Saag Paneer is a great vegetarian side dish that is the perfect accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes. This recipe that follows is from Aarti Sequeira, one of my favorite chefs. You can serve it with Chicken Tikka Masala, which you can find on my blog.
Start with making the cheese. Do not worry, it is much easier to do than you may think.
Ingredients for the paneer:
1/2 – gallon whole milk
1/4 – cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 large lemons)
1 – pkg. cheesecloth (can be found in most grocery stores)
Directions for the paneer:
Pour the milk into a large pot and heat on a medium flame until it just comes to the boiling point. Stir often to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It will take about 12 minutes or so to do this. The milk will become frothy; do not rush the process.
In the meantime, line a large colander with the cheesecloth and place it in the sink so that it is ready when the cheese is ready.
Squeeze the lemons and strain it to remove the pulp and seeds. Once the milk is ready, turn down the heat to low and add the lemon juice. Stir in circles and you will see the milk form curds almost immediately.
You will notice a greenish, thin liquid form. This is the whey that separates from the curds. If for some reason the curds do not form, you can add a little extra lemon juice. (I have never had that happen).
Strain the curds into the cheesecloth.
Once the whey has drained off, rinse the cheese gently under cold water to remove the lemon.
Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and form a ball with the curds. Twist the ends of the cloth to wring out the excess liquid. Be careful as the cheese is still hot. At this point, let the cheese drain for about 5 minutes or so.
Now the cheese should be cool. Keep it in the cheesecloth and form it into a wheel of cheese. Place it on a plate and put another plate on top, and place something heavy on top of it (like a heavy can or bowl) to flatten it a little and make it smooth. Place it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before using. Remove the cheesecloth and set aside.
If you are not going to use the cheese right away, cover it with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. You can make the cheese the day before if needed.
Ingredients for the Saag (spinach):
12 – oz. paneer (cheese, recipe above)
1 – tsp. turmeric
1/2 – tsp. cayenne pepper
1 – tsp. salt
3 – tbls. canola or vegetable oil
16 – oz. frozen spinach
1- medium white onion
1- inch piece of fresh ginger root
4 – cloves garlic
1 – serrano chile (optional)
1/2 – tsp. garam masala
2 – tsp. ground coriander
1 – tsp. ground cumin
1/2 – cup plain yogurt
Directions for the Saag (Spinach)
First, cut the paneer (cheese) into 1/2″ cubes. Cut it carefully so that it does not fall apart. Next mix together the turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt with the oil. Add the cheese cubes to the mixture and coat evenly. Let the cheese marinate about 15 minutes. Heat a little oil in a skillet and add the cheese cubes. Cook until it becomes a little brown on both sides. Set aside while you prepare the spinach.
Thaw the spinach. Once the spinach is thawed, use a food processor to blend the spinach into a fine chop. It is not necessary to purée the spinach.
Finely dice the onion and Serrano pepper and mince the garlic, and ginger root. Heat 2 tbls. oil in a medium sized sauce pan. Add the onion, Serrano, garlic, and ginger and sauté slowly until it becomes caramelized. Be careful not to let it burn, you can add a spoon or two of water if necessary. Next, add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin. Stir to incorporate the spices and continue cooking for about 3 minutes. Stir often so that the spices do not burn. Again you can add a spoon of water if necessary.
Add the spinach, 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 tsp. salt and stir well. Bring to a boil and let cook about 5 minutes. Remove the spinach from the heat and add the yogurt a spoon at a time. Return the spinach to a medium-low flame and add the paneer. Stir gently so you do not break up the cheese. Cover and cook about 5 minutes more and serve.