Creamy, Dreamy Paneer Malai and Cultural Identity

You know how people sometimes talk about second generation immigrants as slightly lost souls – neither entirely comfortable in the land from whence their parents came nor completely integrated into the land of their birth?

Well, that’s not me.

I was born in London in the early seventies to two doctors who emigrated from India a few years before I was born. My sister came along 3 years (and five minutes) later. Throughout our childhood, we were brought up to have a strong connection to our relatives in India – indeed we visited them every few years, which we loved. But we were also brought up as British kids, free to take onboard our local culture, without the strict cultural and behavioural strictures that many other second generation children were, in my admittedly subjective opinion, shackled with.

That applied to food too – mum regularly cooked Indian food but she also taught herself Italian, French, Chinese and, of course, British dishes from cookery books and by trial and error. We probably had Indian food once or twice a week, if that. And we travelled a lot too, in our holidays, to wonderfully exotic places and mum would often bring home a recipe or two such as peanut soup from South America, something she still makes today.

What all this boils down to is that, whilst we’d often help mum in the kitchen, we never really learned to cook Indian food in any meaningful way – we didn’t pick up the techniques, the instinctive use of spices and wide repertoire of dishes that we might have resulted from a more traditional upbringing.

Of course, I think my parents got it absolutely right – I feel a pride in my extra cultural heritage, I am very happy in my brown skin, I will always cherish my links with India. But I am first and foremost British.

When I went to university, I soon realised I could more readily cook a roast beef dinner than a keema curry and turned to mum for help when I needed an Indian fix, phoning for recipes and snatches of advice during term time or bending her ear during trips home. A few years later, my sister and I both implored mum to write down all our best-loved of her Indian recipes in a more organised manner, so that we might stand a chance of perfecting our family favourites.

Mum started laboriously writing recipes onto index cards, two copies of each, of course. It was slow work. Not long afterwards, an Indian cousin of ours who’d moved from India to Europe asked if he might have a copy, so he too could recreate the tastes of home. At which point, the idea of a website came up. Mum’s brother pointed out that a website would allow all the family in India (plus some in America too) to contribute to the recipe collection, not to mention benefit from it too.

That was how Mamta’s Kitchen came to be born, back in 2001. Since then, it’s become so much more than its original intention – a family cookbook on the web. It’s become a resource visited and valued by cooks from all around the world and mum, my husband Pete and I (who run it together) love the positive vibe of the whole thing.

Just like many of our non-Indian visitors, the first place I turn to when I need an Indian recipe is the website!

Recently, I was invited to attend a fantastically fun event – FoodUrchin‘s imu for which he buried an entire lamb in what looked like a grave in his back garden, along with lots of very hot rocks and things on fire. It’s a Hawaiian tradition, the idea for which he found in a book.

All the guests were tasked with bringing something for the table. With all that meat cooking away slowly in the earth, I decided to bring something vegetarian, opting for this simple paneer malai recipe.

I’d never made it before and, even when it came out of the oven, at FoodUrchin’s house, I worried that it would be too bland to stand up against the robust flavours of the wonderful baba ghanoush, parmesan biscuits, salads, sauces, freshly made breads and dips that others had created. But, to my delight and relief, it went down very well indeed – I had many requests for the recipe.

Here it is as my mum makes it:

Mamta’s Kitchen Paneer Malai


  • 350 g paneer

For the first marinade:

  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp ginger root , freshly ground or finely grated
  • 1 tbsp garlic , freshly ground or finely grated or crushed
  • 1 ½ tsp salt

For the second marinade:

  • 2 tbsp full fat cream cheese
  • 3 tbsp full fat sour cream or thick yoghurt
  • 2 tsp cornflour (not maze flour)
  • 1 egg , lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder for colour
  • 3 red or green fresh chillies , finely chopped (red chillies look nicer)
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves , finely chopped
  • a few strands saffron , soaked in 1 tbsp of warm water
  • 1 tsp garam masala


I used shop-bought paneer. You can make your own, which will be a little more crumbly, following this recipe. I used full fat sour cream. I didn’t have any fresh chillies or paprika so I used some very hot red chilli powder instead. I omitted the saffron completely.


  • Cut Paneer into roughly 2 inch/5cm pieces.
  • Place vinegar in a bowl and add salt, ginger and garlic. Mix.
  • Add Paneer cubes, mix and marinate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
  • Make a paste of the cream cheese, sour cream, egg, chillies, coriander, saffron, paprika and corn flour. (Mix this by hand rather than using a food processor, as a processor will reduce it to a thin runny liquid).
  • Lift paneer cubes pieces from the first marinade, leaving the liquid behind (but taking some of the ginger and garlic solids, if you like). Add them to 2nd marinade and gently turn to coat well. Allow to stand for an hour (or longer).
  • Line a tray with aluminium foil and cook for 10-20 minute, turning once or twice, to ensure even cooking.
  • They are ready when the marinade has formed a firm crust on the paneer cubes and they have started to take on a little colour at the edges.
  • If you do not have a grill or oven, you can stir-fry them in a heated wok in 2 tablespoons oil.

Mum would usually serve these cubes on a bed of lettuce with some lemon wedges, but in this case, they were eaten straight from the oven dish, in very short order!

Made the recipe? Let us know how you enjoyed it in the comments!

Browse our full collection of curry recipes from around the world.

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
9 Comments to "Creamy, Dreamy Paneer Malai and Cultural Identity"

  1. leiladukes

    Great post Kavey, I love the story about your family history. My upbringing wasn't totally unlike yours — my heritage is half Persian, half English; while I was brought up a Londoner, the foods we typically ate at home were Middle Eastern with a few British dishes thrown in. It was only when I went to university that I widened my repertoire.

    I have always thought of my “roots” as being Middle Eastern but recently I stumbled across a box of recipes on index cards, written by late paternal (English) grandmother in careful, spidery handwriting and realised that I fail to recognise the roots I have in the very country I live in! I have been thinking of typing/scanning her cooking legacy onto a website for a while (it helps that she was known in the family for being a cracking cook, far before foodyism was trendy in the UK) and your story has nudged me a bit further to making that a reality. Would be great to get some pointers from you before I start out!

    Take care,

    Leila x

  2. Kavey

    @Leila, thank you and shall we arrange to meet up for coffee and chit chat? Would love to hear more about your own experiences and if there is any advice I can share, would be happy to. Do you know my mum's site, Mamta's Kitchen?

    @Su-Lin, hope you enjoy it!

  3. The London Foodie

    What a lovely and personal post, great read as always. Thanks for sharing it with us. I should try and cook more with paneer, I really love it.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  4. Kavey

    @Leila – got your messages, thanks, coffee will be very nice!

    @Bribedwithfood – thanks hun, hope you enjoy!

    @Luiz – hello lovely, glad you enjoyed… lots more paneer recipes on mum's site, let me know if you want recos!


Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating