To Paneer, With Love: 5 Paneer Dishes From Around India
Image Credit: From Kashmiri paneer chaman to paneer akuri, Indians have immense love for paneer.

Living in a Punjabi household with hard-core non-vegetarians all around me, chicken was the preferred choice whenever something special had to be cooked. From chicken rara to murg mussallam and butter chicken, I love all kinds of dry and gravy dishes. In fact, with the surge in cases due to the new variant Omicron, WHO has also recommended an increase in the daily consumption of protein. Since a large part of the population in the country is primarily vegetarian, chicken and eggs are out of question. The next best source of this nutrient is paneer. There’s a close cousin called tofu too but that is usually a vegan alternative. 

Paneer, for those untouched by the phenomenon, is a dairy product made from milk that has been curdled and which gives a mushy and soft by-product. Did you know that paneer landed on the Indian plate from the Mughals? Oh yes, apart from luscious and thick meat gravies to rich and cumbersome biryanis, Mughals have also crowned the Indian fare with this vegetarian jewel. There are two plausible theories behind its invention. One is based on the belief that dairy products and coagulated milk were a common aspect of our food, as mentioned in the Vedic scriptures as well as during Indus Valley civilization. It is said that the Mongols carried milk in rawhide mushkis when travelling through the desert on foot. During this time, the milk came in contact with the leather of the bags and the heat of the sand to form paneer. 

This paneer was finally spruced up with Indian spices and given a distinct taste and texture that is edible. Another side of the coin believes that the Portuguese gifted us paneer in the form of chenna in 17th century Bengal. While we may not know about the exact origins of the dish, the name was derived from the Persian word panir meaning types of cheese. Spread across the world including Middle-Eastern countries, the paneer is served in a variety of ways today. 

Within India, each regional fare has their own specialty of cottage cheese that is relished as a delicacy and is a great source of protein for vegetarian fares. Despite my love for butter chicken, I enjoy paneer butter masala equally too. 

Here are some popular paneer dishes from different corners of the country. 

1.  Paneer Akuri From Parsi Cuisine 

Have you heard of Akuri before? It is a popular Parsi-style breakfast dish that is usually made with scrambled eggs, bearing resemblance to the North Indian anda bhurji. Paneer akuri is the vegetarian version of this dish which consists of cottage cheese crumbled and spiked with a host of spices and vegetables like tomatoes. Chopped green chillies are added to increase the spiciness and ginger-garlic paste gives it a distinct flavour. 

2.  Paneer Kolhapuri From Kolhapuri Cuisine 

Kolhapuri cuisine is usually deemed as a spicy fare. Their curries and rassas are quite popular. One such vegetarian curry that does full justice to the flavours of the cuisine is paneer kolhapuri. The huge and chunky cubes of paneer are tossed in a thick and vibrant onion-tomato gravy which has been spiked with coconut, fennel seeds and other coastal spices. This makes this dish ideal for roti as well as rice. 

3.  Paneer Khurchan From Gujarati Cuisine 

Sounds like an interesting name right? This is a blend of dry and gravy North Indian paneer dishes wherein the cottage cheese is paired with roughly chopped capsicum in a medium onion-tomato curry. This one can be eaten with breads as well as rice. 

4.  Paneer-Er-Dalna From Bengali Cuisine 

Freshly diced paneer along with small potato bites are spruced up together in a delicious gravy. This is also known as chanar dalna or niramish chanar dalna which means it contains no onions and garlic. The complex flavours of the dish are attained with the fried textures of the paneer and potatoes. 

5.  Paneer Chaman From Kashmiri Cuisine 

This Kashmiri paneer curry is distinct from others because it has a simple tomato gravy which is spruced with fennel seeds. This light and flavourful paneer chaman, where chaman means gravy in Kashmiri language, is a delightful preparation to be paired with butter roti and pickled onions.