Finger-licking Kadai Paneer
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Restaurant-style kadhai paneer is made with freshly ground spices, chunks of paneer, and a blend of onions, peppers, and a spicy masala sauce. It’s a great vegetarian dinner perfect for busy weeknights.
Warm chunks of fresh paneer cook up in a spicy kadhai masala mixed with onions and peppers for this filling and flavorful dinner recipe. This easy paneer recipe comes together in 40 minutes and is packed with spices, protein, and vegetables.
What is Kadhai Paneer?
Kadhai paneer also called Kadai paneer or karahi paneer is a traditional Indian dish packed with bold flavor. The name kadai paneer comes from the utensil for cooking, the karahi, and the main ingredient paneer.
Let’s discuss these two words to understand how the dish got its name.
If you are unfamiliar with a karahi, it’s an Indian skillet used for cooking. Similar in shape to a wok but with steeper sides, this cookware is often used for simmering stews or deep-frying dishes. Recipes made with the karahi often have the word karahi in the name such as chicken karahi, mutton karahi, and this dish, karahi paneer.
The main ingredient, paneer, is a non-melting Indian cheese often used in vegetarian dishes like this one. Loaded with protein, paneer makes a nutrient-rich addition to this spiced masala with peppers and onion.
Why we love this recipe
Aside from the absolutely delicious flavor, here are just a few more reasons to love this kadai paneer.
- Easy to make – This dish comes together in under an hour making it great for busy weeknights.
- Vegetarian – The paneer adds ample protien making this recipe a filling, flavorful, and entirely vegetarian dish.
- Minimal dishes – Everything cooks up in the kadai (or a wok) making clean up a breeze!
How to Make Kadhai Paneer
Kadai Paneer Ingredients
- Kadhai Masala – Made with coriander seeds, dried red chilies, cumin seeds, whole black peppercorns, fennel seeds, black and green cardamom, and whole cloves.
- Paneer – Fresh homemade paneer is my favorite in this dish but you can also easily use a store-bought option as well.
- Oil – Used for cooking the cumin seeds followed by the aromatics for the masala.
- Aromatics – Cumin seeds, red onion, ginger, and garlic give make up the base of the masala.
- Seasonings – Salt, turmeric powder, kashmiri chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala, and dried fenugreek leaves flavor this dish.
- Tomatoes – Chopped and pureed in a blender.
- Chopped cilantro – To garnish your finished kadhai paneer.
Directions for Kadai Paneer
Make the Kadahi Masala Powder
- Heat a heavy bottom pan over medium heat.
- Dry roast the kadhai masala powder spices while stirring continuously. After 30 seconds, when the spices turn aromatic, remove the pan from heat.
- Allow the spices to cool completely, about 10 minutes.
- Grind the spices into a fine powder, using a blender.
Make the Onion-Tomato Paste
- If using frozen paneer, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- Microwave the paneer for 1 minute to allow the excess water to ooze out. Drain and chop the paneer into bite-sized pieces.
- Chop the onion in half. Finely dice one half of the onion. Chop the other half of the onion into chunks. Set the chunky pieces of onion aside for later.
- Heat oil in a wok or kadhai over medium heat. Once the oil heats up, add cumin seeds.
- When the cumin seeds begin to sizzle, add the finely diced onions along with a teaspoon of salt and turmeric. Mix well to combine.
- Cook the onions until soft and transparent.
- Next, add the ginger-garlic paste to the onions and cook for about 30-60 seconds until the raw taste disappears.
- Add chili, coriander, and cumin powder along with the pureed tomatoes to the wok and mix well.
- Cover the wok and let the tomatoes cook for about 10 minutes. At the 5-minute mark, uncover the wok and stir the onion-tomato paste to avoid burning. Cover and cook the remaining 5 minutes.
- Uncover the wok and stir again. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered, until the oil starts to leave the side of the paste. Note: As the tomatoes are cooking, chop the bell pepers into chunks and set them aside.
- Transfer the tomato-onion paste to a bowl and set aside.
Make the Kadhai Paneer
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. Once it heats up, and the chopped onions and bell peppers along with a tablespoon of the kadhai masala powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Cook vegetables for about 5-6 minutes before adding paneer.
- Gently stir in the paneer with the veggie mixture. Cook the paneer for about 2-3 minutes.
- Next add the onion-tomato paste back into the wok and mix well. If the gravy is too dry, add about 1/4- 1/2 cup of water as needed.
- Sprinkle in garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves. Mix well to combine.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with hot rotis or naan.
- As the onions cook, use that time to coarsely chop the tomatoes and then blend them into a puree using the same blender cup you used to grind the spices.
- Microwave store-bought paneer pieces to remove the excess water and soften them.
- Do not overcook the veggies- they need to have a bite to them.
How to Prep Ahead
- Make the masala powder in advance.
- The kadhai masala also yields enough that you can use it for at least 2 times. Save the rest in an air-tight container for future uses.
- Replace the onion-tomato masala base with 2 cups of curry sauce.
- Keep kadhai paneer stored in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.
- Store the extra kadhai masala powder in an air-tight container in the pantry for future use.
To make this a meal you can serve your kadhai paneer with:
Frequently Asked Questions
Both dishes are made with a tomato masala base and chunks of paneer however they differ greatly in flavor from there. Kadai paneer is a spicier dish made with peppers, onions, and spicy masala powder. Shahi paneer is a sweeter dish made with butter, cashews, and cream.
The name kadhai paneer comes from the words kadhai and paneer. A kadhai is a cookware item used in Indian cooking that is similar in shape and function to a wok. Paneer is a non-melting Indian cheese that is the main ingredient in the dish. Since the paneer cooks in a spicy masala sauce in the kadhai the dish is called Kadhai Paneer.
If you do not have a karahi, you can use a wok or a high-sided skillet to cook the dish.
More paneer recipes you’ll love
- Palak Paneer– This simple and easy Palak Paneer (saag paneer) recipe is a healthier take on the popular restaurant-style spinach and cottage cheese curry.
- Paneer Kathi Rolls– These flavorful and easy paneer Kathi Rolls are made with seasoned paneer, onions, peppers, and tamarind chutney wrapped tightly in a warm paratha.
- Methi Malai Matar Paneer– Methi Malai Matar with paneer made with fresh fenugreek leaves, green peas, and soft chunks of paneer create this unforgettable vegetarian dish.
- Matar Paneer– Here’s a delicious and creamy, easy restaurant-style matar paneer recipe that you’ve got to check out.
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2-3 dried red chilies
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 green cardamom
- 2 whole cloves
Rest of the ingredients
- 1 lbs (400g) 18 oz paneer or cottage cheese diced into cubes
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil divided
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 large red onion
- 1 inch ginger grated
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1.5 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 4 medium-sized tomatoes
- 2 bell peppers (assorted – green, yellow, orange or red)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
- ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
Making Kadhai masala powder
- Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Dry roast all the spices while stirring continuously. In about 30 seconds, the spices will turn aromatic and that's the cue to taking the pan off heat.
- Wait for the spices to completely cool down. It should take about 10 minutes.
- Grind the spices to a fine powder using a blender. [Note: Don't rinse the blender jar, you can reuse it to puree the tomatoes]
Making the base curry
- If using frozen paneer, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- Microwave the paneer for a minute so that the excess water oozes out. Drain the water and chop the paneer into bite-sized pieces.
- Chop the onion into half. Finely dice one half of the the onions while chop the other half into chunks. Set aside the chunky pieces of onion for later.
- Place a wok or kadhai over medium heat. Add oil. Once the oil heats up, add cumin seeds.
- When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the finely diced onions along with a teaspoon of salt and turmeric. Mix well to combine. Cook the onions till it soften and turn transparent.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste to the onions and cook them for about 30-60 seconds till the raw taste disappears.
- Add the spice powders (chili, coriander and cumin powder) along with the pureed tomatoes to the wok and mix well.
- Cover the wok and let the tomatoes cook for about 10 minutes. Around the 5-minute mark, uncover the wok and stir the onion-tomato paste to avoid burning. Cover it again and cook for another 5 minutes.
- As the tomatoes are cooking, chop the bell peppers into chunks and set them aside.
- Once the ten minutes are up, uncover the wok and stir again. Cook for another 5 minutes uncovered till the oil starts to leave the side of the paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and set it aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok and once it heats up, add the veggies – chopped onions and bell peppers along with a tablespoon of kadhai masala and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. [Note: You'll have leftover kadhai masala – use it the next time you make the dish]
- Let the veggies cook for about 5-6 minutes before adding paneer. Gently combine the paneer with the veggie mixture.
- Allow the paneer to cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the cooked onion-tomato paste back into the wok and mix well. If the gravy is too dry, add about 1/4 – 1/2 cup water as needed.
- Sprinkle garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves. Mix well to combine.
- Garnish it with chopped cilantro. Serve hot with rotis or naan.
- As the onions are cooking, use that time to coarsely chop the tomatoes and blend them into a puree. Like I said before, you can use the same blender cup that you used to grind the spices – no need to rinse!
- Microwave the store-bought paneer pieces to remove excess water and soften them.
- Do not overcook the veggies – they need to have a bite.
- I usually chop 4 bell peppers in assorted colors and use half of the bell peppers for this recipe and freeze the rest.
- The kadhai masala yields enough masala that you can use for at least 2 times. Save the rest in an air-tight container.
- To make this meal faster, replace the onion-tomato masala base with 2 cups of curry sauce.
Disclaimer: Approximate nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and can vary depending on the exact ingredients/brands used. If you have health issues, please work with a registered dietician or nutritionist.