Another Indian recipe! Out of all the Indian recipes we make at our house, this one is my favorite. The main reason for that might be because it's the first one I ever made out of the curry cookbook that I inherited when I married Rob (the only cookbook he owned when we were married) and I was so proud of myself for trying something entirely out of my comfort zone.
The cookbook is great, by the way. We've made a half dozen recipes, and there pictures for every dish (this is essential!) as well as pictures for many of the steps. Those pictures are what probably gave me the confidence to ever try this recipe out. It's been a few years since the first time I made recipe and we've had it many times. Lots of ingredients, almost as many steps, and a moderate amount of time to complete, but all of it pretty easy. And oh so delicious.
This is the first time I made the dish vegetarian - with cheese (paneer - fresh Indian cheese) rather than with chicken. So, Chicken Saag (saag means greens - and BOY is this dish GREEN!) became Saag Paneer. I made the substitution for a couple of my friends who I know read these recipes and who prefer to eat vegetarian (Kendra and Kelly, I'm thinking of you!). But let me tell you, the dish is so much tastier with cheese instead of chicken that I will probably make it like this from now on! Chicken is a great blank slate that doesn't take anything away from the great flavors of the dish, but paneer adds an additional creamy element that can't be beat!
This dish can be served on naan or any kind of rice. This time I made our favorite rice to serve with Indian dishes. Feel free to use white or brown rice, but for added depth of flavor this rice is just about as easy as doing plain rice anyway!
A couple of notes: I don't know how easy it is to find paneer, here in the Seattle area there are plenty of Indian grocers so I didn't have a problem. Apparently paneer is easy enough to make. I say this because most of the recipes I looked up suggest making your own. I don't see myself every making my own cheese. Another thing - this recipe takes some time, not a crazy amount, but it will have you leaving time between each step to let the dish simmer and it's not all bad - it gives you time to prepare the next step, wash some dishes, or even check on your toddler every once in a while! Last note - even though the recipe for the rice is at the end of this post, preparing your rice should be your first step so it's done when your saag is ready to serve.
For the paneer:
12 ounces Paneer (Indian cheese, either store-bought or made)
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 Tbl canola oil
For the saag:
8-10 ounces fresh spinach
1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated (I use a 1/2 tsp of prepared ginger)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh green chili, roughly chopped
1 cup water, divided
2 Tbl. canola oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns (or table ground works okay)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (or 4 fresh, skinned and finely chopped)
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
3 Tbl plain yogurt, plus extra to serve
rice, to serve
To prepare the paneer:
one. cut the paneer into 1/2 inch or 1 inch cubes (I like the smaller size)
two. whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, salt and canola oil
three. gently toss the cheese inot the oil and spice mixture. let marinate while you're heating a large and deep skillet on medium or prepping other ingredients
four. add the paneer to the skillet
five. after a couple of minutes, toss the pan (or, individually turn each cube - I'm not confident in my tossing abilities). fry for another minute or so. the paneer should be browned on a couple of sides.
six. remove to a paper towel and let sit while the saag is prepared (and give the skillet a rinse and dry to use for the next steps:)
To prepare the saag:
one. Cook the spinach, without water, in a tightly covered pan for 5 minutes. Put the spinach, ginger, garlic and chili with 1/4 cup of the water into a food processor/blender and process to a puree.
two. Heat the oil, add the bay leaves and peppercorns, and fry for 2 minutes. Add the onion and fry for 6-8 minutes more.
three. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Add the curry powder, salt and chili powder and stir well to mix. Allow to cook for 2 minutes.
four. Add that beautiful green spinach puree and the remaining water to the pan and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
five. Stir in the yogurt, about 1 Tablespoon at a time and simmer for 5 minutes. Now you've got army green!
six. Add the paneer. Turn down the heat and keep warm until your rice is ready!
If you're using chicken: Add the chicken (as much as you'd like, cut into bite-sized pieces) instead of paneer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Serve with rice and top with more plain yogurt. The ugliest meal you've ever loved.
Indian Brown Rice
Either follow your rice cooker's suggestion for rice/water amount or use these (you'll need to 1.5 or double the recipe to have enough for all the saag paneer):
1 cup brown basmati rice (or just plain ol' brown rice)
1.5 cups water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried dill
1 Tbl butter
Toss everything into your rice cooker. Mix and press start! You might start using rice this with all your Indian dishes. We do!
It's green, but the toddler still devours it.