My mother makes a smashing corn and tomato curry and that’s what I grew up on. But once I started cooking, my quirk for something green in every meal, made me add the capsicum to this recipe and it brought an unmistakable freshness, a certain zing to the flavour.
Then one afternoon, the prospect of feeding unexpected, formal, vegetarian guests on short notice made me grab the fat chunk of paneer (Indian cottage cheese) sitting in my fridge and add it to my already simmering corn capsicum tomato. Voila! I had a dish worthy of my guests. Yes, when in doubt, serve paneer. You can never go wrong.
You might eat simple stir fried leafy greens with rotis for your average lunch but just add cubes of fresh paneer and maybe some fresh cream and it transforms into a lavish dish. Actually, make creamy paneer gravy with methi (fenugreek), palak (spinach), mix vegetables, corn, almost anything and give it a really cheesy (no pun intended) name, like one finds on Indian restaurant menus… Paneer – pasanda, lajawab, akbari, shahi, nawabi – and you are good to go! Well, that’s what most restaurants do…doesn’t matter if the name has nothing to do with the dish!
Paneer recipes in India fall mainly under the ‘Mughlai’ category. Mughlai cuisine is a style of cooking that has evolved from the imperial kitchens of the erstwhile Mughal and Persian Empires and is represented in the cooking styles of several regions of the Indian North West Frontier like Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, the Southern Indian City of Hyderabad and countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Mughlai food by reputation is seen as elaborately prepared meals with rich, creamy gravies, liberal use of nuts, dry fruits and aromatic spices. But the original Mughlai or what is known today as ‘North West Frontier’ cuisine recipes were mostly non vegetarian and as the cuisine became more modern and pedestrian, paneer was used to make the vegetarian versions of a lot of them. Yes, there was a time when the nawabi, akbari etc tags alluded to a specific technique and flavour of that recipe, but that relevance has conveniently been ignored.
Happily, there has been a strong revivalist trend for authentic North West Frontier cuisine in the better Indian restaurants and till we can replicate those elaborate recipes at home, I’m afraid, its Shahi Methi Mutter Paneer for you and me. Or does Paneer Korma Nawabi sound better? Let’s go with Makai Paneer Lahori today, if you please.
Corn Capsicum Tomato Curry, with maybe some paneer…
3 cups sweet corn kernels, boiled/steamed
4 tomatoes, pureed
1 capsicum, medium diced
200 gms paneer, cubed (if using)
2tbsp tomato ketchup
1tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
2 tbsp butter
½ tsp cumin seeds
2” pc cassia bark (Indian cinnamon)
- Boil the sweet corn and reserve the water.
- In a pan, heat the butter till it starts to brown. Immediately add the cumin seeds and let pop.
- Add the cloves and cinnamon and let pop. Add the pureed tomatoes, red chilli powder, turmeric and tomato ketchup.
- Cook on low heat till the liquid from tomatoes has dried up and the gravy is thick and glossy. Add the drained sweet corn and mix.
- Add the capsicum and just enough reserve water to adjust the thickness of the gravy to your liking.
- Cook on medium heat till the capsicum is cooked but not mushy and the gravy is thick and smooth.
- Add salt and paneer if using, at the end.