Pal Haveli Paneer Makhani with Almond and Lemon Basmati Rice

After a long and eventful drive from Jaipur – so many stories to tell – we eventually arrived in the ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur just as its colourful residents prepared themselves for the business of the cooling evening (even in October the temperature rarely falls below 100 degrees). All of the tiny artisan shops that surround the central Clock Tower Market seem to open at once, the lifting of their ancient shutters revealing their glittering contents; dazzling fabrics block-printed to order, hundreds of sets of brightly coloured bracelets moulded to fit your arm in sparking fires, brass polishers, restorers, potters, weavers of iridescent saris, embroiderers, makers of pointed slippers embellished with golden threads and the magical carpets sellers, their boys constantly running out for glasses hot sweet chai nestled in ornate metal baskets. Samarkand. Camels in the street loaded with large bundles. Painted elephants as they squeeze their way around the tiny curving streets brushing people away with a swing of their long trunks. As with all India life is deeply lived in every corner. But there is a magic like no other in Rajasthan, the destination for our honeymoon. We had booked a few nights at the spectacular Pal Haveli which quietly sits under the shadow of the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, except that it wasn’t that spectacular then as the present owner – the latest in a noble lineage of the Thakurs of Pal who resided here – had barely started on its lengthy and painstaking restoration. He had time then to walk us through the maze of rooms whilst all the time recounting stories of his childhood and the grandfather he loved so much. Eventually he led us upstairs to the rooftop restaurant, Indique – experience our panoramic view here – where we dined under the stars – and several soaring bats – as the distant calls to prayer brushed our senses with warm fragrant air. Beautiful and proud Rajput men resplendent in their colourful turbans, golden jewellery and ornate coats presented us with dish after dish of sumptuous fragrant masalas and freshly baked breads lavishly brushed with ghee. There were platters of exotic fresh fruit to follow with exquisite kulfi and tiny glasses of sweet red wine. Chilled. It was probably one of the most romantic evenings of my life. This recipe for the classic paneer butter masala – paneer makhani – is a nod to that evening and it is my very best Indian recipe. It requires quite a few spices and aromats but, so long as you prepare everything before you start to cook, both dishes come together very quickly. I make both the masala and the rice in the morning and set them aside for the day to allow the different layers of spices to quietly dance together.

Paneer Makhani 2

Serves 4

Ingredients

Rapeseed oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp nigella seeds
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
x2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
125ml single cream
500g paneer, cut into bitesized cubes
A handful of peas (optional)
1 lime, zested and juiced
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Almond and lemon rice:
300g brown basmati rice
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp mustard seeds
A handful of slivered almonds
2 teaspoons yellow split peas, soaked in cold water for an hour (optional)
A handful of fresh curry leaves
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Wholemeal chapattis, to serve
Chutneys, to serve

How I make it

First make the rice. Bring a pan of generously salted water to the boil. Add the rice, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the oil and then the mustard seeds. Fry until they begin to pop.Then add the almonds, peas, curry leaves and lemon zest and fry, stirring all the time, until the nuts are turning golden. Turn the cooked rice into the pan, add the lemon juice and season to your taste. Cover and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a generous glug of rapeseed oil and the mustard seeds. Fry until they begin to pop and then add all the other spices, the nigella seeds, the ginger and the pastes. Continue to fry, stirring all the time for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped ginger, the bay leaf, the cloves and cinnamon stick and stir around for further couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes and 250ml of boiling water. 

Allow the sauce to blip away for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it becomes rich and thick. Add the sugar and the cream and set aside.

When you’re ready to eat, simply add a little water to the rice pan, cover and bring up to temperature over a low heat.

Meanwhile, remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick from the sauce and gently re-heat before adding the paneer, the peas (if using) and the juice of half the lime. Season to your taste and garnish with the lime zest and coriander leaves.

Serve with warm wholemeal chapattis and chutneys.

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