Julia Child once said that “a party without cake is just a meeting”. To my mind, the same kind of metaphorical analogy can be made about the wonderful South Asian cheese paneer :an Indian dinner without paneer is just bad takeaway. (Ha! Put that on a bumper sticker!)
Just like the better-known (at least to us, Westerners) halloumi cheese, paneer is a firm cheese, ideal for frying, because it marvelously holds its shape. Unlike halloumi, which has a rather pungent, salty flavour (some pussies would say too salty), paneer is subtler and creamier in flavour and therefore balances perfectly with the strong and spicy flavours of a wonderful Indian curry, for it slightly mellows the fiery blow.
The vegetarian curry I decided to pair with the seared paneer is one containing a very comforting mix of green beans, lentils, bell peppers and lots of ground spices. To make the curry truly stand out, I added a fruity touch to the mixture… yes, I added a heaped tablespoon of apricot jam with chili flakes. I recently bought this very delicious jar of jam and was so delighted by its flavour, that I decided to throw it in savory dishes as well. The fruity jam is a great alternative to palm sugar, which is traditionally used in Asian dishes. The jam will not only slightly sweeten the curry and balance all those spices, but it will also add that heavenly fruity touch of apricot… Sigh. Sometimes, I really am … good.
So here it is: the perfect Indian meal! Rejoice!
Green Bean and Lentil Curry with Fried Paneer
Please don’t be scared by the long list of ingredients! It’s mainly all spices, and you cannot make a good curry without the appropriate load of spices.
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 250gr paneer cheese, cut into cubes
- 80gr dried lentils
- 350gr green beans, cut into chunks
- 1 orange bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 500ml tomato passata
- 200ml coconut milk
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped
- ½ tsp chili flakes
- ½ tsp nigella seeds
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp asafetida
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 2 tbsp garam masala
- 1 heaped tbsp. apricot jam (with chili flakes, if you want the truly fancy stuff)
- Fresh coriander, chopped
- Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan and add onion, garlic, coriander stalks and all the spices (apart from the garam masala). Sauté on a medium heat until the spices start to smell incredibly aromatic.
- Add the lentils and stir in the tomato passata and coconut milk. Add a teaspoon of salt and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
- Stir in the chunks of pepper and the apricot jam and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Finally, add the green beans and the garam masala and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes until the lentils are soft and the beans tender.
- Taste the curry. Season with salt and a bit more chili if necessary.
- Meanwhile, heat a pan on maximum heat and add the chunks of paneer. There is absolutely no need to add oil to the pan, the paneer will fry beautifully on its own!
- Serve the curry and paneer in cute bowls and sprinkle with coriander.