Friday, May 19, 2006

Recipe: Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes. It is an exercise in how many dairy products you can put into one dish-- it has five, which is pretty much everything except butter and sour cream. Plus, it features spinach, which besides being a healthy vegetable is also a difficult one to work into your diet. We all cringed when Popeye snarfed down that can, didn't we, thinking of that bland, squishy stuff going down his gullet? Saag Paneer puts the lie to every stereotype of cooked spinach you've ever had. This version is also very mild, mild enough that my kids will eat it. If you want it hot, you know what to do.

To make this dish you will need a cheese called paneer. If you can't get paneer, you can substitute 1 lb. ricotta that has been baked in an 8x8 dish for 1-2 hrs. until browned on top to give it a similar firmness, then cut into squares. Or, you can make your own paneer; it's easy, but you'll need a thermometer. The paneer recipe here makes double the quantity you'll need for this recipe, so either half the paneer recipe or double the saag paneer recipe and invite over a lot of friends.

Saag Paneer
1 lb. frozen spinach or 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1 onion, grated
6 cloves garlic, grated
1 oz. ginger, grated
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. plain yogurt
1 c. half-and-half, or 1/2 c. milk plus 1/2 c. cream, or 1 c. cream
about 1/2 lb. paneer

Combine spinach, onion, garlic, ginger, spices, buttermilk, and yogurt in a saucepan. Simmer 20-30 minutes. Add half-and-half and simmer 15-20 minutes more. Add paneer and simmer 5 minutes more. Serve with rice (preferably basmati rice) and/or naan.

Naan is a flatbread that is properly cooked by slapping it on the inside of a Tandoori oven, which is very, very hot. If you don't happen to have a Tandoori oven sitting around your kitchen, you can use a cookie sheet in your regular oven. Preheat the cookie sheet along with your oven to its highest temperature setting, and slap the naan on it. I have to make extra of these because my kids will eat an entire one each.

Naan (makes 6)
4 c. flour
1/2 c. milk, warmed
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. cumin
melted butter

Dissolve yeast in milk. Combine milk mixture with all other ingredients. Let rise until double; knock down. Put cookie sheet in oven and preheat to highest temperature oven can reach (mine goes to 550 degrees).
Divide dough into 6 balls. Roll each ball into a flat shape somewhere between the size of a burrito-size tortilla and a soft-taco-size tortilla. Place on hot cookie sheet in oven and bake 3-4 minutes. Brush with melted butter.