A popular dish in northern India are cubes of paneer, a fresh cheese made from cow or buffalo’s milk, that have been marinated in pickling spices (achari masala) and then fried, grilled or cooked in the tandoor. Achar means ‘to pickle’ and the spices that are used – fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and coriander seeds – are often also used to flavour curries. Here the achari-coated paneer is combined with a chicken curry to create a spicy dish that is perfect for winter.
- 400 g paneer (see Note), drained, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) mustard seed oil (see Note)
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 280 g (1 cup) natural yoghurt
- 1.5 kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into 4cm pieces
- 125 ml (½ cup) canola oil
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 3 cm piece ginger, finely grated
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 tomatoes, coarsely grated
- 190 g (⅔ cup) tomato paste
- 1 cinnamon quill
- ¼ cup finely chopped coriander, plus extra leaves, to serve
- naan bread, steamed basmati rice and nigella seeds, to serve
Achari (pickling spice)
- 6 dried long chillies, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp nigella seeds (see Note)
- 1 tbsp sea salt
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time 20 minutes
To make achari, place all ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Cook, shaking pan frequently, for 3 minutes or until spices are toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice ginder, grind mixture to a fine powder.
Combine paneer, 2 tablespoons of mustard seed oil and 2 teaspoons of achari in a bowl and set aside for at least 20 minutes to marinate. Meanwhile, combine turmeric, 2 teaspoons of salt, yoghurt and chicken in a large bowl and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes to marinate.
Heat 60 ml (¼ cup) canola oil and remaining 2 tablespoons of mustard seed oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes or until onion turns golden. Add chicken mixture, and sprinkle over remaining achari. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until mixture starts to brown and stick to base of pan.
Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, 500 ml (2 cups) water, cinnamon and coriander. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until sauce has thickened and chicken is very tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 65 ml canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add paneer and cook, tossing frequently, for 3 minutes or until golden.
Divide curry among bowls. Top with paneer and scatter with extra coriander leaves. Serve with naan bread and steamed basmati rice scattered with nigella seeds.
• Paneer is a soft, uncured cheese available from supermarkets, delis and Indian food shops.
• Mustard seed oil is available from Asian food shops.
• Nigella seeds are available from Indian and Middle Eastern food shops and select delis.
Photography by Chris Chen. Food preparation by Phoebe Wood. Food styling by Justine Poole.
As seen in Feast magazine, August 2014, Issue 34. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.