Friday, December 26, 2014

Saag Paneer

16 oz frozen spinach*, thawed and drained
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno or Serrano chile, minced (remove seeds to control heat)
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup to 1 cup plain yogurt, or mixture of yogurt and heavy cream. 
olive oil or butter

8 cups whole milk
juice of one lemon

Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth.  In a pinch, you can substitute paper towels, although they are not nearly as easy to use.

In a large saucepan, heat the milk on medium heat until it reaches a boil.  Stir continuously so that it does not scorch.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice.  Milk should immediately begin to curdle (if it doesn't, add more lemon juice).  When the curds have separated from the whey, strain the entire concoction into cheesecloth.  Run water over the curds (this removes the lemony flavor).  Squeeze the whey out and shape cheese (still in the cheesecloth) into a patty about 1 inch thick.  Place under a cast iron skillet or a brick and let rest for 20-30 minutes, while you prepare the spinach.

Saute garlic, ginger, chopped pepper, and onion in olive oil or butter over medium to low heat until onions are translucent and mixture starts to caramelize.  This takes about 15 minutes or so.  Add a little water if mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add spices and continue to cook until flavors meld a little, stirring often, 5 min or so.  Add spinach and cook until tender, adding water as necessary.  Add yogurt/cream slowly.  Add paneer.  Add salt and adjust spices if necessary. 

Remove paneer from cheesecloth and heat oil in a cast iron or nonstick skillet.  Brown the cheese on both sides, remove from heat.  Slice cheese lengthwise into 1-inch slices and return slices to skillet; sear unseared sides.  Remove browned cheese and chop into bite-sided pieces.  Add to spinach mixture, heat and serve.

*Frozen spinach can be tough, so it helps to throw the spinach and some water into a blender or food processor beforehand, chop the hell out of it for a couple minutes, then drain. 

**Several recipes for paneer suggest coating the cheese with a mixture of turmeric, cayenne, and oil before frying.  I find this to be messy (turmeric stains EVERYTHING) and not at all essential to the integrity of the dish.

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