Kadai paneer recipe – Indian cottage cheese (paneer) cooked in onion tomato gravy with homemade kadai masala & bell peppers. This dish gets its name karahi or kadhai paneer since it is cooked in a special Indian wok called kadai which is one of the most basic kitchen essentials of Indian Cuisine.
What is kadai paneer?
Kadai paneer is a simple yet amazingly flavorful paneer recipe made by cooking paneer and bell peppers with fresh ground spices known as kadai masala. It is called as kadai paneer since it’s cooked in a kadai, an Indian wok.
However the dish can be prepared without a kadai just like the way I cooked it in a regular pan.
Variations of kadai paneer
There are 2 variations of making kadai paneer. I have shared both the methods in this post.
Recipe 1 – My kadai paneer gravy turns out to be much more flavorful & delicious than what is served in most restaurant. It’s a winner always and is so simple to make. This kadai paneer gravy is good when you are home for a meal. It goes well with butter naan, roti & even with jeera rice or plain basmati rice.
Recipe 2 – quick kadhai paneer semi dry curry which has lesser curry or sauce. I often make this for the school and the office lunch box along with jeera rice & simple vegetable salad. This also goes well inside roti or wraps as a filling. You can find this recipe towards the end of this post.
How is kadai masala made?
Kadai masala is a unique blend of spices specially used to make kadai dishes. It is much more flavourful and stronger than the regular garam masala that is used in Indian cuisine. Kadai masala is made with coriander seeds, red chilies, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon & fennel seeds.
These whole spices are dry roasted to bring out the aroma and then ground to a slightly coarse powder.
Here coriander seeds are used in higher quantity than it is used for regular garam masala. So if you do not have all of these spices, then the simple trick is to use coriander seeds, red chilies & garam masala.
Since most garam masala powders already have cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms and fennel seeds, sometimes I go the easy way and use coriander seeds, red chilies & garam masala.
1.Prepare these and set aside.
- cube 1 heaped cup onions (to saute)
- chop 1 cup tomatoes
- cube 1 more onion (separate the layers)
- cube half cup capsicum preferably the same size as of paneer.
- Measure 2 cups cubed paneer approximately about 230 to 250 grams.
2. To make kadai masala, add the following ingredients to a blender jar:
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 3 to 4 deseeded red chilies
- ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds. (more details in the recipe notes)
3. Pulse all of them to make a coarse or fine powder to suit your taste. Kadai masala is usually ground to a coarse powder. In this recipe, it gets cooked well in the gravy, so it does not come in the mouth even if it is made to a slightly coarse powder. Set this aside.
Make onion tomato masala
4. Heat a pan with half tablespoon oil on a high flame. Saute 1 heaped cup of cubed onions along with 6 to 7 split cashews until they turn transparent or lightly golden.
5. Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes and continue to saute on a medium heat until tomatoes turn mushy and soft. If needed add little salt or cover and cook to fasten the cooking.
6. Cool this completely.
7. Add the cooled onion tomatoes to a mixer jar.
8. Blend it to smooth paste without adding water.
How to make kadai paneer recipe
9. Add another half tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat up on a high flame. To get the restaurant style smoky flavor, use the same pan used for sauteing onion tomatoes earlier. Add capsicum and onions, saute on a high flame just until half cooked (must remain crunchy). Constantly toss to prevent burning.
10. Add paneer, make sure it is not moist before you add. Toss it in the hot pan for 60 to 90 seconds on a medium heat. Less than 2 mins. Do not overcook else the paneer turns hard. Transfer all these to a plate.
11. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat it on a medium flame. Saute ginger & garlic paste until the raw smell goes.
12. Add the ground spices – kadai masala and saute it well on a medium to low heat. We have not roasted the spices earlier so we need to do it well here until it turns aromatic & the raw flavor goes away.
13. Add onion tomato puree.
14. Saute it well for about 2 mins. Add half tsp garam masala. I have added half tsp red chilli powder just to bring a good color and this is optional.
15. Next saute well for 2 mins again. Since we have sauteed onions and tomatoes well in the earlier steps, we don’t need to cook the masala a lot.
Making kadai paneer gravy
16. Add ¾ cup water and mix well. Bring this to a boil. If needed pour another ¼ cup water.
17. Cook until the gravy turns thick and flavorful. Make sure the gravy doesn’t look runny or watery. After boiling it well, you will see traces of oil on top of the gravy. Next towards the end add ¾ teaspoon crushed kasuri methi.
18. Add the sauteed onion, capsicum and paneer that we has set aside. Turn off the stove.
19. Mix well. Add ginger juliennes and chopped coriander leaves. Cover and set aside for 2 mins. Do not leave on the hot stove since it will continue to cook further. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Allow kadai paneer to rest for at least 15 mins for the paneer to absorb flavors. You can also smoke the curry if you like following my dal makhani post.
Tips to make kadai paneer
Kadai masala: The key to a good kadai paneer is in using the right combination of spices to make kadai masala. So use them as mentioned in the recipe. Substituting it with a regular or normal garam masala will give you a regular paneer curry. However it will still taste good but you won’t find any kadai flavors in it.
Dry roasting the whole spices before grinding is optional. But if you do not have a good grinder/blender then you may roast them to crisp up. I do not roast them as I keep all my spices in the fridge and they remain crisp.
Dried red chilies are used in this recipe as they impart a smoky flavour to the dish. Using good quality dried red chilies that are not too spicy or pungent is very important. I usually use Kashmiri or byadgi red chilies. Otherwise the dish may turn very spicy with bitter tones. You can also reduce the amount of red chilies and use red chilli powder.
Ginger: Adding ginger julienne towards the end of cooking infuses a great aroma to the dish. Do not skip this.
Paneer: Using good quality fresh paneer makes a lot of difference to the dish. If you prefer to make your own paneer at home, you can follow this post on How to make paneer. If using store bought paneer then immerse it in slightly hot water for 15 mins. Drain and use it.
How to make best kadai paneer
Always saute the powdered kadai masala in oil until it turns fragrant. This is the key to an aromatic kadai paneer.
Smoky flavour: Kadai paneer served in some restaurants get a mild smoky flavor as the bell peppers & onions are tossed on a high flame on large burners. To get similar flavors toss the veggies on the highest flame as mentioned in the recipe. This lends a mild smoky aroma to the dish.
- You can use any store bought kadai masala.
- For a creamy version you can also use a few tablespoons of cream towards the end.
- You can easily substitute tofu for paneer in the recipe.
- If you do not eat onions and garlic, you may skip both of them completely. Without onions the dish will be on the tangy side. So to balance that you may need to add some cream at the last stage. Without onions, the quantity of the prepared kadai paneer will be lesser.
- For the gravy version, I have used cashews. You may substitute them with blanched almonds.
Kadai paneer recipe | How to make kadai paneer gravy
Ingredients (1 cup = 240ml )
Ingredients for kadai masala
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds (daniya)
- 4 dried red chilies (kashmiri or less spicy variety) deseeded
- ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf) (optional but recommended)
other for kadai paneer gravy
- 1 cup onions (sliced or chopped, 2 large)
- 1 cup tomatoes (chopped, 2 large)
- 8 cashew nuts (can substitute with 3 tbsp cream)
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste or crushed
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder (optional, just for color)
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon garam masala
- ¾ teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- ¾ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- ½ to 1 teaspoon ginger julienne
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves (cilantro chopped finely)
- 2 tablespoons oil (divided – ½ + ½ + 1 tbsp)
- ¾ to 1 cup water for gravy
- 1 onion Optional (medium, cubed, layers separated)
- ½ cup capsicum (bell peppers cubed)
- 250 grams paneer (Indian cottage cheese)
How to make the recipe
- To a small grinder jar, add red chilies, fennel seeds (optional) and coriander seeds. Make a fine powder and keep aside.
- Heat ½ tablespoon oil in a pan. Add 1 cup chopped onions & 8 cashew nuts. Saute them on a medium high flame until the onions turn transparent or pink.
- Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes and saute until completely mushy.
- Cool this completely and add to a blender jar. Blend to a smooth paste or puree. Set this aside.
- To the same pan, add ½ tablespoon oil and heat it.
- Saute 1 cubed onion and capsicum on the highest flame until half done. They must be slightly tender and yet crunchy.
- Add paneer and toss for 1 to 2 mins. Set all these aside. Do not over fry these.
How to make kadai paneer
- Heat 1 tbsp oil and saute 1 tsp ginger garlic paste until the raw smell goes off.
- Next transfer the ground kadai masala and saute for 2 to 3 mins until it turns fragrant. Ensure the raw flavor has gone from the masala.
- Add the ground onion tomato paste and saute for 2 mins.
- Next add garam masala and red chili powder. Saute for another 2 mins until the masala turns fragrant.
- Pour ¾ cup water and salt. Allow it to boil until the gravy thickens and traces of oil appear on top.
- Then crush and add kasuri methi. Stir well again. Taste the gravy and add more salt as needed.
- Add the sauteed paneer, capsicum and onion.
- Stir well & finally add ginger juliennes and coriander leaves.
- Cover and rest for 2 mins. Transfer to a serving bowl and rest for at least 15 mins for the paneer to absorb the flavors.
- Enjoy kadai paneer gravy with roti, butter naan, paratha or jeera rice.
NUTRITION (estimation only)
Recipe notes for kadai paneer recipeKadai masala is usually made of coriander seeds, red chilies, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, jeera, saunf, pepper and a small piece of bay leaf. But coriander seeds are used in higher quantity when compared to any garam masala. Kadai masala can be made using all the above mentioned ingredients or can be substituted with any garam masala Plus additional coriander seeds and dry red chilies.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips.
Recipe 2 – Kadai paneer semi dry
Semi dry kadai paneer is the most common one served in restaurants. This is easier to make than the first recipe as it needs only sautéing the onion tomato masala with ground kadai masala. Then bell peppers are sautéed and lastly paneer is added to it. This goes well with rotis and can also be used to make roti rolls.
Unlike the first gravy version, this one is made without blending onions or tomatoes. The chopped ingredients directly go to the kadai for making the onion tomato masala here. So the masala is chunky and not smooth or creamy like in the other first version.
I make this one mostly to pack in the school and office box as it is pretty much easier to make in the mornings.
Usually there is no cream or cashews added to it like it is done for most other paneer recipes. If you prefer to serve this with rice, then you can also make the below mentioned variations:
- You can pour 3 to 4 tbsps of heavy cream to this to make it creamy. If using cream you will need to up the heat level as cream tones down the heat.
- If you like it to be moderately creamy then puree the tomatoes with 8 cashews and use it here. Also you will need to pour half cup water to cook the masala. This makes a semi dry kadai paneer which will go well with roti or even with basmati rice.
- To make it kids’ friendly reduce the chilies or skip the chilli powder. Keep the rest of the spices as mentioned in the recipe.
This kadai paneer recipe is roughly being adapted from chefs Nita Mehta’s and Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbooks. I have made several changes to the original recipes to suit our taste buds.
Summary: Restaurant style semi dry kadai paneer cooked in a flavorful, mildly hot kadai masala. The curry base uses onions and tomatoes.
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: North Indian
Yield / Serves: 3 to 4
Ingredients (240 ml cup used)
200 grams or 1 ½ cup paneer cubed
½ cup onions finely chopped (optional)
1¼ cup tomatoes finely chopped or pureed
1 green chilli chopped (optional)
½ to ¾ cup cubed capsicums (green or red or both)
1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste or only ginger paste
1/8 tsp ground turmeric
2 tablespoons oil (or 1 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp butter)
½ to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon kasuri methi
¾ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
2 tbsps coriander leaves chopped for garnish
For the kadai masala
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 to 4 red chilies
¾ teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)
½ to ¾ teaspoon garam masala
How to make
- Rinse onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and green chilies. Chop onions and tomatoes very finely. Alternately you can puree the tomatoes and use. Make a fine paste of ginger and garlic or grate them. Cube paneer and bell peppers to 1 inch pieces. Set aside.
- Add coriander seeds and dried red chilies to a pan and toast them until crisp on a low heat. When the red chilies turn crisp remove to a plate and cool them. To the same pan add fennel seeds and roast on a medium heat until aromatic. Remove these as well to the same plate and cool them completely.
- Next add them to a grinder or spice blender along with garam masala. Make a fine or coarse powder. Usually kadai masala is made to a coarse powder. If you do not prefer coarse bits of spices in your curry then make a fine powder. Set this aside.
How to make
- Pour oil to the kadai and heat it. When the oil turns hot, add green chilies and ginger garlic paste.
- Saute on a medium heat until the ginger garlic turns aromatic. Do not burn them.
- Then add the chopped onions and saute until golden.
- When the onions turn golden, add the tomatoes, turmeric and salt.
- Fry all of them until the tomatoes turn fully mushy. If needed cover and cook.
- Then add red chilli powder and ground kadai masala.
- Mix well and fry until the masala turns aromatic and begins to release some oil on the sides. This is an indication that the masala is cooked well. This step is very important to bring out the flavours.
- Pour 4 to 5 tablespoons of water at this stage and cook the masala until it thickens.
- Add capsicum and saute for 2 to 3 mins until they begin to smell good.
- Then add the cubed paneer and crushed kasuri methi. Mix well to coat the paneer with the masala. Cover the pan.
- Cook on a low heat for 2 to 3 mins. Cooking for too long will make the paneer harder. If you prefer to use cream pour it at this stage and give a good stir. Sprinkle coriander leaves and mix well. Add the ginger juliennes and turn off the heat.
- Allow kadai paneer to rest in the pan for 10 to 20 mins for the flavours to be absorbed.
- Serve with roti or plain parathas.