Sunday, April 15, 2007

Palak (Saag) Paneer

She's not much to look at, but damn, she is tasty. Palak paneer is a consistant favorite of mine at Indian gatherings -- her incarnations vary but are inevitably delicious. This recipe hails from the creamier end of the spectrum -- smooth, rich, and spinach-tacular!

2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1" piece ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 c. ghee (ie indian clarified butter), or oil
1/2c whole milk yogurt
splash of cream, to taste, if desired
1 tsp. garam masala
8 oz. paneer (indian fresh cheese)
pinch cumin (toasted seeds or ground)
pinch turmeric
1-3 dried chilies
freshly ground black pepper
additional oil for panfrying paneer

Using a blender, puree onion, garlic, and ginger. In a stovepan, heat ghee or oil on medium and add onion blend. Sautee until onion is well cooked (will give off carmelized odors rather than stinging fresh onion odors), about 10-15 minutes. Add spices, sautee an additional minutes. Add spinach. Cook until spinach is reduced and takes on an olive, rather than vibrant green, color, about 7-10 minutes. Remove stovepan from heat and transfer contents to blender or food processor. Process until smooth, adding additional water if needed. Return to stovepan. Heat blended spinach, adding yogurt and cream, if desired. If mixture is too thick, add additional water. In a separate pan, add 1/2 in oil and heat. Slice paneer to 1"x 1/2" x 1/2" rectangles. Fry lightly in oil until browned and transfer to spinach mixture. Salt and pepper as desired.

There are a lot of variations on this dish depending on region, family recipe, etc. Many versions throw a diced tomato or two into the spinach as the dish cooks down, yielding a brighter and sweeter curry. Others include more cumin powder, or turmeric, or coriander. Still others add considerably more cream, or blanche the spinach first, or don't fry the paneer. Anything that meets the definition of spiced spinach and cheese is legit, so play around!

About this paneer business: I made this recipe to use up the Cowgirl Creamery Paneer (also written "panir") I purchased on their tour -- however, you can make your own using whole milk, fresh (fresh is very important) lemon juice, and cheesecloth. Just take a liter of whole milk and bring it to a boil; add 1/2 to 1 tsp of lemon juice, and removed from heat when the milk curdles. Let the saucepan sit a couple minutes, and then strain out the curds with a cheesecloth. With the curds wrapped in cheesecloth, press out as much water as possible, and then weight down the curds under a heavy slab for 2-3 hours to let it drain. When you return, you should have a reasonably cohesive ball of dairy goodness, ready to be sliced and diced into your favorite curry.


Head Maven said...
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Head Food and Wine Maven said...

I love Cowgirl Creamery's paneer. It is so delicate and lovely, I enjoy eating it with just a bit of jam. I've been wondering what else I could make with this paneer, so thanks for the recipe.