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  • Neha Rosemary Thachil

A Beginner's Guide To Indian Cuisine: Paneer Makhani

Photo by Neha Thachil
Photo by Neha Thachil

Contrary to popular belief, Indian food is not just about curry, spice and chicken tikka masala. Each Indian state has its own unique style of cooking and makes dishes using different types of lentils, vegetables and meats. Additionally, due to India's long colonial history, various invaders such as the Aryans, the British and the Mughal dynasty have left their stamp behind on our cuisine. For example, when the Mughal dynasty came to India, they brought their rich, aromatic food culture and it is now an important part of the Indian culinary culture. They changed the country’s cooking by merging Middle Eastern cuisine with Indian spices and ingredients to give rise to one of the most distinct global cuisines. This cooking method includes lots of milk and cream with exotic spices, nuts and dried fruits to make it rich and spicy. Biryani, Korma and Pulav are some of the famous byproducts of this amalgamation of cultures. Colonization is just one of the many reasons why different regions of India have different cuisines; the others include different climatic conditions and natural produce.

Having lived in the United States for almost a year now, I have found that there is a general misconception when it comes to Indian food as people often think it is synonymous with palak paneer or butter chicken, however this is not the case. That is why I thought of starting the series 'A Beginner's Guide To Indian Cuisine,' to share some of favorite recipes from the different regions of India and introduce the unique styles of cooking from the various Indian states to everyone here at NYU.

The first recipe in this series is Paneer Makhani (it literally means buttery cottage cheese). This Punjabi curry, also known as paneer butter masala, is a slightly sweet creamy dish where the gravy is prepared usually with butter (makhan), tomatoes, cashews or cream. Spices such as red chili powder and garam masala are also used to prepare this gravy. This dish originated in the 1950s when Punjabis at Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi invented the sauce by mixing fresh butter into a tomato-based curry. It is one of my favorite vegetarian curries to make as the recipe is super easy recipe to follow.

Disclaimer: Since every state, every city and even every home has its own recipes for this dish, subtle differences in taste might occur. Having said that, this is my take on Paneer Makhani.

Course: Main Course

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4 to 5

Note: If you are non-vegetarian, you can swap the paneer/tofu for chicken, beef or lamb.


Photo by Neha Thachil
  • 200 grams paneer * (cottage cheese)

  • 250 grams ripe and red tomatoes or 4 to 5 medium ripe and red tomatoes

  • 2 to 3 tablespoon cooking cream

  • 2 tablespoon butter

  • 1 Indian bay leaf (tej patta)

  • 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste or ½ inch ginger

  • 3-4 small garlic crushed to paste in a mortar-pestle

  • ½ teaspoon red chilli powder or kashmiri red chilli powder

  • 1 to 2 green chillies, slit

  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala powder or tandoori masala powder

  • ½ to 1 teaspoon sugar - add as desired*

  • ½ inch ginger, julienned

  • ½ teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves, crushed (kasuri methi)

  • 1.5 cups water

  • Salt as desired


making tomato puree

1. First, rinse and chop the tomatoes (4 to 5 medium ripe and red tomatoes).

Photo by Neha Thachil

2. In a blender or grinder, make a smooth puree of the chopped tomatoes. No need to add any water while blending the tomatoes.

Photo by Neha Thachil

3. Set the tomato puree aside.

Making paneer makhani

1. Melt butter in a pan. Then add the bay leaf and sauté for a few seconds till aromatic.

2. Next add the crushed ginger-garlic paste and sauté until the raw aroma of the ginger-garlic goes away.

3. Add the tomato puree and stir well.

Photo by Neha Thachil

4. Now add the red chili powder and sauté this mixture until the fat begins to leave the side of the tomato paste. It takes about 14 to 15 minutes on a low flame. Keep on stirring often.

Photo by Neha Thachil

5. When you see the tomato mixture clumping together and the fat leaving the sides, then add water.

Photo by Neha Thachil

6. Stir and simmer until the gravy or sauce thickens a bit. Takes about 7 to 8 mins on a low flame.

Photo by Neha Thachil

7. Meanwhile chop 200 grams cottage cheese in cubes, squares or triangles.

Photo by Neha Thachil

9. Then add the slit green chilies and ginger julienne. Stir and simmer for a minute.

10. Add sugar, salt and crushed dry fenugreek leave (kasuri methi).

11. Stir and then add the paneer cubes.

Photo by Neha Thachil

12. Simmer the gravy for 2 to 3 minutes till the paneer cubes are cooked.

13. Lastly, add cream and gently stir. Switch off the flame and then sprinkle with garam masala. Give a gentle stir again.

14. Garnish the Paneer Makhani with cream, grated paneer and coriander leaves and serve with rotis, naan or jeera rice. Enjoy!

Photo by Neha Thachil

Photo by Neha Thachil

Stay tuned for next article in the series: 'A Beginner's Guide to Indian Cuisine: Aloo Chaat'


*Garam Masala: The spices that go into garam masala are cumin, coriander, green and black cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, fennel, mace and dried chilies.

* Paneer: If you are non-vegetarian, you can swap the paneer/tofu for chicken, beef or lamb.

*Addition of sugar depends upon your taste as well as the tanginess present in the tomatoes. Add more if required.