Cheese & Pea Curry: Why Paneer-ances Don’t Matar…

pea and paneer curry

If the immense diversity of this city reveals itself in the faces of its people, and if, in turn, those faces can be said to reflect the myriad flavors of this world, then how should one interpret the wearing of “beats by dr dre” headphones by anyone north of 25 years old? With this eternal question in mind, I urge you to consider another conundrum for the ages, which may still puzzle some Hindu theologians: how to take enticing food photography of Indian food with its range of brownish-hued sauces? As we know only too well, appearances are crucial in the food world.

Since the majority of Hindus swear off most meats, dairy and legumes (pulses) are essential proteins for the citizens of the sub-continent, and paneer, a firm, fresh cheese, is an important component of that diet. Paneer – which comes in a variety of styles in India, from super firm to an almost goat-cheese consistency, but is mostly limited to the former in our hemisphere – is something of a strange beast in that it neither melts nor competes for flavor with even the mildest of curries. Also, due to being typically coagulated with lemon juice or vinegar rather than rennet, it somehow manages to be wholly acceptable to vegetarians too.

A perennial, and, likely fruitless, desire to be good food bloggers but also possess the waistlines of triathletes, lately convinced us to expand our palates beyond our customary choices – lamb rogan josh and chicken bhuna – and include a vegetarian option and recipe on these here interwebs. Hardly groundbreaking, we know, but every day is a journey through the world, as described in a previous post, and another recent stop was Patel Brother’s grocery store at the far end of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.

pea and paneer curry (mattar aloo paneer)

Picking up fresh curry leaves, house-ground spices and a fat block of paneer at Patel’s, we ransacked the springtime growth of our tiny garden for English peas and threw together a matar (pea) aloo (potato) paneer curry with some cumin-seed scented basmati rice and some of the best heat ’em up at home naan bread we’ve had.

Satisfyingly protein-packed and redolent of sub-continental flavors with the curry leaves and toasted spices, it came together in no-time flat. If you have access to good Indian supplies, this can quite easily become part of your weeknight repertoire and, even if you don’t, non-melting mild cheeses (like halloumi) are readily available and good peas are only a freezer section away.

pea and paneer curry (aloo mattar paneer)

Of course, Dr Dre headphones are almost certainly perfect for listening to all kinds of music, including hip-hop, but when sported by middle-aged business men one can’t help but assume they were borrowed from teenage offspring (who would surely pour merciless scorn on them for it), as which person of that demographic, in our image-conscious world, would risk public approbation and actually buy them? Taking a similar risk with crumby photos of this yellowish-brown dish we humbly request that you overlook appearances and trust us enough to try it.

Aloo Matar Paneer (Potato, Pea and Cheese Curry) (serves 4)
Adapted from Rick Stein Coast to Coast


  • 12oz paneer, cut into inch cubes
  • 2 medium starchy potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil – sunflower, safflower, canola, etc.
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, chopped finely
  • 2 birds’-eye, or other hot green pepper like serrano, chiles, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of ground turmeric and ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 of a 12oz can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or pulled apart
  • 1/2lb fresh (or frozen) shelled peas
  • 4 tablespoons julienned cilantro (coriander)
  • 6 fresh (10 dried) curry leaves


  1. Heat oil to medium high in a large pan or wok
  2. Lightly fry paneer until golden on all sides, about five minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.
  3. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add ginger, garlic and chopped chiles.
  4. When aromatic, add dry spices and stir well to coat everything in the pan.
  5. Fry gently for about three minutes.
  6. Add potato, tomato, curry leaves and peas (if fresh) with 2-3 tablespoons of water.
  7. Stir well and simmer gently for five minutes before adding paneer.
  8. Simmer gently for another 5 minutes.
  9. Season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle in chopped cilantro.
  10. Serve with naan and pilau rice seasoned with cumin or caraway seeds
  11. 13 thoughts on “Cheese & Pea Curry: Why Paneer-ances Don’t Matar…

    1. What a coincidence- I just bought some fresh curry leaves for the first time at the farmers’ market, and a good friend of mine who’s been making cheese from her milk share offered me some paneer! A question about the leaves- do you know if they do well in the freezer? The bag I bought was quite full.

      1. @Noelle: coincidence indeed! I have no idea whether they freeze well, to be honest. My guess is that they’ll do okay if they are completely dry but don’t quote me on it. That said, they do keep quite well in the coolest part of the fridge. We bought ours two weeks ago and they’re still nice and green now.

    2. I have been reading your food blog and have really enjoyed it. As a fellow foodie, I have a blog about my quest for the ultimate hamburger, I wanted to share this link and project that I have been following as I think they have an very interesting idea for a short film that will appeal to foodies.

      A team of documentary short film makers is making a film about the regional foods which are disappearing from our grocery store shelves. Once, the grocery store reflected the foods and culinary heritage of each region of our country. There was a time that Coors beer was not sold east of the Mississippi River, and Moon Pies only existed in the South. Small regional food companies are being bumped from the store shelves, and we are losing these food traditions.

      These are those foods that maybe your grandparents had in their pantry and you refused to eat. Things (and these are real) like mudfish in a jar, sauerkraut juice, and canned snake. They are looking for input on regional foods in your area, like those strange food items on the top shelf that you have no idea how they are used or what to cook with them.

      The film will include calling the makers of these unique foods and learning the history and reason behind why mudfish is available in a jar. Then they will have a big food tasting offering volunteers the chance to taste these items and give their feedback.
      I hope you can suggest possible regional foods or ask your readers. You can learn more about the project on their website

    3. Ha! I put our household on a vegetarian-ish diet recently, too. Now that I’ve stopped shooting clotted cream out of my breasts, I really don’t need those 700 extra calories a day, and it’s just easier to eat more vegetables than make other sacrifices (*cough*booze*cough*).

      I never really think of Indian food as being lighter fare, but I do live in a part of the country where we only get northern Indian restaurants (even though it’s other southerners that actually live here). I love the idea of making paneer, though, and it seems like a great intro to cheesemaking.

    4. Lovely recipe. I always buy the fresh curry leaves, use 2 and then they rot in the fridge… oh well. If I was a good person I would do a whole banquet using the leaves in many dishes…but I’m not! Your title is amusing… so rare to see puns these days… a lost art.

      Have you ever made paneer? Easy as could be… you’d love it.

    5. @Joan – you’re too kind. we try…
      @Deana – thanks. Punning is almost a lost art, although our friend Peter at does his utmost to keep it alive.
      @Heather – I understand making paneer is easy, but requires, like all cheesemaking a delicate touch with the heat source. Best of luck. I tried making cottage cheese once but made a pool of scorched milk and a smelly sticky stove.

    6. I love the vibrant colors in your pix! Looks delicious, I recently was introduced to halloumi, although we ate it plain because I was with a group of Minnesotans who miss the squeakiness of the cheese out here. I’ve never used a curry leaf, does it really smell like curry?

      1. @Foodhoe: it really does smell like curry. it’s kind of amazing. that said, it’s nothing like as pungent as the ground root, but has a lovely lighter fragrance.

    7. I thought you did quite well with the photos actually. I have just discovered a small Indian restaurant here, which also imports some things. Luckily though, I do have a curry tree, so can pick what I need.

    8. You certainly make this dish look and sound very tasty. No problem with the colors.
      Now I have a hankering to stop by the local Indian market to pick up some curry leaves..

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