Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Saag Paneer

I got this recipe from a friend after she made it for a dinner party. It was amazing. After trying it myself at home, I think it's one of the best Indian dishes I've ever made. The spices are dead-on, the perfect balance between earthy (cumin, coriander) and warm (cinnamon, cardamom). If you've loved this dish in Indian restaurants, but never made it on your own, this is the recipe to try.

It's originally from Food Network chef, Aarti Sequira. I actually adapted it to make it simpler. I have access to good Indian grocery stores where they sell Indian brands of frozen spinach that differ from what we're used to. Inside one bag, you get multiple frozen chunks that look like big ice cubes. It is chopped much finer than American brands, so it's practically a puree. The original recipe is cleverly designed for American grocery stores, so it includes instructions for running chopped spinach through a food processor. With the spinach from the Indian store, I eliminated this step.

The recipe even includes instructions for making your own paneer, which my friend did. She said it was easy, and the cheese definitely had great texture and flavor. I used store bought. I've also included my recipe for absolutely perfect steamed basmati rice. It took years, but I finally hit on the right method for grains that are never to soft and perfectly separated. I love this meal, so I hope you'll give it a try!

Saag Paneer
Aarti Sequira via Food Network 

If you have frozen chopped spinach from a regular grocery store, defrost in the microwave, squeeze out a bit of the water and puree in a food processor; this approximates the texture of Indian spinach. You can use lowfat or regular paneer or click on the original recipe link and make your own. If you don't have ghee, use oil. You can just as easily use chicken or lamb instead of the paneer, both of which you'll find on Indian restaurant menus. I rewrite recipes that aren't my own using my own words about 99% of the time; in fact, I usually alter them beyond recognition. But here, I borrowed some language from the original source (especially in the 2nd paragraph) because I thought it was perfectly stated. 

Serves 4 as a main dish

10 oz paneer, cut into 1” cubes
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
Indian chile powder or cayenne to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Safflower oil
24 oz frozen chopped spinach from the Indian store, defrosted and drained (see head note)
1 1/2 medium white onions, finely chopped
1 (3-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 3 tbsp)
6 cloves garlic, minced
Red chile flakes to taste
1/4 tsp (generous) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (generous) cloves
1/8 tsp (generous)cardamom 
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup (approx) homemade buttermilk or plain whole milk yogurt

In a large bowl, toss the paneer, turmeric, chile powder, pinch of salt and about 1 tsp safflower oil. Set aside.

Add 1 tbsp ghee to the to a large skillet and heat on medium. Add the onions. Now here's the important part: saute the mixture until it's evenly toffee-coloured, which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Don't skip this step - this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. After the onions have cooked for 12 to 15 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chile flakes. Continue cooking until soft and toffee-colored, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven't already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, until the raw scent of the spices cook out, and it all smells a bit more melodious, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and cook until most of the water evaporates, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and rest for 2 to 3 minutes. 
Add the buttermilk or yogurt to the spinach, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. 

While spinach cooks, add about 1 tbsp safflower oil to a heavy skillet and heat on medium high. Add paneer and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Add to spinach. If necessary, reheat on low, stirring frequently, just until everything is warmed through. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Perfect Steamed Basmati Rice
Julie O'Hara

Serves 4

Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 cup white basmati rice and cook, stirring frequently until opaque and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups water and a scant 1/4 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 15 to 17 minutes. Keep the pan covered and set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.


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Ravi said...

wahh..!!! i loved it..surely this gonna be my dinner tonight..!! :)

Jeff @ Cheeseburger said...

I haven't tried cooking Indian food at home before. But this one piques my interest. It looks delicious and exotic.