One of my favorite dinner party dishes is this paneer cheese curry, Mughlai-style. I've simplified the recipe and it actually takes less than 30 minutes to put together, including the prep, but it doesn't lose any of its incredible flavor in the process. But I can guarantee that your family and guests will think you've slaved over the stove for hours when you present this to them, all creamy, fragrant and delicately spiced.
Mughlai-Style Cooking in India
The Mughlai style of cooking in Indian cuisine is named after the rulers of the Mughal Empire, a Muslim dynasty that ruled North India from the early fifteen hundreds to the late seventeen hundreds. A lot of what we know today as Indian cuisine has been heavily influenced by the Mughals, and their cuisine was famous for taking local Indian food and recipes and adding their own flavors to make for a harmonious blend of cultures.
They introduced India to fragrant biriyanis, leavened breads like naan, and to richly spiced meat and vegetable dishes. Mughlai dishes are highly distinctive and are characterized by the use of rich ingredients like expensive dried fruits and nuts, nut pastes, saffron, fragrant spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, lots of heavy cream and yogurt. These dishes can be super simple, or classic and complex.
The Mughals certainly ate well, if records of some of their recipes are anything to go by. Meat was a staple, however they didn't eat beef or pork when they were in India to cater to local religious beliefs. Mutton and lamb were perennial favorites, as was chicken. They also used complex techniques to cook their dishes, and many of them are still used in some traditional Indian restaurants.
Making Mughlai-Style Paneer Curry
Mughlai cooking tends not to be spicy, but you can always amp up the spice level in a dish like this Paneer Mughlai by adding more cayenne pepper. Go easy, though, as the whole point of this recipe is to tantalize, with delicate, fragrant spicing, and too much chili pepper can wreck the balance of the dish. You can very easily bulk up this dish with vegetables and I have also been known to sometimes add chopped pineapple for an incredible sweet-savory taste.
If you want to make your own paneer for this dish, check out this easy tutorial:
→ Make paneer: How to Make Paneer Cheese
If you are pressed for time, then you can very easily make this with store bought paneer as well.
Mughlai dishes can also be incredibly rich, so if you're looking for a lighter version, then check out my Recipe Notes, where I offer alternatives.
Paneer Mughlai Curry
12 to 14 ounces paneer (1 package), cubed (or make your own)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon mild cayenne pepper or Kashmiri chilli powder (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-inch piece ginger, finely grated
4 tablespoons canola or other neutral cooking oil, divided
1-inch piece cinnamon or cassia bark
3 whole cloves
3 whole green cardamom pods
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup vegetable stock, plus extra if needed
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cashew nuts, soaked in boiling water (or 2 tablespoons cashew or almond butter, whisked with a little milk)
1/4 cup handful raisins, to serve
1/4 cup cashew nuts, to serve
Fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish
Salt to taste, to taste
Pinch sugar, to taste
Place the cubed paneer in a large bowl, and add the turmeric, garam masala, chili powder, crushed garlic and ginger. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the oil over top, then use a flat spatula to gently mix the spices and the paneer. Let stand a few minutes to marinate.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the paneer cubes and fry for a few minutes, flipping the cubes over, until they start getting golden all over. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the cinnamon or cassia, cloves and cardamom pods to the same pan. Fry for about 30 seconds, until the spices are fragrant. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the onion. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion softens and begins to turn golden around the edges.
Add the hot stock. Season with a little salt and a little sugar. Let it simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the half-and-half and heavy cream to the pan, and stir to combine. Do not let the cream boil.
Blend together the soaked cashews and their soaking water in a powerful blender until creamy. Stir the cashew paste (or cashew or almond butter) into the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a little more vegetable stock until the consistency is creamy. Add the fried paneer into the sauce, and stir gently to coat. Let it simmer on a low heat for a couple of minutes so the flavors to blend with each other.
Stir in the raisins, cashew nuts and fresh cilantro, and serve immediately with rice, naan or roti.
- You can use yogurt instead of the heavy cream, if you wish. It will add a tangier flavor to the dish, and you may have to balance it with a little extra salt and sugar seasoning. Creme fraiche, thinned with a little milk, also makes for a tasty slightly lower fat alternative (plus, it's a little more stable than yogurt, so won't split as easily)
- This is a mild, creamy dish. If you want it spicier, add more cayenne pepper.
- You can add cooked vegetables to bulk up this dish, and you can use any vegetables in season. Stir them in when you add the paneer back into the sauce.
- You can also leave out the first step of frying the paneer. It's usually done to stop the paneer from disintegrating into the sauce. I sometimes find that if you don't fry the paneer first, it retains a softer texture. If you choose not to fry the paneer, add it along with its marinade when the recipe says to add the paneer back to the sauce, and let it simmer for a few extra minutes for the spices to cook out into the sauce.