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Paneer Dopiaza with Charred Shallot Petals

by Sarah Woods from Desi Kitchen

This Parsi-style dopiaza curry may be on the milder side but is no less complex, with layers of fragrant spices that perfectly complement the chunks of creamy paneer.

From the book

Sarah Woods


This should be called a dope-iaza as I have totally amped up the ‘piaz’, which is the Hindi word for onion. Dopiaza is Persian in origin and means two onions, though this refers to the two-way method of cooking the onions as much as anything. Now cheese and onion is my favourite flavour of crisps – it is a perfect combination, and that applies in this curry too. I am dedicating this one to ‘Squeak the Guinea Pig’ – a friend that I love dearly and on whom I conducted vegetarian recipe experiments! Loves a dopiaza does Squeak, but also likes curries to pack some heat. Parsi dishes tend to be quite mellow, with sweet and savoury flavours. The onions bring the sweetness and you can decide how much heat you fancy. I like to garnish with lots of finely sliced mild red chillies to add a pop of colour, bite and flavour.

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For the shallot petals:
8–10 small round shallots
vegetable oil, for cooking
sea salt
For the masala sauce:
vegetable oil, for cooking
1–2 bay leaves
1 whole dried Kashmiri chilli
5cm cinnamon or cassia bark
4–5 green cardamoms (bruise to release the seeds, then crush the seeds in a pestle and mortar)
2 whole cloves
1 red onion, finely diced
5 spring onions, finely sliced, including the green part (keep green and white parts separate)
15g ginger, grated
15g garlic, grated
1–2 green finger chillies, to taste, split in half lengthways
1 tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp garam masala
2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, blended until smooth
400–450g paneer
A drizzle of (approx. 3 tablespoons) double cream
A pinch of Kasuri methi (dried fenugreek)
3–4 pinches of chaat masala
100g young leaf spinach (optional, see cook’s note)
For the garnish:
Lots of fresh coriander
2 mild red chillies, finely sliced


Set your oven to 200°C. Cut the shallots vertically in half, through the root and keeping each half intact. Peel off the outer skin and first layer if necessary. Massage the shallots with a scant amount of vegetable oil. Place them on a lined baking tray, cut side up, and roast for 15–20 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven. The next step is to char. You can use your oven grill set on the highest heat, placing the shelf as close to the hot grills as possible, or use a chef’s blowtorch. Alternatively place the shallots cut side down in a very hot dry frying pan for the same effect. Set aside to cool.

To make the masala, heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large lidded saucepan or sauté pan on a medium to high heat, then add the bay leaf and the whole spices: dried chilli, cinnamon/cassia, cardamom and cloves. Be careful, the bay leaves will spit. Once they start to release their aromas, add the red onion and the white parts of the spring onions, then reduce the heat and allow to soften for a few minutes.

Add the ginger, garlic and green chillies and cook out for a couple of minutes, then tip in the ground spices: turmeric and garam masala, and the salt. Mix well and allow the spices to toast for 30 seconds – add a splash of water if the mixture starts to catch.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, give everything a good mix, and crank up the heat to bring the masala to the boil. Then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 8–10 minutes, covered.

Meanwhile prepare the paneer. If you are using shop-bought paneer, which tends to be firmer, soak it in a bowl of boiling water for a couple of minutes. This will make it lovely and soft, like home-made paneer. Drain and pat dry on kitchen paper (any moisture will spit when fried, so do be thorough with this step). Cut into bite-sized cubes.

Your masala will be about ready now, and you should see the oil split on the surface. Drizzle in the cream, mix through, then bring to a simmer once more and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary, sprinkle with the methi, then take off the heat. 7. To shallow-fry the paneer you don’t need much oil in the frying pan. Fry in batches until golden on all sides, on a medium to high heat. Be careful in case it spits – which it shouldn’t as long as you’ve done a good job in removing the moisture and your oil isn’t too hot. Place on kitchen paper to drain. Season with a little sea salt while it’s still hot, and a sprinkle of chaat masala, then fold it through the masala sauce along with the green parts of the spring onions. Put the saucepan back on the hob on a medium heat.

Separate the cooled shallots into petals and season them with sea salt. Reserve the prettiest petals for presentation and fold the rest in with the paneer, to warm through. Simmer for a further 2–3 minutes, so all the flavours can become acquainted. This is the point at which you should wilt the spinach through the dopiaza too, should you wish to add it.

Garnish with the shallot petals you held back, plenty of fresh coriander and finely sliced red chilli. Serve with naan flecked with onion seeds, hot buttered rotlis or even hot buttered pitta bread or rice.

COOK’S NOTE The addition of the spinach gives this a saag paneer vibe, or you could use charred red pepper from a jar, which is another delicious combo.

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From the book: Desi Kitchen

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