Growing up my mother used to make this a lot, so I feel very nostalgic about this Mattar Paneer recipe. My mother was into healthy cooking even before it was a trend and used to favour brown rice over white, whole grains over processed flour, and while our fridge was overflowing with fruits, bitter gourd and okra – chips, ice cream, cake and chocolate were never to be found. So it doesn’t surprise me that she found a “healthy” substitute for paneer which is a very rich dense cheese made in India.
For this recipe you can either use paneer, (found in any Indian store) or fresh low fat ricotta which you can find in any deli. While this dish is on the rich side it is healthier than what you could expect to find at an Indian restaurant due to the lack of cream. Since this version is fairly spicy, you may want to reduce the quantities of clove, cardamom, chilli powder, and garam masala for a milder flavour.
Sauté spices. Heat oil and start with cumin and coriander seeds. Add turmeric and chilli pepper and asafoetida. Sauté for 5 minutes. Finally add cardamom, cloves, star anise and bay leaf. Set aside.
Sauté onions and garlic till slightly charred (this brings out a slightly smoked flavour). Mix in spice mixture and sauté together.
Add tomato puree or soup and let sit on flame for 20- 30 minutes. If using soup make sure that the spices infuse into the soup. If using fresh tomatoes you want the water of the tomatoes to evaporate so that you are left with a thicker paste. You can add a little oil to this to make sure it does not stick to the pan. If the paste gets too dry you can always introduce a little bit of water.
In another pan add a little bit of oil and heat. Add paneer/ricotta. Let the paneer/ricotta become golden brown around the edges. When finished, transfer the paneer/ricotta to a plate with a paper towel so that the extra oil is absorbed.
Add the frozen peas and cook for about 10 minutes on a low flame. Before turning the flame down add the garam masala in and mix well.
Serve with hot basmati rice, chapatti, naan bread, or low carbohydrate barley wraps which are just as delicious.