Cilantro Rice with Paneer and Peas is a beautiful, fragrant side dish made with basmati rice that can be made ahead of time and reheated for easy entertaining or quick weeknight dinners. It's warm flavours make it a perfect comfort dish for cooler weather.
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When you want to create a fragrant rice dish, basmati and jasmine rice are two great options. They both have a distinctive aroma and flavour that enhances a fragrant rice dish but, they're not always interchangeable.
For our Fragrant Cilantro with Paneer and Peas, we chose basmati rice because of it's natural tendency for the grains to separate making it really easy to fluff and mix with other ingredients. Jasmine rice tends to be moister and the grains stick together. So make sure you choose the right one for your dish when you're working with one of these fragrant rice varieties.
For this recipe we wanted to create a side dish that was both easy, could be made ahead of time and that had some warm, comforting flavours that make it perfect for fall and winter entertaining or an easy week night meal. This is also a dish that tastes even better after spending a night in the fridge, allowing the flavours to deepen.
Working With Paneer
If you're not familiar with Paneer, it's a fresh farmer's type cheese that's not aged. It's very common in Indian dishes and while it differs from Halloumi in terms of acid content, they do share a similar texture. (Paneer is a high acid cheese, Halloumi has almost no acid at all in it).
Like Halloumi, Paneer doesn't really melt at normal cooking temperatures so it's a great cheese for frying, grilling or adding to hot dishes where you want the cheese to hold its shape.
Like most fresh cheeses, Paneer has a very mild flavour on its own, which is why it's often cooked or fried with a variety of spices or used in dishes that have a lot of flavours. Paneer is available in most major grocery stores in the dairy or deli section.
In our fragrant cilantro rice, paneer is a perfect partner to the basmati rice and the peas, giving you lots of different textures in the dish with very little effort. The basmati rice's natural tendency to separate and stay fluffy ensures the three main ingredients mix nicely without clumping or becoming sticky.
Spice Up Your Life!
We've kept the spices quite mild in our recipes which is usually a good idea if you're entertaining a lot of guests with different levels of tolerance to spicy food. But if you know your audience and you're not afraid to kick up the heat, go for it! Our spice levels here will ensure you have good flavour but it will be mild enough for everyone. (I double the curry in my own kitchen and add a dash of ground red chili peppers for a little extra heat).
Using crushed fresh garlic and ground fresh ginger will ensure even more flavour that's evenly distributed. And of course, the cilantro really shines in this dish!
Making Your Cilantro Rice Ahead Or Storing For Later
Rice is easy to reheat and this cilantro rice with paneer and peas is no exception. I find the flavours deepen after spending a night in the fridge so if you need an easy side dish for fall or winter entertaining, this is one you can definitely make up to 2-3 days in advance and simply reheat in a skillet or in the microwave. The Paneer will continue to hold its shape and the basmati rice won't clump together over time.
- 200grams of paneer chopped into 1cm cubes
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- 3 tbsp of vegetable oil divided
- 1 cup of uncooked basmati rice
- ½ tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
- ½ a white onion cut into half moons (you can dice the onion if it's easier)
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen green peas
- ½ bunch of cilantro roughly chopped (about ⅔ cup loosely packed)
- Cook the basmati rice as per your rice cooker's instructions or add it to a medium sized saucepan with 2 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Then let it simmer over low heat until the water is completely absorbed (about 20 minutes). Fluff with a fork.
- While rice is cooking, heat a large skillet to medium high heat with 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- In a small bowl, combine the pieces of paneer with the remaining 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and the cumin and chili powder until well combined and the paneer is evenly coated.
- When the skillet is hot, add the paneer mixture (you can test the heat with one piece of paneer - toss it in and if it sizzles the pan is hot enough). Cook the paneer until the sides are a crispy golden brown.
- Lower the pan heat to medium-low and add in the curry powder, salt, pepper, garlic, ginger and onions. Stir constantly until spices become fragrant and onion becomes translucent
- Add in the peas and stir until cooked.
- By this time your rice should be cooked. Add it into the skillet and mix into the paneer mixture along with ⅔rd of the chopped cilantro. Heat until the cilantro is a bright green and slightly softened and the rice is well combined.
- Top with the remaining cilantro before serving
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