Hello. It's been a while. I've missed you. Not that you would know. But I really miss this place when I stray away too long. It seems like the gaps in between get longer each time. Sometimes, it feels so difficult to get back to the spot where I want to be. But you are never too far from my mind. In fact, even when my body refuses, my mind wanders back: I have lengthy internal monologues with you. Actually, they're more like one-sided conversations where I imagine all the possible thoughts and replies you may have. Anyway...

I've been fighting the third n-th wave of a cold/flu/run-down-yness for the past weeks, and I've had to stay away from the bright light of my computer screen. I was barely in the mood to eat, let alone to cook. My sweetheart had been doing most of the cooking, while I hid under the duvet. But in between bouts of poor health, I would manage to stand in the kitchen, and inevitably I would go back to the same dish: matar paneer. It literally means peas and cheese, and it is the epitome of Indian comfort food.

Matar paneer is full of spices and exotic flavours, yet it is also familiar and warming, in a fresh spring-like sort of way. While London has been experiencing a spring revival for quite some time now, those of you who are in Canada are only just beginning to emerge from winter, and this dish is perfect for welcoming the new(-ish) season. Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese, most often made at home with full-fat milk and lemon juice, but nowadays it is widely available in most grocery stores. However, I have to admit that I often substitute paneer with halloumi, a Cypriot cheese that is just as squeaky in texture but is pleasantly salty. Either cheese will do in this recipe, and if you are truly in a bind, I think that even Quebec curd cheese would do in a pinch.

Matar Paneer
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish

1 large red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 3cm/1" piece of ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 cardamom pods
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 red chili or ½tsp chili flakes
200g/±8oz paneer or halloumi cheese
100g/ 4oz frozen peas
50g/¼c cashew nuts, optional
1 small tin chopped tomatoes
½ bunch cilantro/fresh coriander
2 green onions
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs butter
salt and pepper

Finely slice about a third of the red onion, and set aside in a bowl of cold water. Chop the rest of the onion. 
Heat the vegetable oil to medium, and gently sweat out the onion.
Crush the garlic cloves. Peel and finely mince the ginger. Add both to the onion. Cook out for about two minutes.
Break up the cashews -if using- into small bits, and add to the pot. Toast until they begin to turn golden.
Add all the spices to the pan, and stir until fragrant. 
Finely chop the cilantro, reserving about half the leaves for garnish. Add the rest to the pot, along with the butter.
Slice the green onions as thinly as possible, and set aside.
Add the tinned tomatoes, and leave to simmer for about 5 minutes. 
Dice the cheese into cubes of about 2cm/¾". Add to the tomato sauce, and heat through. 
Check the seasoning: if using halloumi instead of paneer, you probably won't need to add any salt.
Add the peas, and simmer for another 5 minutes before serving.
To serve, drain the sliced red onion, combine with the cilantro leaves and the green onions. Sprinkle liberally on top of the matar paneer.

Matar paneer is usually served as a side dish to a curry, but it is substantial enough to star on its own. Serve with steamed rice or with some bread, and tuck in. The cashew nuts are an optional ingredient: their main purpose is to thicken the sauce, but they add a luxurious creaminess to the dish, and should definitely be included if you are serving matar paneer for a special occasion. Finally, don't shy away from the raw onion garnish: soaking the slices in cold water removes a good part of the onion's breathy pungency, and the crunchy texture really adds to the whole experience.

Bon app'!


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