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Palak/Saag Paneer

Our crop this year included a satanic bumper supply of silverbeet (chard). Satanic only because such a useful, nutritious vegetable can only apparently be grown in abundance, and therefore harvesting, cleaning and preparing food from it also happens in abudance. Three kilogrammes of raw cut fresh chard produces about 4 cups of shredded blanched leaf matter, and slightly over half a large stock pot of stem-based stock. Thanks to the unfathomable slowness of my cooking methods, preparing all of the above took about 3 hours. Prior to a shower, I smelled exactly like a giant blanched stalk of spinach. And we still have chard growing in reserve.

The only consolation is that silverbeet makes a great poor man's spinach, and shines in virtually any dish where spinach can be replaced with its cheaper counterpart. One of these dishes is saag paneer, or Indian creamed green vegetables in cheese. Palak paneer specifically refers to the variation of this dish made with Indian spinach (amaranth), a tender, delicate vegetable that we've just never been able to grow successfully. Saag paneer (made with any other kind of green vegetable) should be the proper name for this dish I'm describing, but again, due to the price of spinach, many Indian takeaways can and do get away with replacing their spinach for silverbeet and still call their stuff palak paneer.

But, enough of the spinach politics for a minute. The sane among us would probably prefer to make this dish with either tinned or frozen shredded spinach. It's faster, more convenient, and there's none of that growing-from-scratch business. You can, if you so choose, also buy a few large bushels of spinach (of any kind), hack off the roots, barely wilt it in boiling water, and chop it finely in a blender.

If you can't find paneer, the delightful Indian cheese that crumbles like feta but doesn't smell or taste nearly as disastrous, it is possible to substitute it with any good soft cheese that will reasonably hold its shape when lightly warmed. It is entirely possible to lightly coat the cubed paneer with corn starch or flour, and panfry it first, for added flavour. My favourite substitute is Kiri cheese (Laughing Cow cheese -- such a favourite childhood snack). This cheese magically holds its shape under heat, absorbs the flavours of the sauce, and remains rich and creamy forever. I've never tried frying Laughing Cow, but as it does withstand grilling in an oven pretty decently, there's a probability it can tolerate some mild flouring and panfrying.

My recipe for saag paneer is about as unorthodox as it gets, thrown together from various Indian and improbable ingredients. Creamed spinach was a real treat as a kid though. It was great for dinner, with rice, and went well with nearly every kind of meat dish there was.

Saag Paneer

2 cups shredded blanched spinach or chard
1 medium sized onion (finely chopped)
2-3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 tsp asafoetida (optional)*
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
8 slices Kraft Singles
1 tbsp sharp cheese (shredded)
1/2 cup paneer or equivalent cheese (cubed)
2 tbsp oil (for frying)

1. Fry the onion, garlic, asafoetida and turmeric in oil until fragrant.
2. Stir fry the spinach until warmed through.
3. Add enough milk to give the spinach a creamy texture (should be relatively easy to stir). Bring to a simmer.
4. Add salt, Kraft Singles and sharp cheese. Stir until melted.
5. Turn off heat. Gently fold in paneer so as not to break the cheese.
6. Serve warm with rice, toast or your choice of Indian flatbread, and perhaps a small platter of plain yoghurt on the side.

* Asafoetida is a garlic and onion substitute used in Indian vegetarian cooking. It is used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains as a replacement for garlic and onion in their dishes, as garlics and onions are considered pungent ingredients that may cause bad body odour (inconveniencing others). Asafoetida also helps make lentils more digestible, and, along with turmeric, a common accompainment, aids in reducing flatulence. If one so chooses, one can completely substitute the onion and garlic in this recipe completely with asafoetida.

** Saag paneer can be made and frozen for up to 2 months or more, depending on one's propensity to forget. It's a great way to hide green vegetables and consume massive amounts of the stuff all at once.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 10th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
jeez, youre making me hungry :(
Nov. 10th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
I have more saag paneer than I really know what to do with. The actual reason I have to make it is because it's the best way to get rid of our satanic chard bumper crop. The fact it can be frozen for virtually forever after the fact also really helps. It's a fast moving food in my house. :)
Nov. 10th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
we dont eat paneer in our house, but usually when there are weddings or something of that nature the indian restaurants catering often have palak paneer <3
Nov. 10th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
Oooooooo. Paneer is an awesome foodstuff. I actually got a recipe to make my own paneer from the wondrous _maldorora ages ago I meant to try. There was this vegetarian Indian restaurant I used to go to back in Malaysia that was run by volunteers of a local temple -- the kitchen was full of grannies -- and they had all kinds of grilled or curried paneer dishes. I am SO HUNGRY.
Nov. 10th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)
haha now im wanting some palak paneer and makhani chicken :o

but i doubt id be willing to go to a wedding for that...pakistani/indian weddings are so boring :P
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )