Back when we first moved to BC, we were living in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. While Richmond wasn’t our ideal city to live in, it did have Tandoori Kona– the best Indian restaurant we’ve ever visited. On their menu, is one of my all-time favorite Indian dishes, Paneer Tikka Masala, or as Tandoori Kona calls it- Chili Paneer, which is essentially paneer served in spicy tomato-based gravy. I know, it sounds terrible, right?
Indian cuisine can be a tad intimidating at first, mainly because of the encyclopedia of spices you feel like you need to learn. While I wish I could say I was an expert in this field, I am far from it. So, I usually need to outsource this knowledge to produce decent Indian food that doesn’t involve take-out.
One of my favorite online resources is Manjula’s Kitchen. Her website specializes in vegetarian and vegan Indian cuisine and boasts so many tips, tricks and videos to help you along if you get lost. While I did make some changes and substitutions to her original recipe, I never would have been able to produce this mouth-watering dish without her guidance.
Before we get started, I will warn you that this is a bit more time intensive than other recipes I typically like to prepare. Basically, this is a weekend recipe, not a 30-minute week night meal. So consider yourself warned.
So let’s get down to it, shall we?
Paneer is a firm Indian cheese that is made using milk and lemon juice. Manjula actually has a recipe that shows you how to make your own. Personally, I prefer to visit the dairy section in my grocery store. For you B.C. locals, I purchased mine from Save On Foods. But you could also try specialty shops and most likely Whole Foods.
If you can’t find Paneer or you’re too lazy (or pressed for time) to make your own, feel free to sub in extra-firm tofu- just make sure you press the moisture out, first. If you’re a non-veggie, I actually used chicken thighs for Dustin’s. So I’ll give you the run down on both.
Aren’t I nice?
As previously mentioned, spices are integral to Indian cooking as they create that pungent and aromatic scent that is synonymous with their dishes. With that in mind, you may want to make sure your vent is running or at least have a window open to keep the air circulating. If you don’t have some of the whole spices, feel free to use a smaller amount of the ground variety. However, I do recommend that you at least get the cumin seeds. I find they add a better flavor than ground cumin.
Same goes for the ripe tomatoes, if you can’t find any that look nice enough, sub in 1 large can of whole tomatoes- preferably one without salt added.
I’m also going to strongly recommend that you also make the rice dish to go along with it. Plain basmati rice is good, but the sweet-savory spice blend in this recipe really complements the Paneer.
Have I convinced you enough to make this recipe yet? Ok, here it is:
Paneer Tikka Masala
1 lb. Paneer, OR 1 lb. chicken thighs
2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
Tikka Masala Sauce
1 jalapeno pepper
5 medium, ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 ½ Tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
¾ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Aromatic Basmati Rice
½ tsp ground cinnamon OR 2 whole cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
2 whole cloves
½ small onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ c. of brown basmati rice
2 ½ c. of water
If using paneer, slice the block in half, then slice each half in half, then slice those slices in half so you have eight equal squares. Slice each square diagonally so you have triangles. If using chicken, leave the thighs whole.
Combine yogurt, lemon and spices into a small bowl and then add in your paneer or chicken. Cover and place it in the fridge for at least one hour to marinate.
If using chicken, preheat oven to 375 and bake for 20-30 minutes until cooked so the juices run clear. While chicken is baking or paneer is marinating, start on your gravy:
Combine tomatoes, jalapeno, and tomato paste into your blender and blend until you have a smooth puree. Pour into a bowl and add in your spices. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste.
In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add in your paneer (if using) and stir-fry it for 5 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from pan then add a touch more oil if needed. Toss in the peppers and onions and stir-fry for 2 minutes until onion is softened. Pour in your gravy and use a whisk to scrape any of the browned bits from the paneer on the bottom- this will add more depth of flavor to your gravy.
Allow the gravy to simmer for 15 minutes until slightly thickened then toss in either your paneer or chicken. Cook for another 5 minutes then remove from the heat and cover to set for another 5 minutes. Serve with rice.
It is important that you soak your rice prior to cooking. This allows the starches to rinse out creating fluffier, lighter rice. To do this, simply pour your rice into a bowl and cover with water. Soak for 20 minutes then drain.
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or pot over medium-low heat. Add in your onion and spices and cook for 2 minutes- watch that your spices don’t burn! Add in the rice and let it cook for 2 minutes then add in your water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes, then remove whole spices and serve with your paneer.