I always feel that I end up cooking many dishes just to re-create a special memory, securely nestled in my heart from the yearsÂ gone by or from days of growing up. Sometimes the sight of the familiar ingredients at the store brings in with itself such a gush of thoughts that I won't have anyother way except cheering myself up in the kitchen with them,cooking up a storm to recreate those flavors. Fresh peas during spring time, is one of such thing. For less than a second,the sight of exuberantly prized organic sweet peas at the grocer last weekÂ made little sense coupled with the effort required to prepare them. But then, I could not walk away without securing a pound in my cart to make some this lusciousÂ matar paneer - fresh shelled peas and soft unaged cheese in a spicy sauce redolent of sweet-smelling cardamom and sharp hintsÂ of cinnamon and cloves in contrast to the sweetness of the vegetable.
I don't remember a single time during childhood when we ate frozen peas.Fresh peas were a winter treat and the only way. My grandmother and other womenÂ of the family, after serving lunch, geared up for dinner,pulling chairs around the takhtÂ (a very old wide wooden bench still going strong in verandah of my badi mummy's house), settling down with cups of cardamom chai and spent few good hours to shellÂ three or fourÂ kilos of grassy, plum pods, gossiping about the neighbors or the relatives, working with remarkable patience, a virtue that comes hard to me when I know there is a ready to useÂ pouch inside the freezer.
When I amÂ engrossed in such strong weavedÂ memories, at times, itÂ becomes difficult to tear away and lend to the present. The joy continues, the nostalgia gets compelling. When I spent about half hour over the weekend in the company of these fresh peas I got, I felt like a child again,Â badi mummy teasing me to lend help and just not nibble on the seeds.It was raining outside and I felt like a child again,some eighteen or twenty years back, me wearing hand knitted, red colored socks,running away with fistfuls ofÂ matar dana.Â All laughs, soÂ much fun.
Then suddenly, I feel the warmth ofÂ my daughter from behind, trying to lift her body on heels to reach for the bowl of seeds that I just shelled.Her smile breaks the array of thoughts. She is like mommy.
Matar paneer is a classic north indian dish. I have always liked it on the spicy side with the creaminess limited to that from the paneer (fresh indian cheese). Each home in india has its own version of it, there is nothing wrong or right become curry are so versatile that way.The curry is naturally gluten free since paneer is a gluten free cheese. You can very easily make this recipe vegan friendly using tofu, or any other vegan substitute. I am sharing my mom's recipe with a little bit of extra spices added in.
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 2 medium tomatoes yield about ¾ cup fresh tomato puree
- 1 garlic
- 200 g paneer cubed
- ¼ cup mustard oil or cooking oil
- ½ cup onion finely chopped
- 2 green cardamom
- ½ inch cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (adjust to taste, substitute with ½ teaspoon cayenne)
- ½ teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon ginger finely chopped
- ½-1 cup hot water depending on the desired consistency of sauce
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi
- ½ teaspoon garam masla
- 2-3 tablespoon heavy cream optional, I did not use
- Fresh cilantro & ginger juliennes to garnish and serve
- If you are using fresh peas, shell the pods. If using frozen, thaw the peas.
- Blend the tomatoes along with garlic to a fine puree. Set aside.
- Soak the paneer cubes in warm water. Set aside. If using tofu, dry it using paper towels, cube it and let sit.
- Heat up the mustard oil in a large pot, wait till you see little ripples on the surface, add the onions along with cardamom, clove,cinnamom & cumin seeds.Saute for 5-6 minutes till the onion start to turn light brown.
- Add the coriander, turmeric, red chili, kashmiri chilli powder next and fry for less than a minute. Add the blended tomatoes and reduce heat to low.Let cook slowly till you see little bubbles of oil separating on sides of the pot and the spice paste glistening.
- At this point, add the peas along with chopped ginger,add salt, stir to combine together with spice paste and on low heat, saute for 3-4 minutes.
- Add about ¾ cup water, mix well and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for about 15-20 minutes till the peas are soft (but not mushy).
- Uncover and add the kasuri methi, garam masala along with paneer cubes. Stir, and again cover and on low heat, let simmer for another 10-12 minutes.
- Add the heavy cream (if using) next and simmer (not boil) on very low heat for another 2-3 minutes.Once the sauce has simmered, let sit for at least 45mins -1hour or till ready to serve.
- Once ready to serve, warm up the sauce and serve immediately. You can garnish with cilantro, extra cream and ginger juliennes.