I went for undergrad to an institute in a small town in Northern India – Roorkee. Our idyllic campus was located close to the foothills of the Himalayas (we could see snow-capped mountains on clear days from our campus) and was home to our institute (the oldest engineering college in India, now IIT Roorkee), the Irrigation Research Institute and a large Army cantonment. That’s it. Nothing else. The reason for this town’s existence were these three institutions.
While it made for a near-utopian existence, Roorkee wasn’t exactly an epicurean paradise. There were, however, a few shining points of light. Bhatia’s Bun Omelette – imitated often, never equaled (a version here), and Cheese Tomato were two of them. Cheese Tomato, a variation of Paneer Makhani (a version here), was a staple at pretty much every restaurant in town. Though I have traveled far and eaten plenty since my Roorkee days, the taste of Cheese Tomato has remained with me and one I have never been able to replicate, till now.
Recently an old friend and excellent cook, Hani Gupta, posted a recipe for Roorkee-style Cheese Tomato. As inclined as I am to never following recipes exactly, I decided to follow this one to the letter to see if I could recreate the taste of my youth. I am happy to report the recipe comes pretty darn close to the Cheese Tomato I remember. So without further ado, here it is.
INGREDIENTS (for 8-10 people)
1 lb paneer (cut into triangles about 1.5 inches on 2 sides and 1/2 inch thick)
1 Tbsp grated paneer (for garnishing)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter (or ghee)
1 large or 2 medium onions (peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces with layers separated)
1 Tbsp heaped ginger garlic paste
10-13 medium tomatoes – about 2.5 – 3 lbs. Use Heirloom tomatoes if you can for better flavor. Blanched, and chopped into 1 inch chunks.
½ cup low fat milk (heat the milk just before adding)
1 tsp garam masala (or to taste)
2-3 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (for color) – totally optional
Red chilli powder (optional, to taste
1 Tbsp Kasoori Methi (crush Kasoori Methi well, you will need 2-3 Tbsp kasoori methi to get 1 Tbsp powder. Sieve the powder to remove the stalks)
Salt (to taste)
2 Tbsp honey (or to taste. This is the secret ingredient for that restaurant quality flavor)
1. In a thick bottom karahi (wok) or saucepan, add 1 Tbsp oil and heat.
2. Add ginger garlic paste and fry for a few seconds. Don’t let turn pink. This is just to cut the pungency of garlic.
3. Add onions and fry till they sweat to translucence.
4. Add chopped tomatoes, and stir.
5. Add cashews, a little salt and cook covered till the tomatoes and onions are well cooked but not pink. Ensure that there is no raw smell of ginger, garlic, onion or tomato at this point. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see the oil separating out yet.
6. Let the cooked mix cool down and then grind into as fine a paste as possible. Make sure you don’t see any tomato seeds in the paste.
7. Heat another tablespoon of oil and let it warm. Then add butter. This will prevent the butter from turning brown. To this add red Kashmiri chilli powder. This will give a beautiful red color to the oil. NOTE: If your tomatoes are of good quality you don’t need to add color.
8. Add the ground paste and stir well. If you are adding the canned tomato sauce, add it now. Tomato sauce can be a little sweet or tart depending on the brand.
9. Add salt, stir well and cook well covered on medium, making sure the paste does not stick to the bottom. When the gravy is cooked, add the honey and Kasoori Methi and stir again.
10. Add Garam Masala and Red Chilli powder.
11. Now add hot milk and incorporate well into the gravy. Remember not to boil or the milk may curdle.
12. Finally add the Paneer pieces and gently fold in the gravy so as not to break the Paneer pieces.
13. Cover and cook for another 5 mins on sim. Serve garnished with grated paneer (and more melted butter if you want, but I don’t). This is an excellent accompaniment with an Indian bread of your choice or some Basmati rice.