Thursday, March 19, 2009

Homemade Saag Paneer or How to Enjoy Spinach

Yesterday we made Paneer from goat milk graciously provided by the Alpine goats Katie and Ebony. Here's one of our favorite dinner recipes for using it. It's a mild recipe, but if you like your Indian food spicy, please feel free to add the optional cayenne pepper or use hot chiles instead of the mild ones. Saag Paneer is high in iron, an added benefit to it's deliciousity!

Indian Paneer with Spinach or Saag Paneer
This recipe serves 4-6:
1 lb. cooled paneer (about 2 cupes of cubed Paneer )
2 lbs. frozen spinach (thawed, then pressed dry)
2 Indian green finger chillies (or use 1/8 cup canned mild green chiles, 1/2 bell pepper, or 1/2 chopped pasilla chile or other mild green chiles)
2 tsp coriander , ground
2 tsp cumin ground
1 tsp mild chili powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil, divided use
2 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk, light cream, goat or soy milk, or suitable substitute
1/2 tsp garam masala
Juice of half a lemon

Into a blender, measure 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 medium onion, halved, 4 garlic cloves and 1 inch ginger piece. If you have ginger puree you may use 1.5 T instead. Blend until coarse.
Cut the paneer into even, 1" x 1/2 " cubes. Sprinkle the paneer cubes with a dry marinade of turmeric powder, half the chili powder and half a teaspoon of salt. Just toss lightly, and set aside.
Now heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a thick bottomed frying pan over a high flame. When it is hot, fry the paneer pieces until pale brown on two opposite sides. Remove from the oil, draining them carefully. Now add the onion, garlic and ginger puree into the same oil and fry until they are a pale toffee brown. Then add all the spice powders, except the garam masala which is added at the end. Stir vigorously for about 10 minutes on a medium heat until the pungent, individual smell of the spices change to a more melded aroma.
Now mix in the spinach evenly, alternating with 2 Tablespoons of flour, adding salt to taste. It takes quite a bit of salt, so start with 1 tsp. and continue tasting as you go. Lower the flame to a gentle simmer and let the spices work their magic through the spinach for five minutes. Blend with a stick mixer, to reduce the spinach into a puree, adding the 1/2 cup of milk of your choice or cream, a few tablespoons at a time. Simmer 2-3 more minutes. Finally stir in the garam masala, gently fold in the paneer cubes and the lemon juice. Let the ingredients simmer together for another five minutes and serve hot. It should be the consistency of a thick stew, so adjust your liquid as necessary depending on your simmering time, humidity of your flour, etc.
As a final tip, the flavors meld quite lovely if it’s left sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours before being reheated.
If served as a main dish, this is typically served with Indian bread - naan, but can be scooped up with a warm whole wheat tortilla, flat bread, or greek pita bread as an alternative. My children like it served over steamed rice too. As a side dish, it goes well with lots of little dishes, like dal, and tandoori chicken, or chicken makhani.

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