Depending on where you live, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find a good Indian restaurant where you can get your saag paneer fix. You need not suffer any longer. Food blogger Aruna D’Souza has shared her recipe for the flavorful Indian cheese and spinach dish.
Don’t shake your head at the idea of making Indian cheese just yet. D’Souza explains that you can do one of three things, listed here in order of difficulty:
Pat it dry with paper towels, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. How easy is that?
Put it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl until much of the liquid drains out, and then squeeze it out in the cheesecloth by twisting and flattening it into a disk. Place it on a cutting board with a plate on top, topped with a weight — such as a heavy cast-iron pan — for 10 minutes or so. Then unwrap the ricotta, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. A bit more effort, but not difficult!
Place 2 quarts of whole milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar and turn the heat down to low. You'll see the milk curdle, with greenish whey separating from white curds.
Empty the pot into a cheesecloth-lined colander (or use a clean tea towel). When it’s cool enough to handle, bring the corners of the cloth together and twist tightly so that the most of the whey drains from the paneer.
Lay the bundle, with the top still tightly twisted, on a cutting board in the sink; top with a plate and a weight for about 5 minutes.
Then unwrap the paneer, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Again, a bit more effort, but authentic and not difficult.
Now that the cheese is out of the way, you’re ready to begin!
In a nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil. When it starts shimmering, add the paneer cubes. Let them sit until they form a bit of a crust; then turn. When the cubes are golden brown on two or three sides, remove them with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve.
Wash spinach, and chop roughly. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens, along with water (start with 1/4 cup) and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the greens are wilted but still a bright emerald. Remove to a bowl; after it's cooled for a few minutes, roughly purée in a food processor.
Wipe the skillet and heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds. When fragrant, add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add minced garlic and ginger root, and stir. Add cumin, coriander, red chili powder, garam masala and salt. Sauté for a few minutes. Add tomato and stir. Allow the mixture to cook at a lively simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomato liquid has been absorbed, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the puréed greens and allow to simmer on low heat with the spice mixture for 5 minutes until the flavors have melded. Add cubed paneer and allow to heat through, another 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for salt — it will need some. If you have time to make this a bit in advance, the paneer will absorb more flavor; you can reheat it when you're ready to eat. Serve hot.
Aruna D'Souza is a cook, a writer and a storyteller — not always in that order. She also writes books and articles on modern and contemporary art. You can check out her food writing and recipes at KitchenFlanerie.blogspot.com.