Everyone, I would like to introduce you to my favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer. Palak, this is everyone.
For my India challenge, I knew right away that I would make my own paneer. Paneer is a soft cheese, similar to ricotta. I've never attempted any kind of cheese making before, so I was kind of nervous. As it turns out, paneer is nothing to be afraid of. It's as easy to make as dried pasta (and far easier than rice, if you don't have a rice cooker), but way better because everyone will be impressed by your cheese making prowess.
There was also no other choice than to highlight my paneer by making Palak Paneer (also known as Saag Paneer....they're the same thing, I believe). Palak Paneer is typically made from pureed spinach or mustard leaves, spices, onions and cream. I hear that authentic Palak Paneer does not include tomatoes, but I had trouble finding recipes without tomatoes, so just rolled with 'em. Authentic or not, this was an AWESOME recipe. This was a restaurant-caliber recipe. This was not unlike the best Lamb Saag (without lamb, of course) that I've ever had, which was at "Taste of the Himalayas" in San Francisco. This made me want to hit myself for not attempting my own Palak Paneer sooner.
In other words....make this now.
Palak Paneer (from Show Me the Curry)
-1 (16oz) package frozen chopped spinach
-1/2 cup water
-7oz paneer (recipe follows)
-3 tablespoons oil, divided
-2 medium onions, minced
-1" piece of ginger, minced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-2 large tomatoes, diced (or a 14oz can)
-2 teaspoons Garam Masala
-1 teaspoon cumin
-2 teaspoons coriander
-1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (or to taste)
-1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
-4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (or to taste--recipe goes up to 8 tablespoons)
**NOTE: In place of cream, you may use milk, lactaid, soy milk, half 'n half, or evaporated milk, if you have allergies or just want to save calories.
1. In a microwave safe bowl, cook frozen spinach and 1/2 cup water for 7-8 minutes in the microwave, stirring at the halfway point.
2. In a blender or food processor, blend spinach to desired consistency (a few pulses should do it).
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add in the minced onions, stirring well. Cover and let cook for 5 minutes (**NOTE: Obviously, if you let them cook without stirring for 5 minutes, they will burn. SO, stir, cover, stir, cover, repeat for a few minutes. Let them get nice and browned, and then keep them uncovered and stir for the next couple minutes, so as not to let them burn).
4. Add in the ginger and garlic, mixing well. Cook another 4 minutes, stirring almost constantly so as not to let it burn. Add more oil if you need to.
5. Add the diced tomatoes. Cover and cook until the oil separates from the mixture. (**NOTE: I have no idea what that means. I cooked them until I was ready to do the next step, which included me reducing the heat to medium-low and stirring often. That worked well).
6. While your Masala (the onion-ginger-garlic-tomato mixture) is cooking, cube the paneer to 1/2" cubes (or whatever your desired paneer-size is).
7. In another nonstick frying pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil. When oil is hot, add the paneer cubes and let them cook until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and onto a plate with paper towl to absorb excess oil.
8. After letting the paneer sit for a few minutes, pour them into a bowl of cold water. Let sit for 5 minutes.
9. Once the Masala is ready, add in the mashed spinach. Mix well, then add in the Garam Masala, cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, and turmeric. Mix well, and cook 3-5 minutes.
10. Add in the desired amount of cream/milk. Mix well and cook another few minutes.
11. Drain paneer and gently squeeze water out of the cubes. Put paneer in the spinach mixture and mix gently. Serve hot.
Paneer (from 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles)
-1/2 gallon (2 quarts) whole milk
-1 tablespoon salt
-1/4 cup lemon juice
1. In a stock pot, add the milk and salt. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the mix comes to a boil. Be careful--once milk starts boiling, it rises FAST (you'll see in one of my photos the line of milk far above the actual liquid), so you'll want to be standing there, monitoring it to ensure no burning and no boiling over and making a giant mess!
2. Once the mix comes to a boil, add the lemon juice. Stir until small curds form throughout most of the mixture. Remove from heat. You may need to remove from heat right away to prevent from boiling over, return to the heat to get more curds to form, remove from the heat, and so forth.
3. In a colander lined with three layers of cheesecloth, drain the mixture. Pick up the corners of the cloth to create a package and try to wring out as much liquid as you can by twisting the cloth (this is HOT--be careful!). Once this is done, tie the four corners around a wooden spoon or similar, and place the spoon over a pot to catch the liquid drippings. Allow the cheese to drain for an hour.
4. Remove the cheese from the cloth and wrap in saran wrap or waxed paper. Weight with a heavy book for 1/2 hour to compress the cheese. After that's done, use right away or place in the fridge for up to 5 days before using.
-Yield: About 1 1/2 cups.