Saturday, June 11, 2011

Paalak Paneer

The entire purpose of yesterday's experiment in cheese-making was to make this dish: Paalak Paneer. Simply defined, this common Indian dish is a cheese and spinach curry. It is deceptively simple to make (once you have secured your paneer, anyway). And I found it to be a pleasant way to trick my husband into eating a hearty helping of leafy greens.

You should be able to find cubed paneer at any Indian market, but do consider making you own. The process is incredibly simple. You only need two ingredients. The one draw back is having to plan ahead to ensure the paneer has enough time to cool and become firm.

adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide

serves 4

The Ingredients:
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and minced
2 1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (equal parts minced ginger and minced garlic)
1/4 cup tomato puree (fresh or canned)
2 Serrano green chilies, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder
salt to taste
1 (10-oz) pkg chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 cup water, at room temperature
1 cup paneer, fried*
1 Tbsp heavy cream, for garnish

The Process:
In a medium-sized pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium. Add the onion and fry, stirring continuously until the onions are golden brown in color, about 5 minutes.

Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for 1 minute. Add the tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes.

Quickly add the serrano chilies, turmeric, garam masala, cumin, coriander, red chili and salt saute for 30 seconds.

Add the spinach and fry for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and cook, uncovered on low heat for about 20 minutes. If the mixture starts to dry out, add more water. Cook until spinach is soft.

Add the paneer to the spinach mixture; saute uncovered for 5 minutes. Garnish with heavy cream and serve hot.

*My paneer was home-made and barely one day old. To prepare the firm cake of cheese: cube the paneer with a sharp knife. In a deep skillet heat oil on medium. Pan-fry a few of paneer at a time until golden brown on all sides. A remove to a paper towel to cool and to drain the excess oil.

My Modifications:
I doubled the spinach and curry base, but kept the paneer to the generous cup that my cheese-making had yielded. I did not double the Serrano peppers, either...hoping to make a milder and more enticing dish for a broader scope of people.

And as recommended by a footnote on the recipe a pureed a portion of the spinach to create a creamier dish.

The Review:
Healthy, hearty and full of flavor. Despite the strong Indian spices, ginger and garlic, the mild lemony flavor of the paneer held its own. The flavor of the spinach, however fell by the wayside.

I was incredibly pleased with this vegetarian entree...the only thing I may try differently is using fresh spinach...especially now that the farmer's markets are out in full force.

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