Swaran Jawa’s Mattar Paneer Recipe

Note: If you want to skip the hype-splanation, and cut straight to the recipe, click here or go down to the “Click HERE for more” below…. Also note that I’ve included a plain text and a plain HTML version as well. I recommend checking back to this page before attempting to cook it, as I plan on updating the recipe from time to time. A short url for this post is: http://tinyurl.com/sjawamp

It is done. I have done it. I have perfected my Mom’s Mattar Paneer recipe!

MattarPaneer.jpg

You don’t know what I’m talking about? You don’t know what mattar paneer is? You poor, unwashed, heathen. Wikipedia will tell you that mattar paneer is “is an Indian dish consisting of paneer (cheese) and peas in a sweet and spicy sauce.”

What Wikipedia won’t tell you is:
  • “Mattar” = “Peas”, “Paneer” = “cheese” (actually, I just updated the Wikipedia article, so it now tells you this 🙂 )
  • It’s perhaps the single best dish my Mom makes (& she’s quite a cook!)
  • Paneer is easy-to-make, light, mild, cheese – kinda like a firm cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese in taste (very subtle) and has a texture almost like tofu
  • Arguments over who got the most paneer were the flashpoint for many battles at the dining room table between my brother and I. Eventually, my parents had to begin a strict equal apportionment regime to reduce conflict.
  • It is one of my three or four favorite foods.

So you might be thinking “Ok, so it is a recipe, and you can make it. Nice, but no big deal…” This suggests you don’t understand that I CANNOT COOK. What little cooking skills I have, I have learned in order to make this dish (& a few others like it). Seriously: Can. Not. Cook. Googled-to-look-up-how-to-boil-eggs-earlier-this-year.

Get it? And now after years and years of learning and figuring it out, my Mattar Paneer recipe is as good as my mom, Swaran Jawa, makes it. It’s now officially, crazy + delicious. I have been attempting this for years… Many of you have tried it and thought “Oh this is good” – but it hasn’t been – you just didn’t know better. But now, finally it is legit. Soooo good.

I should add that to be able to cook something as good as my Mom is huge for me, as I still have little common cooking sense. This means there are probably improvements, simplifications, and twists that you folks will come up that will take me years to figure out – so please put them in the comments and email them my way. Seriously – it took me literally 2 years of trying this recipe to realize that I could avoid burning the pot by using more oil. Yep. 2 years. (And actually, truth be told, I didn’t even realize it – my esteemed sous chef, Bob, figured it out. THANKS BOB) So feel free to help me learn faster.

Also, I’d like to ask that if you pass this recipe along, just make sure you give credit to my Mom 🙂 she deserves it! (Happy Mother’s Day Mom! AND THANKS FOR ALL THE HELP!)

——

A few notes, before we jump into the recipe:

  • As my Mom likes to remind me, the two most interesting parts of this recipe can be purchased from an Indian food store: the gharam masala spice mixture and the paneer. I say “Mom, if I wanted to buy Indian food, I’d just go to an Indian restaurant!” But if you are looking to reduce the level of difficulty, those are real options. I’d say it’s fine to buy gharam masala, but whatever you do, make your own paneer at least once – it is EASY and SOOOO COOL.
  • If you are expecting this to look and taste just like mattar paneer you get in most Indian restaurants, you will be disappointed. And you will deserve a good flogging. I’ve come across very few Indian restaurants that don’t do a lame job of mattar paneer. Almost all restaurants (even good ones) commit the crime of making the base heavy with cream (bleagh) – even the Wikipedia picture is this style. Bleagh. And second rate restaurants usually skimp on the cheese, and the cheese they do make is not very good… This is the best version of mattar paneer I know, folks & it is not just because it is what I’m used to – the Indians I knew growing up loved my Mom’s version too.
  • This is best served over basmati rice or with naan bread (lightly toasted pita bread is a good naan substitute – the fluffier the better). I also recommend putting some plain yogurt on it if you are serving it with rice. Yum!
  • This recipe is in 3 parts, and two of these three parts are the key parts to two of my other favorite foods of all time, my Mom’s rajmah (red beans) and my Mom’s masala chicken! Once you get this down, those other recipes are pretty easy.
  • I’ve found that making at least 2x more base than you need & putting half of it in the freezer is the easiest & best way to make this recipe, because the base is the biggest part of the work. If you freeze half, next time you’re most of the way there.
  • If you can’t do dairy, or are vegan – replace the paneer with tofu. This is commonly done & quite yummy. Also if you can’t do tomato sauce1 (too acidy for an ex-GF – thanks for all the help Celeste!) you can substitute yogurt – still yummy.
  • I’ve uploaded a few random scattered pictures I’ve taken through the years – they will help you get a sense of what this all should look like. Hopefully I’ll get around to adding a definitive set someday.
  • I’ll be updating the recipe from time to time, so check back before you attempt it – it may have been improved. And hopefully, people will leave improvements in the comments.
  • Do not let the length of the following intimidate you because it is not as complicated as it looks!
  • This recipe makes about 8 servings. 1 serving is about 450 calories.

 

 

Swaran Jawa’s Mattar Paneer

This is the latest version of this recipe as of 11/05/13.

Updates:

  • 6/23/13: I fixed the salt – it wasn’t enough. 3 tsp instead of 2
  • 8/5/13: MAJOR update. I rewrote & completely reformatted the recipe to make it less complicated & clearer. I also added more explanation in the recipe. Additionally I tweaked this post for grammar & clarity & fixed the broken links to the pictures. If for some reason, you would like to see the previous version of the recipe, click here.
  • 8/20/13: Changed onions to “large”
  • 9/20/13: Try adding in frozen corn when you get the hang of it. Nice!
  • 10/1/13: I’m off about the number of onions. It should be 3. My bases have been a little shy of 1.5 cups.
  • 11/5/13: Ack! I said 8oz can but I meant 15 oz can of tomato sauce! Also added calorie count.
  • 11/4/17: Made shopping list

 Ingredients

  • Salt: 3 tsp
  • Red pepper: 1/4 tsp
  • Frozen peas: 20 oz

       — Masala Base —

  • Onions: 3 large yellow
  • Vegetable oil: 3 tablespoons
  • Tumeric: 1/2 tsp
  • Garlic: 2 big cloves
  • Ginger: 0.5 inch chunk
  • Tomato sauce : 15 oz can (no salt added is good)

       — Paneer —

  • Whole Milk: 1 Gallon
  • White vinegar: 4 tablespoons
  • 2 TBSPs oil for frying

       — Gharam Masala — 

  • Cumin seed: 1/4 TBSP
  • Coriander seeds or ground coriander: 1/4 TBSP
  • Cinnamon sticks: 1 inches of thin sticks or 0.5 of thick stick
  • Cloves: 2
  • Brown cardamom pods: 1 – (best to get Indian cardamom from Indian food store)
  • Nutmeg: pinch
  • Mace: pinch

Equipment

  • Food processor
  • Spice/coffee grinder
  • Cheesecloth
  • Large cooking pot
  • Large microwave safe bowl
  • Frying pan
  • Stove

Instructions

  • Masala Base: 1.5 cups
  • Paneer
  • Gharam Masala: 1 TBSP
  • Salt: 3 tsp
  • Red pepper: 1/4 tsp
  • Frozen peas: 20 oz

This makes about 4-6 servings of Mattar Paneer (serve over basmati rice, optionally with naan & yogurt). Essentially, the recipe involves making 3 parts (masala base, gharam masala, & paneer) & then mixing them together with peas & some additional spices.  Note that it is helpful to make two of the three parts in larger quantities in advance & save them off for later use (masala base & gharam masala).

  1. Combine 2.5 cups of water with 1 unit of masala base (see below) in large pot
  2. Add 20 oz frozen peas
  3. Put on high
  4. Add 3 teaspoons of salt
  5. Add 1/4 teaspoons of red pepper
  6. Cover, leave on medium
  7. At some point when peas are close to done, add 1 heaping TBSP of gharam masala (see below)
  8. When peas are wrinkled/shriveled, the gravy is done – put on low until paneer is ready (see below)
  9. You can add a half cup of water if you want more watery
  10. When the paneer is done (lightly fried) dump it in the gravy, stir it up a little & you’re done!

Masala Base (gravy base)

  • Onions: 3 large yellow
  • Vegetable oil: 3 tablespoons
  • Tumeric: 1/2 tsp
  • Garlic: 2 big cloves
  • Ginger: 0.5 inch chunk
  • Tomato sauce : 15 oz can

This makes 1 unit (about 1.5 cups) of the masala gravy base. I like to make 2 to 4 units & save them in the freezer for later use. This is the most labor intensive/time consuming part of the recipe, so it is good to do it less frequently.

  1. Chop up onions really small in food processor (small diced)
  2. Put onions into large pot and add 3 TBSP oil & turn up to high heat stirring OFTEN to not burn
    • Oil is important to keep the bottom of the pot from becoming a mess of burnt onion.
    • For slower results put on medium heat & stir occasionally
    • If too dry add more oil, can be spooned out later
  3. Chop up garlic cloves & ginger small in processor
  4. Turn down onions to low, keep stirring – note slowly browning (this takes a long time – I turn the heat up, but you MUST keep watching them)
  5. When dark brown put in ginger/garlic mix (really dark brown, think deep brown coffee color – almost burnt!)
  6. Put in 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric
  7. When almost burnt, slowly start adding tomato sauce – keep stirring (the oil may separate if there is a lot, that is a good sign)
  8. Put a little water in tomato can & slowly pour it in
  9. NOTE you can always put on low & leave for a while at any stage
  10. When deep reddish brown, it is done

Gharam Masala (spice mix)

  • Cumin seed: 1/4 TBSP
  • Coriander seeds or ground coriander: 1/4 TBSP
  • Cinnamon sticks: 1 inches of thin sticks or 0.5 of thick stick
  • Cloves: 2
  • Brown cardamom pods: 1 – (best to get Indian cardamom from Indian food store)
  • Nutmeg: pinch
  • Mace: pinch

This makes 1 heaping TBSP of the spice mix. I like to make this in larger quantities (4x/6x) & save it off with my spices for later use.

  1. Roast 1/4 TBSP of cumin seed in a pan on the burner for a few minutes
  2. Place the following ingredients in spice blender & grind until fine powder
    • 1/4 TBSP of roasted cumin seed
    • 1/4 TBSP of coriander seed
    • 1 inches of cinnamon thin sticks or 0.5 of thick stick
    • 2 cloves
    • 1 brown cardamoms – break pods & get seeds out (can only get at Indian store)
    • nutmeg & mace (pinch)

Paneer (cheese):

  • Whole Milk: 1 Gallon
  • White vinegar: 4 tablespoons
  • 2 TBSPs oil for frying

This is SUPER EASY to make & SUPER FUN, great for entertaining children & guests (& me!).  It is time consuming in that there is a lot of waiting for milk to boil, so I recommend starting this at least 1.5 hours before serving. The rest of the cooking can be done while the milk is boiling.  Boiling on the stove is reasonable, however it is VERY easy to burn the milk & thus the microwave is much easier.  Another good idea is to make the paneer a day or so before & refrigerating it until the cooking time.

NOTE: You will do these steps twice. Since my microwave (and most likely yours) will not hold a bowl large enough for an entire gallon, I make the paneer in 2 batches of 0.5 gallon each. I recommend starting the second batch between steps 5 & 6 & not starting step 9 until both batches are cubed. See * below.

  1. Pour 0.5 gallon milk in large bowl
  2. Microwave for 20-30 minutes to BOIL. (The exact time depends on your microwave, it is ready when there is a large bubble of air on top.)
  3. Stir in 4 tablespoons of white vinegar
  4. Keep stirring
  5. When cheese separates fully and gets clumpy (& liquid gets yellowish and clear) pour into collander with cheesecloth
    –*now start 2nd batch–
  6. Squeeze out as much water as possible. The more water you get out, the better your paneer will be.
    • Initially squeeze out the water by hand, twisting the cheesecloth
    • Put the cheesecloth between two plates and squeeze the plates together as hard as you can.
    • Or, if you don’t want to squeeze by hand, use my Mom’s method instead: put cheesecloth between plates & stack books on it for a few hours
  7. When cheese is firm & cohesive it is done – it should not be crumbly! should be like almost like extra-firm tofu in terms of consistency
  8. Put on a plate and slice into cubes – if it is crumbly, you did not press it enough
    –*wait for 2nd batch–
  9. Put a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan at high & then put down to medium low
  10. Drop cheese cubes one by one in at side of pan to lightly fry them (until golden brown)
  11. Dry cheese in cloth towel to remove oil
  12. Rinse cheesecloth after use

 

My Shopping List

When I make mattar paneer, I rarely make all of it at once. I like to keep gharam masala & base made in advance: gharam masala is often useful & the base takes the longest to make & keeps well. So then when i want some mattar paneer, I just pull out some base from the freezer, some gharam masala off the spice rack & make the rest. To that end, I often need this shopping list in the following quantities:

  • Main Items 2X (I make a double batch of mattar paner)
  • Gharam Masala 8X (I make a 8x and keep it on the shelf)
  • Base 4X (I make a 4x and keep it in the freezer for months)

 Main 2X 

  • Salt: 6 tsp
  • Red pepper: 1/2 tsp
  • Frozen peas: 40 oz
  • Whole Milk: 2 Gallon (4 Strauss Half Gallons)
  • White vinegar: 8 tablespoons
  • 4 TBSPs oil for frying

 Gharam Masala 8X 

  • Cumin seed: 2 TBSP
  • Coriander seeds or ground coriander: 2TBSP
  • Cinnamon sticks: 2 inches of thick stick
  • Cloves: 16
  • Brown cardamom pods: 8 – (best to get Indian cardamom from Indian food store)
  • Nutmeg: 8 pinch
  • Mace: 8 pinch

Base 4X

  • Onions: 12 large yellow
  • Vegetable oil: 12 tablespoons
  • Tumeric: 2 tsp
  • Garlic: 8 big cloves
  • Ginger: 2 inch chunk
  • Tomato sauce : 60 oz in cans (no salt added is good)

 

To view/download this recipe as a web page (HTML) click here, to view/download this recipe as plain text click here. Also, do check out the pictures I’ve posted – they should help a bit.

 

 

 

1. As a fascinating aside, I have spent a lot of time wondering how Indians made this before the “discovery” of the New World – because tomatoes (used heavily in Punjabi cooking) are a New World fruit & thus could not have been in India before Columbus. The biggest clue was when I asked my Mom, she explained that yogurt could be substituted instead of tomato sauce – so my best guess is that in ancient times, this was made with yogurt instead. Fascinating!

6 thoughts on “Swaran Jawa’s Mattar Paneer Recipe

  1. I already loved Indian food but this mattar paneer takes it to a whole new level — DELICIOUS! Lighter, healthier and tastier than Indian restaurant versions. Thanks, Mama Jawa!

  2. I’ll have to see if my mum’s mattar paneer lives up to your mums’s on Tuesday. I’ll give you some of her pre-made garam masala if you are interested

  3. I love Mattar Paneer and I’m definitely going to give this a shot!
    It was nice running into you, Deep!

    Cheers.
    -Pranav

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