Tuesday, February 07, 2006

5-a-day: Paneer Pilaf

Sweetnicks has been helping us to be more aware about our nutrition with her ARF/5-a-day Tuesdays, and just for today, Stephanie is taking over hosting duties.

My contribution today: a pilaf packed with protein in the form of paneer (a simple Indian cheese) and tons of veggies, all spiced with typical Northern Indian flavors. I build each of my meals (which on weeknights invariably are one-pot meals!) around a protein...beans/egg/soy/paneer. This dish is "special" enough to serve to company but as an everyday meal, it makes weeknights seem special. The combination of paneer-tomato-onion-green pepper is a classic one, often used to make a rich curry, served with basmati rice. Here it all comes together in a single pot.

You know how you sometimes try a classic restaurant dish at home and it somehow lacks that "restaurant taste"? That happened to me all the time when it came to North Indian dishes, till my mom spilled her secret. She makes a simple spice mixture: cloves, cinnamon and cardamom all toasted and ground together. This is her "Magic Masala" which completely elevates the taste of many North Indian dishes like kormas and biryanis, instantly giving them that rich "restaurant taste" without the accompanying greasiness. Dried fenugreek is another herb which adds an instant authenticity to paneer dishes.

Don't be daunted by the long ingredient list for this dish...all the ingredients are common pantry staples. I don't endorse frozen vegetables if you have access to fresh ones, but in the middle of winter, frozen peas and beans are great to have on hand. The cashews and raisins make this a truly rich dish!

Paneer Pilaf

(Serves 4-5, Prep time: about 15 minutes, Cooking time: about 30 minutes)

2 cups paneer (Indian cheese) cubes
1 cup Basmati rice
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bayleaf
1 onion, sliced fine
Veggies and nuts
1 green bell pepper, sliced fine
1/2 cup green beans, cut (frozen ok)
1/2 cup green peas (frozen ok)
1/2 cup chopped carrot
3/4 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp cashew pieces (optional)
1 tbsp golden raisins (optional)
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder/ 1 small cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp clove powder/ 4-6 whole cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom powder/ 3-4 cinnamon pods, crushed
salt to taste
2 tbsp cilantro leaves, minced
1. Heat the oil and saute the cumin seeds, bayleaf and onion till the onion is lightly browned.
2. Add the cashews, raisins, pepper, beans, peas, carrots, and saute for a minute or two.
3. Add all the spices and salt and saute for a few seconds.
4. Add the paneer, rice and tomato puree and saute for a minute.
5. Add 2 and a half cups water, stir to mix, and cook covered till the rice is tender.
6. Serve hot, garnished with cilantro leaves.

1. If you own a pressure cooker, this pilaf can be made very efficiently by sauteeing everything in the body of the cooker itself. Add water, close the cooker and cook for a whistle or two for perfect pilaf every time.
2. Vegan version: Use extra-firm tofu cubes instead of paneer.
3. If you have no access to prepared paneer and would prefer to make it yourself, Indira shares a detailed method.
This pilaf is a meal in itself...and here's to getting our 5 veggies a day! Thanks for hosting, Stephanie!


  1. What a wonderful looking pilaf.
    Ilove i love pilafs and paneer!

    I find when making them, if I do it is my le creuset they cook alot better than a normal pot, as I don't have a pressure cooker yet... still too scared. What do you think?

  2. Mmmm...paneer. I'm such a sucker for cheese!

    And a very happy first birthday to One Hot Stove from the Happy Sorceress!!!

  3. Nupur this looks very appetizing. I like using kasoori methi too. There are some spices which just symbolise the North - kasoori methi, ajwain, anaardana etc.

  4. Hi Nupur,
    I can see that you have promptly added cooking times to your recipe post after a suggestion from a fellow blogger. Well done. You are thoroughly involved in your blog, aren't you?
    As for the pilaf, I am surely gonna try it. I am totally into one-pot-meals at the moment and your recipe comes my way at the rightest of times:) Thanks.

  5. Just checked Indira's post on paneer. I would like to make a small suggestion. (Making it here coz I think fellow bloggers will check that post after going through your recipe.)
    Instead of discarding the whey, it is a better idea to catch it in a vessel and use it for cooking. It is very nutritious and versatile. It can be used in place of water 1. to knead doughs
    2. for making dals, amtis and usals
    3. for making white sauce, soups, stews
    The list is endless. If stored in a jar with a tight lid and refrigerated, the whey water keeps fresh for about a month. Moreover, it can also be used in place of lime juice to make more paneer.
    Since on the subject, Indira's photographs are wonderful. The ball of paneer looks awesome. (Drooling.)

  6. I love paneer and your rice sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing the magic masala. Are the spices in equal quantities? Do you use it in the pilaf as a garnish?

  7. This sounds wonderful Nupur! You know, I have yet to try paneer. From Indira's post, it sounds as though it must be similar to ricotta, but maybe a little firmer?

  8. that magic masala....hmmm...sounds interesting :)

  9. hi nupur, truly it is the magic touch,..addition of the magic masala , which elevates a dish from ordinary to extra ordinary.thoughtful tips like these show the genius of a chef par excellence apart from a mere cook. great going.luv, yoma.

  10. Nupur -

    I love one-pot-meals too. Thanks for the great tips on getting the taste right, even when in rush!

  11. Hi Clare, you definitely do not NEED a pressure cooker for this recipe...and you are right, a heavy pot like le creuset would do a great job of cooking this.

  12. Hi Stephanie, thanks :) and thanks for hosting too!!

    Ashwini, I have yet not tried ajwain and anardana...guess I should!

    Hi Vaishali, yeah, I hope the cooking times are kind of accurate though...we shall see how that works out! Thanks for your tips of using the whey, it is indeed a very nutritious by-product.

    Mika, yes, the spices are in equal proportion but if you like cardamom better (say) then it is fine to increase it...this masala can be tailor-made to one's tastes. I tend to add it while cooking, and then a little bit as a garnish if the people eating it like it spicy.

    Cathy, thats right...paneer tastes like ricotta or even cottage cheese (milky and plain) but it has much more whey drained out, making it firmer than ricotta.

    akr, thanks!

    Hi Yoma, you are too generous with your compliments :)

    Garam Masala, this is a total hit in my home (and tried and tested dozens of times)...let me know if you try it!

  13. This looks great Nupur! a well balanced meal !

  14. Happy B'day to One Hot Stove!

    Nupur,congrats on completion of one year.Must be feeling great..:)

    I made your Paneer Pilaf over the weekend and we enjoyed it to the hilt.Thanks,Nupur.

  15. Hey Nupur,

    Been a regular visitor of this blog but have been always lazy to post a comment. I have tried out many recipes from your blog and everything has been good. Tried Paneer pilaf yest and it was just great. Made home made paneer with Indira's recipe and yes final outcome - a good healthy meal :-) Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  16. Hi Nupur,

    i tried the paneer pilaf recipe, turned out a favourite instantly :) Thanks for the recipe.

  17. Jyothsna, so glad it worked well! Thanks for the feedback :)

  18. hi nupur
    came across your blog while browsing for a panner pulav. my daughter tried it out and the result was excellent. have blogged about it and linked it back to your blog. Thanks for sharing

  19. Hi Nupur
    this came out perfect. Blogged about it here
    please do have a look at it.

    Thanks for sharing

  20. Made paneer pilaf today. It came out yummy !! Thanks or the recipe. Love your blog. Ardent follower now. -S


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