Monday, February 25, 2013

Saag Paneer

Noodling around on the Internet, I found a recipe for paneer, a fresh Indian-style cheese. It seemed too easy not to try, so I did. Now what to make with a block of fresh Indian cheese? Why, saag paneer, of course!

Restaurant saag paneer is sometimes too thick and gloppy, so I made mine a bit lighter and fresher by not pureeing the spinach too smoothly, and cooking the dish for a relatively short amount of time. If you like restaurant-style saag, then you might want to puree the spinach into a paste, cook it for a longer period, and add more ghee (clarified butter).

I liked mine just fine, and leftovers made for tasty work lunches.


2 quarts whole milk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Pour the milk in a large nonstick pot or dutch oven and slowly bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When the milk starts bubbling, add the lemon juice and turn the heat down to medium-low. The mixture should instantly curdle, with large white curds forming in a greenish liquid (the whey). Stir gently for a few moments. If the whey appears more white-ish than greenish, add a bit more lemon juice. Remove from heat.

Gently pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander.

Rinse in cool water to remove the lemon flavor, then gather the curds into a ball with the cheesecloth and wring gently to remove excess whey. 

Then tie the bundle to the faucet of your sink and allow to hang for about five minutes. Take the bundle off the handle and form the cheese into a brick. Place on a plate, top with another plate, then weight down with a can of soup. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes before using.

Saag Paneer

1 lb frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
ghee (clarified butter) or oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch cayenne
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
12 oz of paneer (see recipe abovee), cubed
salt to taste
jalapeno hot sauce
pistachios or cashews

Place the spinach into a clean tea towel and wring out some of the excess moisture, but not so much that it's completely dry. Put the spinach and cilantro in a food processor and whiz into a coarse puree, adding a few spoonfuls of milk, if necessary, to aid the process. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add a tablespoon or so of ghee or oil. Add the onion and cook until wilted. Stir in the turmeric, garlic, chopped ginger, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Cook until garlic is fragrant - but don't let it burn. Stir in reserved spinach puree, yogurt, and milk. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the paneer. Cook for a few minutes, then add salt to taste.

Serve with rice and/or naan bread, a few shakes of hot sauce, and a garnish of nuts, if desired.

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