add 10 ounces baby spinach or chopped regular spinach (or use half mustard greens and half spinach). Cover the pan until the spinach softens, just a few minutes. Uncover, stir, and let the sauce bubble until thickened; then add the yogurt, water, and paneer and finish as directed.
Paneer and Cauliflower Coconut Masala:
Omit the grilled onions and peppers. Cut enough cauliflower to get about 2 cups small florets. Substitute 1 cup coconut milk for the yogurt and water. In Step 4, add 1 seeded jalapeño when you process the onion into a puree. After you add the tomatoes to the onion puree and it starts to bubble, add the cauliflower; cook and stir until it’s crisp-tender, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut milk, then the paneer, and simmer until it’s hot and the cauliflower is fully tender, another 5 to 10 minutes.
Make either of these variations, only replace the paneer with 1 block firm or extra-firm tofu (14-16 ounces). Cut into ½ inch slices and grill. Cut into cubes and add to the sauce as directed in Step 6.