Paneer is one of my favourite Indian ingredients. I love how it's texture and taste make it so versatile and adaptable, and that it takes different flavours on so well. Paneer tikka – marinated chunks of paneer that are then grilled in a tandoor, a coal oven – or on a grill or in the oven – is one of my favourite dishes, and making it at home the first time years ago I was surprised at how easy it was. Marinade the paneer the night before, pop into the oven for about 20 minutes and you have a delicious, fragrant pile of grilled paneer and vegetables to eat with bread, naan or rotis. It’s great for summer dining and entertaining because it’s so easy to make and pairs beautifully with a crisp Rosé or white wine. The mint coriander chutney is the touch that makes all the difference: it’s essentially just fresh herbs ground together into a thin, vibrant pesto-like side dish that explodes with flavor in your mouth. You can make this as spicy as you like. The leftovers keep well in the fridge and you can use it for sandwiches, on grilled breads or in any variety of rice or noodle dishes.
For those wanting to make their paneer at home, here’s an easy to follow recipe. It’s great for when you have a little extra time, but store-bought is just as great. Make sure its fresh, though and doesn’t have preservatives.
For the tikkas:
400 gm fresh paneer, cut into about 1 ½ cm cubes
1 large green pepper, cored and cut into 1 ½ cm pieces
1 large red pepper, cored and cut into 1 ½ cm pieces
1 small medium onion, cut into 1 ½ cm pieces (optional)
For the marinade:
2 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 clove garlic peeled
0.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled
1 small handful coriander
0.5 small handful mint leaves
Half a red or green chilli, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste (about ½ - ¾ teaspoon)
Place the paneer and the cut vegetables in a large, plastic or glass bowl. Using a small grinder, make a fine paste of all the marinade ingredients. Pour this over the paneer and using your hands or a spatula, gently turn over to evenly coat all the cubes. Cover with a plate or cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 or 5 hours, preferably overnight.
About half an hour before you’d like to cook, remove the paneer-vegetable mix from the fridge. Pre-heat the oven to 200° C. Turn the paneer and vegetables out into a ceramic baking form, making sure they’re in an even layer and not too over-crowded. Place on a higher rack and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, turning every 8 to 10 minutes to make sure the paneer browns evenly and the vegetables roast well. Once done, remove onto a platter and serve immediately with the mint coriander chutney, hot naan or rotis.
Mint Coriander Chutney
3 – 4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1.5 cups fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh coriander, can include some stalks
2 small cloves garlic
1 cm piece of ginger, peeled
1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
In a grinder, combine the herbs, ginger, garlic and chilli and salt, and grind into a fine paste. Use a tiny bit of water if necessary, adding very sparingly. In a small bowl, beat the yoghurt with a whisk or fork until smooth. Add the herb mix to the yoghurt and mix gently until well combined. Adjust salt if necessary and serve. Store any remaining chutney in an airtight jar or box in the fridge. Use within about a week.
Serves 3 - 4 as a side
Prep time: 15 - 20 minutes, Cooking time: 20 - 25 minutes
Images: Vatsala Murthy