“Making Paneer Kaliya is an art,” says Nalini Sadhu.
As the Chef/Curator at Matamaal Restaurant, Nalini has spent years perfecting every recipe on the menu and the Paneer Kaliya is no different. “While preparing Kaliya, instinct is everything. I rely heavily on my instincts because the aroma and colour of the gravy marks a great Kaliya,” she shares. Even though the dish doesn’t require an armoury of spices, it takes a while to perfect the recipe. For her, the mark of a great Kaliya is the sunny/golden yellow colour of the curry. “While following this recipe, keep a close eye on the colour and follow your instincts when it comes to timing and proportion of spices,” she says.
Haldi (turmeric) is integral to auspicious occasions. It’s why Teher (yellow rice) is made on special days in a Kashmiri household. The key to a great Kaliya is turmeric. Nalini shares her dismay at browsing through pictures of dull Kaliya preparations and says, “I don’t know why people skimp out on turmeric while making Kaliya! The bright yellow colour is what makes the dish so stunning.”
Despite being a much coveted dish at every feast, Paneer Kaliya is also a soothing balm for those who are unwell. Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, however the curry of a Kaliya is easy on the gut and light on oil and spices. Since Kashmiri cuisine doesn’t rely on onion, garlic and tomatoes, this recipe is a great way to spruce up your 'vrat ka khana' (fasting menu). Unlike the fiery red Dum Aloo and Roganjosh, Paneer Kaliya is a relatively lighter dish made regularly in a Kashmiri household—be it a fast or a feast.
So, the next time someone tells you that Kashmiri cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, whip up this golden surprise to change their mind. Though this is a dish born out of experience and instincts, here’s Nalini Sadhu’s recipe for Paneer Kaliya from Matamaal’s kitchen:
Paneer (Cottage Cheese): 200 grams
Saunf (Fennel powder): 1 tablespoon
Sounth: Half teaspoon
Turmeric powder: 1 teaspoon
Mustard oil: 2 tablespoons
Heeng: A pinch
Cloves: 2 pods
Green cardamom: 2 pods (slightly pounded)
Black cardamom: 1 pod
Bay leaves (Tej Patta): 2
Garam masala: Half teaspoon
Milk: Half cup
Cut the paneer in small cubes.
Take about 3/4 cup of hot water in a bowl.
Add turmeric to the water and keep aside.
Pan fry or deep fry paneer to light brown colour.
Lower the fried paneer into the bowl of warm water.
Heat the mustard oil to a smoking point.
Allow it to cool a bit, so the spices don’t burn.
Add hing and other whole spices till the oil becomes fragrant.
Add paneer and the soaking water.
To this, add saunf, sounth and salt to taste.
Cover and let it simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.
Add milk and let it simmer for another 3 minutes.
Turn off the heat, sprinkle garam masala and stir.
Garnish with saffron and serve.
Pro tip: Make sure the paneer doesn’t stick to the pan/kadhai while frying. Nalini shares, “I don’t know the reason behind this but paneer sticking to the kadhai was considered inauspicious in Kashmir! So, make sure the oil is at the right temperature to avoid this faux pas.”