I haven’t shopped for groceries for days. The fruit basket is empty, there is barely enough milk for half a cup of coffee. Even a Great Procrastinator like me cannot put it off any more. Still, I try. After all, with a great title like that comes great responsibility.
It’s nearly lunchtime and mouths have to be fed. I would like to say that I root around in the vegetable drawer for inspiration but in all honesty, there’s hardly any rooting around to be done in an empty space. To my delight, I see a couple of peppers leaning on each other as if in a show of solidarity. There’s also a lone carrot but the dog, having arrived by my side with lightening speed (open fridge = food, she has cleverly figured out in a mere seven years) has somehow wordlessly managed to stake her claim on it.
Those peppers are an excellent find. Whether I’m in a cooking rut or short of ideas or time, peppers are the star ingredient in my kitchen. They are not only on extremely friendly terms with a wide range of other ingredients, but also equally at ease in any type of cuisine. The difficult part is deciding what to pick: Kung Pao, Peperonata, Lesco or a Mexican stir-fry? Then I spot some paneer in the cheese drawer and my mind is made up: Jalfrezi it is then.
A Jalfrezi is a quick, stir-fried Indian dish of paneer, chicken or anything else you fancy. There are numerous variations on the theme but peppers are compulsory. Any dish that calls itself a Jalfrezi should not pretend to be saucy because it’s sauce-less by its very definition (Bengali Jal for Spicy, Phrezi – Stirfry). Yet, if you’ve ever ordered it in restaurants in the UK, you are probably more likely to find a heavily sauced version.
And if you’ve never tried making it at home, here’s some additional good news: it’s quick, easy and fresher-tasting than anything you can buy. So leave the procrastinating to professionals like me and go make it now.
Commercial paneer usually comes as a firm, unsalted block but lately I have seen salted, softer, almost tofu-like paneer. I am looking at you, Tesco’s own brand. And while this paneer is delicious in other recipes, it’s not suitable here simply because it won’t fry very well. And if your paneer is salted, keep this in mind while following the recipe, as I used unsalted paneer.
- 450 g firm, unsalted paneer I used 2 x 225g packets of Everest paneer
- 1+1 tbsp oil divided
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp kasoori methi
- 1/2 tsp crushed red chillies
- 1 large onion sliced thinly into half moons
- 4 cloves garlic sliced crosswise
- 1-2 green chillies, slit optional
- 1 red pepper/bell pepper/capsicum sliced thinly into strips of about 7 cm x 1 cm
- 1 green pepper/bell pepper/capsicum sliced thinly into strips of about 7 cm x 1 cm
- 4 tbsp passata or pureed tomatoes
- salt & lemon juice to taste
- ginger julienne for garnish optional
- chopped coriander leaves for garnish
- Cut paneer into fingers about 6 cm x 2 cm x 2 cm. If using supermarket paneer like Everest brand, basically, you need to cut the block into 4 pieces lengthwise and cut across once to give 8 fingers.
- Using a pestle & mortar, crush the coriander seeds & cumin seeds to a coarse powder. Combine with kasoori methi and crushed red chillies. Set aside in a small bowl.
- This step is completely optional if you're in a hurry, but it will make a huge difference to the texture of the paneer. Bring about 3-4 cups of water to the boil in a large saucepan, add 1 tbsp salt & 1/2 a tsp of turmeric powder. Mix well and turn off the heat. You need it hot for the next step.
- In a large, heavy frying pan (I use my cast iron pan), heat 1 tbsp oil and fry the paneer fingers over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure they are a golden brown in places. If you're not following the step above, season with a large pinch of salt & transfer to a plate. If you are following the step above, remove with a slotted spoon and dunk into the hot salted water. Allow to sit while you get on with the rest of the procedure.
- Assemble all ingredients close to the hob. Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil to the pan and add the onions. Fry over a high heat until the onion slices are charred in places, then lower heat, add the garlic and stir fry for about 30 - 45 seconds.
- Now add the spice mixture, stir well and allow to fry for a few seconds until you can smell them. Do not let your attention wander - they burn easily! Add the passata/pureed tomatoes and fry until all the liquid evaporates.
- In the meantime, drain the paneer and dry it well on kitchen towels.
- Back to the pan, put in the chillies (if using) and the sliced peppers. Fry over high heat until crisp-tender. You don't want them completely soft here. Add the paneer, mix well, fry for a further minute or two until the pieces are coated with the onion mixture. Turn off the heat, sprinkle a large pinch of salt and a tbsp of lemon juice.
- Mix well, taste and adjust the salty and sour flavours to your preference. Serve garnished with ginger julienne (if using) & chopped coriander leaves.