Monday, April 8, 2013

Saag (Palak) Paneer: Indian Spinach & Cheese

Saag Paneer, also called Palak Paneer, is a staple in Indian restaurants here in the US, probably because it's one of the most approachable dishes for people unfamiliar with Indian food. It's also a favorite of vegetarians and anyone who enjoys creamy, tender-cooked greens.

In India, spinach and a wide variety of other greens -- including collards, beet tops, mustard greens, fenugreek greens and more -- are often cooked with spices and paneer, a mild "cottage" style cheese that's usually formed into blocks and cut into cubes, much like feta. There are countless variations on this beloved dish, ranging from creamy-smooth to textured and mildly spiced to fiery-hot, and varying by region and from cook to cook.

Here is my version of Palak Paneer, aka Saag Paneer. While most traditional Indian cooks begin with fresh greens, I use frozen for convenience. You can find paneer, ghee (Indian clarified butter), garam masala, garlic paste and ginger paste at Indian markets as well as at larger natural or specialty foods stores like Whole Foods. While there really is no substitute for paneer, you can use vegetable, safflower or canola oil instead of ghee, and use fresh ginger and garlic to make ginger paste & garlic paste (it's very easy and more economical than buying the pastes). You can order garam masala online or make garam masala by using my recipe found in this old newsletter. Use your choice of spinach or other greens, or any combination of greens. I used a mixture of spinach and collard greens for the version shown in these photos.

Frontier Garam Masala CERTIFIED ORGANIC Seasoning Blend, 2.00 oz. Bottle
Buy garam masala
3 10oz (approx) bags of frozen spinach or greens, thawed
14 oz (approx) block of paneer, cut into 1/2" or 3/4" cubes
3 Tbs ghee or vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 hot green chilies, seeded & minced
1 1/2 Tbs ginger paste OR finely minced ginger
1 1/2 Tbs garlic paste OR 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 cup half & half OR cream

Heat the ghee in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add paneer cubes and brown on all sides, stirring as needed to prevent melting or burning. Use a slotted spoon to remove the browned paneer to a plate, then add onion, chilies, garlic & ginger pastes, salt & spices to the hot ghee and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and chilies are soft.  Stir in thawed greens, making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 20 minutes or longer for tougher greens. If the greens start looking too dry, add just a little water (no more than 1 or 2 Tablespoons) to keep them moist but not watery.

Once the greens are tender to taste, stir in the half & half or cream and the paneer, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes on low, stirring occasionally, until paneer is heated through. Serves 4 to 6 and leftovers can be reheated the next day.

Zestfully yours,

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