20 June 2012

(Almost) guilt-free shahi paneer (paneer in cashew sauce)

I don't know about you guys, but I absolutely adore paneer, the fresh Indian cheese. Palak paneer, mattar paneer, paneer butter masala, paneer tikka...I could go on and on. During my recent work trip to India, there was at least one paneer dish (and sometimes more) at each buffet lunch and dinner that we were served. Always very delicious but also incredibly rich and swimming in loads of butter and cream. Considering that paneer in and of itself is already very rich, this was just brutal on my waistline (and one of the reasons that I did a three-day juice cleanse after getting back to Bangkok!). Now we're eating more or less normally but still having fresh juices for breakfast and soups or salads for several meals. But of course I'm not one to deny myself the things I love, so I'm just enjoying these things in moderation. With a big wedding coming up in the States in less than a month, I'm also looking to substantially lighten up anything rich that I make. Case in point, the decadent dish known as shahi paneer.

The name says it all...shahi paneer actually means ROYAL paneer. That's how rich this dish, in which cubes of paneer are simmered in a decadent tomato and cashew-based sauce, is. Totally fit for royalty! When I came across this recipe for shahi paneer from the lovely Hetal and Anuja of Show Me The Curry, I knew that I had to make a lightened version. I used less oil than called for, substituted skim milk for the full-fat kind and resisted the temptation to add any cream. For additional richness without any extra fat, I crumbled in some dry fenugreek leaves, known as kasuri methi in Hindi. I don't know why, but fenugreek imparts a lovely buttery quality to many Indian dishes...without any of the guilt! Speaking of guilt...all right, all right, I admit that this dish isn't totally guilt free. It is paneer after all! But it's much lighter than the typical version and yet tastes incredibly rich and creamy. A small portion, served with naan, parathi, roti or even rice, will go a long way!

Adapted from Hetal & Anuja, Show Me The Curry
Serves 6-8

3/4 cup cashews
1 cup fat-free milk
1 tablespoon (or a bit more) canola or light olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 large onions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1-3 green chilies, chopped (to taste)
8 ounces canned tomato sauce (fresh is OK too)
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Red chili powder, to taste
14 ounces paneer, chopped into large chunks
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped

1. Place the cashews in a medium bowl and pour in the milk. Set aside and let the cashews soak and soften, for about 15-20 minutes.

2. In the meanwhile, warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once warm, add the cumin seeds. After they begin popping, add the onion and saute until translucent. At this point, add the garlic, ginger and chilies and saute for a couple of minutes more

3. Pour in the tomato sauce. Cook well until it thickens and begins to release oil. At this point, stir in your cumin and coriander powders and garam masala and mix well.

4. In the meanwhile, pour your cashew-milk mixture into a food processor or blender and mix well. It will take you several pulses to get a smooth paste. I like a bit of texture, so I went for a more rough paste.

5. Pour the cashew paste and the water into the sauce (try pouring the water a bit at a time until you get your desired thickness). Add salt, sugar and red chili powder, to taste. Cook well until the sauce is heated through and smooth, about 5-8 minutes depending on your stove.

6. Microwave your paneer cubes for about 30 seconds to soften them. Add them into the sauce and stir well.

7. Crumble the dried fenugreek leaves with your hands into the dish. Turn off the heat.

8. Mix in the fresh coriander and garnish with additional fresh coriander. Yum!


  1. What I love about Indian food is that you really do need a tiny bit to fill you up. It's amazing how long it can take me to eat my Indian take out. Interesting using fenugreek to substitute for creamy rich taste. Will need to try that!

  2. This sounds amazing...I too just adore paneer! I will have to try your lighter version, sounds like it is still full of flavor. I need to get some more fenugreek, always like to freshen my spices. I'm almost out! No wonder I like it so much.

  3. Yummy!!! I just love paneer and this recipe looks amazing!

  4. What a mouth watering dish! Looks very appetizing!-Mom

  5. I just love fresh paneer too, and such a versatile creative things you could make with paneer.

    Love the lightened up version of your sauce, with the fat-free milk, but all the flavor is there with the beautifully combined perfect spices, and tomato sauce!
    The presentation is lovely...as always!