For the unfamiliar, paneer is a relatively bland, firm cheese from India that is common in the region’s vegetarian cuisines. It has a firm texture like halloumi and when cooked behaves in a similar way, becoming crisp on the edges instead of melting away so it is typically grilled or fried into a curry. The extra property of paneer however, is it’s capacity to absorb flavours from a curry or marinade.
I’ve marinated my paneer in a tikka spice paste of sorts, the kind that might be used as a marinade for the meat in a chicken tikka masala, then cooked in on skewers under a hot grill. The paste is quite simple, using just cumin and amchoor, but is ripe for customisation with other spices and chillies. The little bit of dried mango powder helps bring out the savoury sourness of the tomato but you could add more to give it a distinct tart fruitiness. Rather than omit it entirely, add some lime zest to taste if you’d rather not hunt down obscure spices!
I was happy to serve them as is, with chutneys and dips (I’ve included the recipe for the simple raita you can see in the photograph) but you could add them to a curry sauce if you’d rather. The paneer cubes would also make good canapés served on cocktail sticks too. For reasons unknown to me, my parents own four metal skewers which are all entirely different lengths. Thankfully we’re all quite happy to share things tapas-like or “family style” but it does make for odd presentation!
For the raita:
In a bowl, combine all the ingredients except the paneer to make a smooth paste. Add the paneer and rub the marinade paste all over the cubes until they are all covered thinly (the odd patch of thicker paste here and there is fine). Set aside to marinate for at least half an hour.
To prepare the raita, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. If using dried mint, it’s best to make it a little in advance to allow the flavour more time to infuse.
Preheat an overhead grill or use the grill setting on the oven. Thread the paneer cubes on skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak them in water to stop them burning), making sure to leave a gap of a few millimetres in between each cube. Lay the skewers on a wire rack under the grill and cook under the highest possible heat for 5 minutes. Rotate the skewers so they cook evenly, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the marinade begins to char slightly. Serve immediately or leave to cool to add to a rich curry sauce. Serves 2 on its own, or more with other dishes.