Jan has a potluck today and most of the other people signed up for meat dishes. Jan thought that there should be at least one vegetarian option. I suggested saag paneer, greens with cheese.
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, which can include spinach, it is a Saag. I checked out many recipes on-line and Julie Tharakan’s, at Sinful Curry, seemed like it would be close to the traditional recipe what I was looking for. For this dish, I decided to push the limits on the flavors and added more spice and lime juice, instead of the usual lemon juice.
Note: Since this was going to be a holiday party, Jan suggested garnishing the green vegetables with some red bell pepper.
Karl’s Saag Paneer II
3 medium tomatoes
1 lb. frozen spinach
½ lb frozen mustard leaves
1 bunch fresh methii, chopped (fenugreek leaves, if available)
1 tsp. toasted cumin
1 tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. toasted fennel seeds, slightly crushed
3 Tbs. clarified butter, separate uses
1 med sized onion, chopped
2 tsp. ginger, minced
2 tsp. garlic, minced
2 jalapeño chilies, minced
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. garam masala
3 Tbs. fresh mint, chopped
3 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. lime juice
salt to taste
14 oz. of paneer (See the recipe below, if this cheese is not available in your area)
½ red bell pepper
1. Set a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the tomatoes for one minute.
Tip: Cutting an X on the side opposite the stem end makes them easier to peel after blanching.
2. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes and set aside in a bowl.
Tip: Scrape the seeds and jelly into a fine meshed sieve and press the jelly into the bowl. Discard the seeds.
3. Blanch the frozen greens, and the methii for three minutes.
Note: You will only find fenugreek leaves, fresh, at your local Indian market in season.
4. Squeeze as much water out of the greens as possible and set them aside.
5. In a small dry pan toast the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds for one minute, until fragrant.
6. Use a spice grinder to break them up into a coarse powder or use a mortar and pestle to crush the seeds.
7. Add the 2 tablespoons of clarified butter to a large pan and sauté the onions until starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
8. Add the garlic and chilies and continue sautéing for three more minutes.
9. Add the cumin, coriander and fennel powder, ginger, and tomatoes to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to break down.
10. Add the boiled greens and continue to sauté for about 5 minutes.
11. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly.
12. Stir in the turmeric, garam masala, mint and cilantro and use a blender or food processor puree the mixture into a coarse paste.
Tip: It may be necessary to do this in batches.
Note: Garam masala is a finishing spice and should always be added during the last few minutes of cooking.
13. Return the mixture to the pan.
14. Cut the paneer into 3/8 inch thick slabs.
15. Add the rest of the butter to a griddle and toast the cheese on both sides until lightly brown.
Tip: Paneer is a very dense cheese that does not melt.
16. Cut the cheese slabs into cubes and set aside.
17. Stir most of the paneer cubes, the lime juice, and salt to taste into the vegetables in the pan.
Tip: Reserve some of the cubes as garnish.
18. Let the mixture cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes to meld and bring it back up to temperature.
Tip: Adjust seasoning. if necessary.
19. Remove the saag to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining paneer cubes and slices of red bell pepper.
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.
Note: if you are going to fry the cheese, freeze it for one hour first to prevent it from crumbling.