Saag Paneer is an Indian restaurant topper. This dish of spinach and cheese has a mass appeal to adults and kids alike. There is comfort in saag paneer which stems perhaps from it’s familiarity and yet element of adventure. The spinach itself is like cream of spinach and the paneer appeals to our mouth memory in the ‘yes, I know your taste’ – slightly mozarella, slightly ricotta. And then of course, there is cumin that is used in a mild manner and brings us back to the Indian subcontinent.
As much as I love to eat this dish, cooking the spinach separately first and then adding it back in, is a deterrent. It’s just one step and one dirty pot too many. Recently, I was thrilled to discover Peter Luger’s cream of spinach. It is sold in grocery stores and even better, a larger and less expensive package is sold at Costco. Whilst I am an advocate for fresh cooking, if it means I won’t make a dish because of the steps involved, then it’s best to give-up that brick in that moment.
Many recipes call for cream and butter. But if you use Peter Lugers spinach, it is already creamy (and they barely use cream – go figure!) and really doesn’t need more. This dish is cooked delicately. Unlike most bases that used caramelize onion, ginger and garlic (the North Indian soffrito), in this dish, these ingredients sweat lightly. The paneer, which is available at your local ethnic store in blocks (the way you would buy mozzarella), is soaked in warm water for a while to soften it and remove it’s industrial texture and then pan seared before it is added to the dish. This dish allows the 2 partners to stand out rather than get bullied by a list of other ingredients.
Serve this up with some warm buttered-pita and find a hobby for the night as this dish will take you less than 10 minutes to make.
Recipe For Saag Paneer – Spinach puree with Indian Cheese
¼ tsp. cumin seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1 x14 oz. container Peter Lugers cream of spinach (or 2 cups of home-made cream of spinach)
¼ cup of onion, finely diced
1 tsp. ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. lemon juice
6oz. paneer (recommend nanak paneer from local Indian store or halloumi from any grocery store)
2 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1) Soak the block of paneer in warm water for 5 minutes. Drain and cut in to 1” cubes
2) Heat the oil and add cumin seeds until the sizzle. Add onions and sweat the onions and ginger until soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking until garlic is soft (cover with lid so it steams rather than sautés). Season with salt and pepper
3) Add the spinach and lemon juice and cook until heat through. Add the milk and boil off
4) Heat a frying pan. Add the paneer and allow to brown on all sides. Combine the paneer with the spinach reserving 4-6 pieces for garnish.
Serve hot with reserved paneer garnished on top
Saira Malhotra, is of British–Indian descent and is a chef, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York City. Raised in Hounslow, U.K, or rather ‘Little India’, where the air is aromatic with roasted spices, little did Saira know these moments would follow her from being a student in France and Italy to residing in NYC with her husband and kids and parlay themselves unexpectedly in to a culinary career. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York City. Come visit her at her food blog: www.passportpantry.com where she shares approachable and international recipes