Tuesday, May 12, 2015

saag paneer.

As I near the last days of my twenties, I've begun to realize that I've grown old.  9 years ago when I was a 21 year old baby, I was a hell of a lot more spontaneous.  I drank beers on Wednesday nights just because the weather was nice.  I lived a little (or maybe a lot).  But now - I've become diligent.   I make sure I get my required 10,000 steps a day.  I eat my vegetables and drink my green juice and I run because it's good for me (my shopping habits on the other hand have not become quite as responsible) .

I worry I am starting to sound boring.
I worry I've become set in my ways.

While I don't see myself spending my Tuesdays evenings at the bar, I do plan on trying to push myself out of my comfort zone.  30 does not mean old.  Your thirties are supposed to be the best years of your life - you're a little more sure of yourself and still young enough to go out and try new things.  Changes will happen via baby-steps, but what better way to start then via my cooking?

While my love of ethnic foods knows no bounds, I usually shy away from making it at home because I am convinced someone else can always make it better.  But in an effort to challenge myself, I figured it was time to finally tackle something new i.e. Indian food.

Indian recipes are usually filled with so many spices that I become slightly nauseous at the idea of filling my cabinets with a plethora of things I will never use again - but it wasn't until I fell into the rabbit hole of saag paneer recipes that I discovered only a handful of spices were required.  This is why I found myself turning 1 1/2 pounds of spinach into one delicious dish.  Comforting, spicy, absurdly flavorful, and frighteningly easy.  A new staple has been discovered.  

Saag Paneer 
Recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I don't know if what I made is traditional in the slightest but the bones of the traditional version lie here. And even if this isn't traditional, I don't care.  It's too good.

Serves 4 (as a main) to 6 (if serving with other things)

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, well washed and dried (if you aren't using baby spinach, make sure you remove the thick stems)
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt plus more to taste
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4]2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne (depending on your heat level - I would start with 1/4, taste, and add more as necessary)
Pinch of cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper 
1 cup buttermilk
Generous splash of cream

Chop the spinach and set aside in a large bowl.

While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saut√© until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.  Add the tomato paste and a splash of water and stir everything together.  

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.

Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time . Taste and add more salt and also some freshly ground black pepper if necessary.  Add more cayenne if you prefer it spicy.  

Spoon the spinach mixture into a Vitamix or a food processor.  Pulse the mixture until it forms a chunky paste (kind of like pesto).  Return the spinach to the pan and stir in the paneer and another splash of buttermilk or cream if it looks dry.  Serve immediately with naan or rice.   

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