Matar Paneer (pronounced “mutter” paneer) is a north Indian restaurant-style dish of green peas in a spicy, beautifully flavored tomato onion sauce. My vegan recipe uses tofu to stand in for the paneer, making this a healthier and tastier version all at once. This is a gluten-free and nut-free recipe.
Green peas rarely get to shine as the lead in most dishes where they appear, but here’s one classic instance where they get to headline the show with their name in marquee lights: Matar Paneer.
Sure, there’s paneer here jostling for attention, but it doesn’t quite succeed, does it? The peas, with their unique texture and hints of sweetness, dominate the eater’s palate, and who would want to change that?
The paneer–tofu in this case–is nothing more than a welcome sideshow. But it’s a delicious one at that, and so is the brick-red sauce, subtly spiced but with lots of tomato-onion flavor.
You can make this dish with my Tomato Onion Masala Sauce, and it’d take you just minutes to pull it together in that case. But even if you start from scratch, it is not a lengthy nor difficult recipe to make. Hope you try it, and come back to tell me if you do!
Matar or green peas are the main ingredient here. Pay some attention to what kind you use, since it will dominate the flavor of your curry. You don’t want to use sweet peas or any kind that’s sweetish, because the peas will dominate the flavor of your dish. In fact, the kind of peas this is made with in India are large and not that sweet at all. You can use sweet peas, but in that case be prepared for the curry to have strong notes of sweet in it.
Frozen peas are fine, and those are what I usually use, but if you do, you’ll be adding them later in the recipe than if you were using fresh, because the frozen peas don’t have to cook as much.
Paneer, as most of you know, is an Indian cheese. I have, for as long as this blog has been around since 2007, used tofu, preferably super firm or extra firm, to sub for it in most Indian dishes that call for paneer, like this Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu.
Paneer is not a cultured cheese–it’s a cottage cheese–made by hanging split milk curds in cheesecloth the night before. It tastes mild, not cheesy at all, and remarkably like tofu, except milkier, of course. Since the job of the spongy paneer is to soak in the flavors of the curry or gravy, tofu makes a great stand-in since it has a very similar texture and it pulls in the sauce too.
I often advise sauteing the tofu lightly, or baking or air-frying it, before adding it to curries. That’s because tofu can crumble easily in the curry, and sauteing helps it hold. But for this curry I prefer not to do this because the oil and crust can keep the sauce from soaking in, and you really want them to for the best flavor. If you must, air-fry the tofu cubes without the oil so they develop a slight crust. Super firm tofu works best for this.
If you have some of my tomato onion masala sauce for quick curries in the refrigerator, you can make this recipe almost without any more chopping and with a minimal amount of cooking. But blend the masala sauce first, because you want the gravy to be really smooth.
The Matar Paneer would go really well with a vegan Indian flatbread like Aloo Kulcha or this Vegan Garlic Naan, and/or jeera rice or with carrot rice.
Serve some vegan raita on the side for a delicious meal.
-Brown cardamom. (Green cardamom is okay as a substitute. Use about 3-4)
-Cayenne (or paprika)
-Tofu. Super firm is best, extra firm, pressed, will work too.
-Cilantro and lemon (for serving)
Matar Paneer with Tofu
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 brown cardamom (crushed until the pod splits with seeds still inside)
- 1 large onion (pureed or very finely grated)
- 3 medium tomatoes (pureed)
- 1 tbsp (heaping) ginger garlic paste (make this by blending or crushing 3-4 cloves garlic and a 1-inch piece of ginger)
- 1 tbsp (heaping) coriander powder
- 1 tsp cayenne (or paprika for less heat)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2-4 tsp garam masala (use more or less per your taste)
- 12 oz green peas (not sweet peas; use peas that are not too sweet because they will make your dish sweet, which is not quite the effect you're going for)
- 14 oz super firm tofu (or extra firm tofu, pressed. Dice the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (for garnish)
- Wedges of lemon for serving
- Heat the oil. Add the crushed cardamom and bay leaf, and as they start to darken and become fragrant, add the pureed onions.
- Cook the onions with some salt, stirring frequently, until they brown, then add in the tomatoes and ginger garlic paste and continue sauteeing until the tomatoes are darker and most of the liquid has evaporated. If using fresh green peas, add at this time.
- Add the powdered spices–coriander, turmeric, cayenne or paprika, and garam masala and continue to saute a couple more minutes. Add 3 cups water, salt to taste, and bring to a boil, and let it simmer until the peas are tender.
- (If using the tomato onion masala sauce: Puree two cups of the tomato onion masala sauce. After heating the oil and adding the cardamom and bay leaf, add the sauce, and once it comes to a boil, add the powdered spices, then water as in step 3, and proceed as follows. You can taste and add some more garam masala if you like.)
- If using frozen peas, add them after the sauce comes to a boil. Add the tofu cubes and mix well and let the sauce continue to simmer another five minutes for all flavors to meld. Check salt and add more if needed.
- Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and with the lemon wedges on the side.