Chili Paneer

If you thought fusion food was a relatively new idea, like Korean Tacos or even our Tokyo Hot Chicken Sando, think again! It’s it’s actually hundreds of years old! This recipe is no exception and has a great place in our hearts. Our Indo-Chinese Chili Paneer is a great fusion style dish sure to tickle your senses.

Click here to skip the story and head straight to the recipe.

The heart of this dish is the chili, which is a prime example of how an ingredient can make its way from one area of the world to another. Chili peppers made their way from the “new” world via Portugal to Goa, India, a historic Portuguese port area, and eventually to the rest of India. This is why this area of India is rich with recipes like spicy pork vindaloo, Chicken Xacuti and many other dishes ripe with chili peppers, potatoes (another new world food item) and cashew nuts. Goa, a beautiful beach town in the Southwest of India known for its paradise feels, music festivals and spicy food, and this was where we had our first real encounter with Chili Paneer. While Chili Paneer doesn’t specifically have its own origins in Goa, it is where we “discovered” it and therefor will always be rooted there for us. 

This is a type of cuisine called Indo-Chinese, and the easiest way to think of it is how Americanized Chinese food compares to the food you’d eat in China. It isn’t necessarily authentic, but the combination and adaption of flavors work so well. There isn’t much that is strictly Chinese in this dish, just soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili garlic paste (which really isn’t Chinese, but more Indonesian/Malay). The rest is classic Indian with a hint of English. The other main ingredient that comes from India is paneer, a cheese which may sound exotic, but it is made the same way that ricotta cheese is made! Cow’s milk, heated, add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice and keep stirring until it separates, then strain it. If you’re making ricotta, you leave it like this, if you’re making paneer, you press it. Now, there is no reason to be afraid of paneer! We know it may look like tofu, but it’s actually cheese! You can find paneer is most all Indian markets, and trust is… it’s worth a trip!

Chili Paneer

– 500 grams of Paneer cut into 1” cubes
– 2 tsp dried ginger powder
– 2 tsp sambal olek (or sriracha)
– 2 Tb rice or white vinegar
– 1/2 cup corn starch

– 2 Tb neutral oil
– 1 red bell pepper cut into 1” squares
– 1 green bell pepper  cut into 1” squares
– 1 jalapeño cut into half moons, 1/4” thick
– 1/2 large onion  cut into 1” squares
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 2” fresh ginger, grated or 2 Tb dry ginger
– 2 scallions chopped
– 3 Tb sambal olek (chili garlic paste) Sriracha can work as a substitute too
– 3/4 cup ketchup
– 2 Tb rice or white vinegar
– 1/2 cup Szechuan or “stir fry” sauce (recipe below if you can’t find it in stores)
– 2 Tb corn starch
– Salt and Pepper to taste 

Szechuan Sauce (if you want to make it at home instead of buying premade)
– 1 cup soy sauce
– 2 Tb honey (sugar is ok too)
– 2tsp sesame oil
– 3 Tb rice or white vinegar
– 2” fresh ginger grated or 1 Tb
– 1 clove garlic minced
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 2 Tb sambal olek (sriracha works too)
– 1 tsp onion powder
– 2 Tb corn starch

Let’s get cooking!

First step, you want to marinate the paneer cubes. Combine all of the ingredients of the marinade and put your paneer cubed in. These should marinate for about 15 minutes, longer of course is always better.

If you need to make your Szechuan sauce start here:

Combine all ingredients in a small stock pot or pan except for the corn starch. Make a cornstarch slurry by adding a few splashes of water to your cornstarch and mixing.  When the ingredients come to a boil, whisk in the cornstarch slurry, it should thicken into a fairly thick sauce. Remove from the heat and move onto the next step.

Now it is time to make the main Chili Paneer sauce. Heat your neutral oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Add the minced garlic, ginger and jalapeños, stir fry these for 3 minutes, be careful, the ginger will want to stick to the bottom. Add the diced onions next, fry these until they are translucent, then add in the cut bell peppers and continue to cook. Add in the vinegar, and about 1/2 cup of water, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, this will soften the peppers and create a base for the sauce. Next up, add the Szechuan sauce and ketchup, stir it in, and reduce the heat to low. 

Let this simmer for 5 minutes, as you do this, drain your paneer from the marinade. You want to make sure that it is well drained since you will be tossing it with corn starch. 

If you have a deep fryer, preheat it to 375, if you want to pan fry the paneer, you can do that too, just shallow from the cubes in about 1/2” of oil.

When your oil is heated, toss the paneer cubes with the corn starch, make sure that you shake off excess corn starch, and drop the cubes into the oil. Fry the cubes for only 1 minute, just until the corn starch is set, if you over fry them, they will taste like eating burnt rubber nuggets, and no one wants to do that! So be mindful of the time spent.

After the paneer is fried, you can add them to the sauce. If you want to amp up the heat, add more of the chili sauce. The overall flavor should be a sweet and sour profile with a hint of sesame. We love it served with our Basmati Pilau Rice!

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