Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Paneer Makhani

When I was in college, my older brother and I would meet for dinner at Kashmir on charming Newbury St in Boston. My brother was doing his residency at the time, so it was a rare treat to be able to have dinner with him. We would order our regular: one order of shahi paneer, one order of dal makhani, rice, and 2 naan and catch up on life. We would rave about how absolutely delicious the shahi paneer tasted. It was the kind of delicious that makes you feel like you are in on a secret because if everyone knew how good it was there couldn't possibly be enough to go around. I loved my time with my brother at Kashmir and, better yet, at his quaint brownstone in the South End eating take-out from Kashmir, courtesy of

Once I moved to Chicago, I became slightly obsessed with trying to find a similar version of the dish at the many high end Indian restaurants around town. India Garden and India House came deliciously close, but something wasn't the same. I tried ordering the same dish at hole-in-the-wall restaurants in neighborhoods across the city. Nothing came close. Desperate as ever, I even ventured (after a few drinks) to late-night sketchy spots frequented by cab drivers, like Pakiza, Baba Palace, and Zaiqa, only to find the scariest bathrooms I've ever seen outside of India and more disappointment.

A few years ago (in 2007), I visited Boston with a dear friend from Chicago (who had listened to me obsess over the dish for the past 3 years). We had dinner at Kashmir and ordered the shahi paneer. As we sipped wine and nibbled on papaad, I grew increasingly nervous. What if, after all these years, I had hyped up Kashmir's shahi paneer to a standard that was no longer realistic? Or perhaps worse, what if my palate had become more refined over the years and nothing would come close to what I remember?

The dish arrived and my dining companion looked at me expectantly as I took the first bite. It was just as incredible as I remembered... a delicious, rich tomato and onion gravy with nuts and paneer. For the remainder of the meal, we both sat in silence appreciating every morsel. (Naturally, since we were in Boston, we just had to get ice cream from J.P. Licks after dinner even though we were stuffed).

When I returned to Chicago, I spent hours in the kitchen trying to replicate the dish. Finally, the night before my annual Diwali dinner in 2008, I successfully recreated the dish... in batch number 3. Well, the third batch that night. It is quite possible that my dinner guests thought I was crazy when I enthusiastically told them about my achievement the next day.

But truth be told, people have been known to lick the pot clean, even pass out on the living room floor in a post-consumption food coma, or even claim it to be the best chicken they've ever had. You all know who you are!!

I hope you too enjoy this dish. It is very, very dear to my heart. ♥

Paneer Makhani

4 tbsp butter, divided
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion
1/3 cup of raw cashews, preferably unsalted
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp red cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
2 8 oz cans unsalted tomato sauce
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tsp kasuri methi (dry, from a box)

1 cup of paneer (half of recipe)*

Soak cashews in hot water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile blend 1/2 yellow onion with a small amount of water until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Blend the soaked cashews with a small amount of water to a smooth paste. Transfer to a small bowl.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. When butter starts to foam, add garlic. Let fry until fragrant but do not brown. Add 6 tbsp onion paste and 4 tbsp cashew paste. Stir into butter. Saute until separates. Stir in ground cumin, red cayenne pepper, and salt. Saute until separates. Stir in tomato sauce, heavy cream, and methi. Reduce heat to medium-low. Let cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in 2 tbsp butter, until melted. Add paneer. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve piping hot with naan. Serves 3-4.

*Note: If using store bought frozen paneer, avoid using fried paneer for this recipe.


  1. Oh, happiness.

    I'm surprised there is only 1 tsp of cayenne b/c it always seemed to have some real kick! And thank you for the paneer recipe too. I bet the kiddos can help with the kneading. We will be having this asap.

    I'm not sure how to convey how much I LOVE this food. So grateful you shared the recipe! Xxoo

  2. Thanks for the comment! I can't wait to hear how it turns out! I think the kids will have fun making cheese, especially L! I could see L trying to eat the paneer alone.. it is really plain so you could try adding salt to the curds. It really has 2 tsp of cayenne pepper because I make a double recipe of the gravy for the same amount of paneer because, well, I just love it so very much! Miss you!!

  3. I have never had anything like this...the sauce looks so tempting and I would love to have some with lemon rice!

  4. ZOMFG - yes, not just zomg or omfg but the first truly worthy zomfg! this is the receipe that can change one's life and cause house guests to lie on your floor, moaning in delight. gracias!

  5. One question: Do you really need the kasuri methi, or can it be skipped (only thing that I don't have & it seems hard to get)?

    Making this dish might buy me some good will & free up a weekend ;)

  6. Methi is fenugreek, so if you can't find fenugreek leaves you can grind fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek has a very unique flavor but I think celery leaves would be a close substitute.

  7. Dear Anj,

    I definetly licked the pot clean, and I doubt anyone wouldn't, since it is the best dish on this planet!
    I absolutely love your paneer and would fly out to wherever you are, just to have a bite of it!


    Lil sis!

  8. Oh I wish I could have a bowl of this. I love paneer, but I never make it at home. I need to change that! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and delicious dish!

  9. This sounds delicious!! Do you have any recommendations for a substitution for the heavy cream to make it healthier?


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