Adapted from Sinful Curry
My son-in-law, Chris, just got back from two weeks in Shanghai, so he wanted anything but Chinese food for this Sunday’s dinner. I decided on Indian and I was trying for 5 dishes: Chicken Dopiaza (Chicken and Onion Curry), Chana Peshawari (Piquant Chickpeas), Split Red Gram (lental) Dal, Saag Paneer, and Pulao Rice. I have never made the first three dishes and they are definitely works in progress to be posted later. Last year I started making my own Palak Paneer. Once you have made fresh palak paneer you will find it hard to go back to any of the commercial imitations that are available.
From my research on the web I understand that the difference between Palak and Saag Paneer is that if you only use only spinach it is a Palak and if you use a mixture of greens it is a Saag. I checked out many recipes on-line and Julie Tharakan’s seemed like it would be close to the traditional recipe what I was looking for. Imagine my surprise that, while she is ethnically Indian, she lives not too far from myself in Silicon Valley. When people come to Silicon Valley, they bring their food with them.
Some of the ingredients may be hard to come by if you do not live near an Indian store, like I have in south San Jose. You will never find fresh methii (fenugreek leaves) in your local Safeway. And paneer, Indian cottage cheese, may also be a challenge. For most recipes you cannot substitute American cottage cheese for paneer because it melts in a way that paneer does not. Below I will add the instructions I have found for making paneer from scratch.
Julie suggests that the mustard is optional, but around my table the feeling is that the dish is lacking if you leave it out. As a result this is a saag paneer, rather than a palak paneer. A second point is not to skimp on the cheese, there should be a bit of cheese in every bite. Use the entire 14 ox. of cheese for each dish.
Karl’s Saag Paneer
1 lb. frozen spinach
½ lb frozen mustard leaves
1 bunch fresh methii, chopped (fenugreek leaves, optional)
14 oz. of paneer
½ tsp. toasted cumin
½ tsp. toasted fennel seeds, slightly crushed
3 Tbs. clarified butter
1 med sized onion, chopped
1 tsp. ginger, minced
1 tsp. garlic, minced
2 jalapeño chilies, minced
½ tsp. turmeric powder
½ tsp. coriander powder
1½ tsp. garam masala
2 Tbs. fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
salt to taste
1. Blanch the frozen greens, the methii and the tomatoes and squeeze as much water out of the greens as possible and set aside.
2. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes and set aside in a bowl.
3. Cut the paneer into 3/8 inch thick slabs. Butter a griddle and toast them on both sides until lightly brown. Dice the slabs and set aside.
4. In a large sauté pan toast the cumin and fennel seeds for one minute. Remove to a morter and slightly crush the seeds.
5. Add the clarified butter to the pan and sauté the onions until golden brown.
6. Add the cumin and fennel seeds, ginger, garlic, chilies, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and tomatoes to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes.
7. Add all the greens and continue to sauté till they are fully cooked (about 10 minutes).
8. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly.
9. Stir in the mint and cilantro and use a blender or food processor puree the mixture, in batches, into a coarse paste.
10. Return the mixture to the pan and stir in most of the paneer cubes and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Let the mixture cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes to meld and bring it back up to temperature.
11. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining paneer cubes and serve immediately.
From From Bengal to Punjab: The Cuisines of India by Smita Chandra.
1 Qt. half & half
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1. Bring cream to a boil in a heavy pot.
2. Add the lemon juice and stir until the curds rise to the top and only clear liquid remains.
3. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
4. Strain contents of the pot through 3 layers of cheese cloth set in a fine sieve.
5. Tie up the corners of the cheese cloth to form a pouch and hang it from the faucet and gently twist and squeeze to remove the excess liquid.
6. Let the pouch hang for 30 minutes.
7. Remove the pouch to a board and form it into a block 4 inches wide and half an inch thick.
8. Fill a large pot with water and set it on the pouch to compress it for 2 hours.
9. Remove the cheese cloth and use.
10. Note: if you are going to fry the cheese, freeze it for one hour first to prevent it from crumbling.