Thursday, September 9, 2010

Saag Paneer

I love spinach in all its guises—fresh in salads, with a boiled or poached egg and dried potatoes, in soups, and especially in saag paneer, the lovely curry of spinach with homemade cheese. (Apparently saag is any kind of leafy green and palak is more specifically spinach.)

In contrast to most saag paneer/palak paneer recipes I see these days, I don't believe in using frozen spinach or baby spinach for this dish. It needs to cook for a while with some pronounced spices, and for that you need a sturdy spinach. Besides, I  like the greens to retain some of their structure, not to be a green cream. I like the 'wild spinach' that I can get at my Turkish greengrocer. I doubt that it is really wild—it's just robust.

Paneer is easy to make, but I sometimes wonder if it's worth the effort and time it takes to make—it is so bland. In future, I think I might try it with those mini mozzarella balls or some pressed tofu.



Saag Paneer

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 liter whole milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 pound spinach
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves, garlic, peeled and minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 chili, minced
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 teaspoon fenugreek, ground
1 tomato, chopped
2-4 tablespoons cream
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Method

To make the paneer:
  1. At least eight hours before you want to use it, bring the milk to a boil. When it begins to bubble, add the lemon juice, take it off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. The cheese curds will separate from the whey.
  2. Line a sieve with three layers of cheesecloth and position it over a bowl. Pour the curds and whey through. (You can use the whey in soups or for other cooking purposes.)
  3. Gather the curds in the cheese cloth and twist to get as much moisture out as possible.
  4. Flatten the curds in their cloth into a disk, place on a plate, and put a heavy weight on it. I use a cast iron frying pan. Let it stand in a cool place for 4 to 8 hours. Theoretically the fridge is the best place, but as long as it isn't a really hot day, I think you can get away with it at room temperature. 
  5. When all the moisture is pressed out, use the paneeror refrigerate it.


To make the dish:
  1. Cut the paneer in cubes.
  2. In a non-stick pan, heat the oil and fry the paneer, gently turning it to brown on all sides. 
  3. Sprinkle with garam masala and paprika and set aside.
  4. Wash the spinach. In a large pot, cook it with just the water clinging to it until it wilts. 
  5. Drain, squeeze out the excess water, and chop coarsely.
  6. Puré the onions, garlic, ginger, and pepper in a food processor with about half a cup of water, or reserved whey.
  7. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat, then add the puréed onion mixture. 
  8. Cook, stirring constantly for 10 to 15minutes until the vegetables begin to brown, adding a little more oil if necessary.
  9. Add a bit of oil, then add the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek, letting the spices fry for a minute or so.
  10. Add the spinach, tomato, and cream. Stir, cover, and turn the heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes.
  11. Add the paneeer, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. 
  12. Sprinkle with garam masala and serve over rice.

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