One of the most common dishes seen in your average Indian restaurant is Matar Paneer; basically peas and paneer cheese cooked in a tomato and cream sauce. I am sorry, but this is a really boring dish, or can be. Paneer is a curd cheese popular in South India that is made using lemon to curdle milk (dead easy to make at home, by the way). Unlike a lot of firm cheeses it does not need Rennet to make it hard, so it is perfect for vegetarians. Also, it does not melt when heated so it can be fried or even put on the barbecue.
However, if you are going to use it (and you should) you need to use it properly and not just bury it in a tomato sauce. So the following recipe combines paneer with my favourite veggies and spices.
The paneer cheese can be added straight to the curry, but I like to fry it first. In a small non-stick pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of groundnut oil or ghee to medium heat. Chop the paneer into small cubes and fry till it is turnng golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Now for the main dish. Chop the onion coarsely and fry in oil or ghee with finely chopped garlic and ginger till the onion is really soft. Now add the panch puran, (whole spice not ground) and the chopped chillies – de-seed them if you want them milder. Fry for a couple of minutes more, possibly at a lower heat so you don't end up crying from the chillies.
Chop the courgettes and beans and add. Fry for ten minutes slowly until the courgettes are mostly cooked and still firm.
Add the cherry tomatoes – either from a tin or skin them by blanching them in boiling water and skinning.
Add the Paneer cheese and salt to taste. Paneer, unlike many western cheeses, is only lightly salted so this dish will definitely need salt. But I am sure I will be caught out by a salty variety at some point.
Cook for a few minutes till the tomatoes have cooked in. The result should be quite a dry curry. Add chopped coriander leaf and serve.
I have used panch puran here, but you could also use garam masala. I rather like the whole spices in this dish, it gives a gentle perfumed flavour – powder is too strong for the cheese, to be honest. This can be served as either a side dish or as a main dish for two people. Goes particularly well with home made Naan bread or chapatis.