The Cookbook Project: Saag Paneer

So here we are at the first recipe installment of The Cookbook Project. Yippee! Last week I told you about Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking book and my history with Indian food. This week we're making saag paneer, a lovely spinach and cheese dish.

For copyright purposes I'm not typing out the recipe verbatim. You can find the book in your local library if this inspires you to cook.

Saag paeer can be made with a wide variety of greens, but for most American palates, spinach is easiest.

I started by chopping up ginger, garlic and green chili in a food processor. My food processor wasn't quite able to make it a paste; you can easily buy a ginger-garlic paste in an Indian grocery store. Now I understand why it's available for sale. I thought of macerating it in the mortar and pestle but didn't bother. I don't think it had a significant effect on the final product beyond the occasional burst of ginger in the mouth.

From there I fried cubes of paneer in hot neutral oil. I expect ghee is commonly used in restaurants, but this recipe called for vegetable oil. Paneer can be easily found in the frozen section of Indian markets. It can also be made at home, but at this point in my life I am not that dedicated. I'm sure most restaurants use purchased paneer, based on the texture and taste of the finished product.

As the paneer was frying I put about a pound of fresh spinach through the food processor to finely chop it.

Once the paneer was fried I set it aside and sprinkled it with cayenne, garam masala (a spice mix available in Indian markets) and a little salt.

The ginger-garlic-chili paste went into the oil with a satisfying hiss. The house immediately smelled delicious. Who needs gingerbread houses when they can be redolent with ginger, garlic, and chili? After about 30 seconds I added a bit more salt and the spinach. I covered the whole thing to let it cook. The recipe calls for about 15 minutes; I remember thinking that was far too long, but I think it did take at least 10 minutes for the spinach to be really soft.

I added the paneer and some heavy cream, then covered again, and let it all cook on low for another ten minutes.

The verdict: It was very good, but not what I'd get in a restaurant. The spices were too mild and it lacked the unctuous mouth-feel of restaurant palak paneer. I may make it again, but I will use ghee, chopped frozen spinach (the fresh was lovely but too much work), and significantly increase the seasoning ratio. Overall, it was a good experiment and a nice reintroduction to Indian cooking.

(c) 2018 Laura S. Packer


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