Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palak Paneer

I'm going to be honest here--I'm addicted to Indian food. And not just any Indian food. As much as I love the Chicken Korma that I posted about before, whenever I go to an Indian restaurant, I always--ALWAYS--get the Palak Paneer. Sometimes they try to trick me out of it by naming it something different. I think it is occasionally Saag Paneer, but I'm not making any promises here. If you order Saag Paneer and it isn't this, don't blame me.

It never occurred to me that I could make Palak Paneer at home until I had it at my dad's house. After that, I assumed that there were all sorts of weird ingredients that I'd need and didn't bother trying for...probably two months. I was right about the weird ingredients--having a nearby Indian grocery store is a HUGE plus for making this, if for no other reason than "the spices are really cheap." (I recently discovered a way to make Paneer at home, thus bypassing the need for an Indian grocery store, and I'm determined to try it at some point. I just haven't had a chance yet.)

I found the recipe on Recipezaar. I bet you're surprised. I'd consider trying a few different recipes in order to find the one I liked most, but honestly, this one is just about perfect. I only make one small change--I use fat-free half and half instead of heavy cream--and it's amazing.

RECIPE: Palak Paneer
2 6-oz bags baby spinach (oops, this is another change--I use 6-oz bags even though it says 5-oz because I can't find 5-oz bags anywhere.)
1 large onion
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chopped garlic (oh this was also a lie, I always use more garlic. But not a ton more here.)
1 chopped tomato
3 tbsp plain yogurt (don't buy this at the Indian grocery store unless you use it a lot, they don't usually carry small containers)
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
8 ounces Paneer cheese, cubed
1/4 cup fat-free half and half

0. Chop the onions (about 1/2-inch to 1-inch square) and tomato. Wash and shred the spinach.
1. Saute the onions, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger in vegetable oil until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add garlic and chopped tomatoes, reduce heat to low.
3. After about 3 minutes, stir in one tablespoon of yogurt at a time. (The recipe says the small-amount-at-a-time thing prevents curdling, so I wouldn't mess with it. I haven't tried pouring it in all at once but I don't want to take that risk.)
4. Add the rest of the spices (coriander, garam masala, paprika and salt). Mix well.
5. Fill the pan with spinach (you won't be able to put it all in at once unless you have a much bigger frying pan than I do, in which case tell me where you got it), stir and let cook until the spinach reduces. Keep doing this until you've added all the spinach and it's all sitting there looking weird and not leafy. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
6. Scoop about half the spinach mixture into a blender and puree. (This is optional. I didn't do it the first time I made this, and I did the second. It actually does affect the taste, which surprised me, but they were both delicious. If you puree it, it'll be closer to what you'd get at a restaurant.) Return the pureed spinach mixture to the pan (use a rubber spatula to get the blender as clean as possible!) and stir.
7. Add the half and half, stir, and let reduce so it's not soupy. AT THE SAME TIME put the Paneer cubes into a seperate (small) frying pan with just a little bit of oil and let the sides brown. Yes, it's cheese, but it doesn't melt. (You can also buy pre-fried Paneer, but I'd feel weird doing that.)
8. When the Palak has reached your desired consistence, add the Paneer. And you have Palak Paneer. Serve over basmati rice with some nice warm naan. Yum!

The original recipe says to cook the spinach with a little bit of water before doing anything else. I like to cook it into the rest of the food. I guess this is up to you.

I was so surprised when I found out that this is how Palak Paneer starts.

This was shortly after all the spinach reduced, before much of the water simmered off. It's more what your dish will look like if you don't blend the spinach.

I've decided that next time I make this, I'm making my own Paneer. I'm determined. This might mean that you'll see a homemade Paneer post within the next few weeks, and it might mean I don't make this again for months because making cheese sounds complicated and scary (though the instructions are really quite simple). Regardless, when it happens, you'll know. (I think I'll also buy some paneer. Just in case it goes wrong.)

This is much more filling than one would expect--I mean, it's spinach, right?--but I always make a lentil side dish. I'll be posting that either Monday or Tuesday, hopefully, after I've checked the cookbook I got it from to remember what the actual Indian name for it is. I just think of it as "lentils."

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