Palak Paneer (Spinach with Cheese)
By DK on Jan 07, 2013
There are two class of foods - ones made at restaurants and the ones made at home. Its unfortunate that the homey version tend to get a lot of flak for tasting inferior than when eaten at a favorite restaurant. I think the main reason for that , apart from not knowing to cook something correctly, is training our mind/palate to assume that "richer" equals "more flavor". Another common misnomer is the blind assumption that home cooked is "healthier" than restaurant versions. I feel extremely frustrated at times, when I don't find reasoning for things we do on a regular basis. "That's how our elders did it" - was never enough for me. I want to know why. Because not knowing would open us to communication gaps, misconceptions and errors. Questions like - "Why are certain foods put together?", "how does one ingredient affect the other", "why this and that should be used in combination" - pop in my mind often enough. Only the science behind will tell you how nutritious the food that you are cooking at home is. I think our great ancestors had that down pat, the knowledge of which is lost to us along the way.
So, honestly how many of you can answer it immediately, without referring, why adding black pepper and lemon juice is important in this recipe (apart from flavor i.e)? This is my quest, as a cook every day. I wish someone could just hand over a book that explains all this to me! Without such nuances, home cooked food is not at its optimal best, the way its supposed to be.I get answers at times and most times I don't. My search continues and while I am at it, lemme share this recipe that's the crux of all this thought process. This "homey" version of most popular Indian dish at restaurant - Palak Paneer - is how I like it. Its also known as Saag Paneer though I beg to differ since I think there is difference between Palak paneer and Saag Paneer
Emerald green puree, lightly spiced and dotted with spongy Indian cheese is good as it is. Adding all that butter and cream in the restaurant version (as if the fat from the cheese is not enough) does give it a mind blowing taste, but I taste the richness not the spinach. So, when I want to actually keep the integrity of the spinach in Palak Paneer, I make this. You can add more spices to it and change it around to suit your needs. Just keep in mind not to overcook the spinach - it loses all that beautiful color, not to speak for the nutrition loss. Irrespective of the motto of our current world, "real" and "natural" can, at times, be a good thing too :)
my kitchen notes
Prep Time: Under 15 min
Cook Time: Under 15 min
Serves: 4 people
Yield: Makes around 4 cups
- 1 lb (453 grams) Spinach, see Tips
- 1 large (8oz/230 grams) Onion,chopped
- 1 medium (100 grams) Tomato, chopped
- 150 grams (abt 5 oz) Paneer
- 1/2 tsp Cumin
- 1/2 tsp Fennel, see Tips
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed, to taste
Tips1.Spinach: I have used Organic Baby spinach for this recipe but regular spinach can also be used. Chop off the roots and wash well to remove any dirt. You can do a rough chop before cooking it.
2.Fennel: I use it for additional flavor, but its optional. You can replace it with cumin instead.
For a richer version: This is a homey version but adding richness is easy. Instead of oil, temper the spices in 1 tbsp Ghee or butter. Towards the end of cooking, add some heavy cream (abt 1/4 - 1/2 cup) to the pureed spinach. Keep in mind that it will lighten the dark green color of the final dish.
Wash the spinach well. I usually do that by filling by sink with water and cleaning the leaves. After removing the leaves you will find the dirt all settled at the bottom. Whatever method you choose, just make sure to clean it well since it hoards dirt very well!
In a large saucepan, add 1 tsp oil and to that add the cumin and fennel seeds.
Once aromatic, add the onion and in couple of minutes, add the tomato along with 1/4 tsp of salt.
Once soft, add the turmeric and saute for a minute.
Next add the washed spinach to the pan. I know it looks like a lot, but it will diminish into little in just a minute:)
In under a minute you will find the spinach wilting. You don't have to wait for it to wilt completely. Overcooking makes it lose its color.
Use a hand blender to puree the spinach mixture.
Making it into a coarse puree or making a smooth puree (you can also transfer to a processor and blend it) is totally up to you. I don't do a smooth puree and prefer it coarser. You can add some water/milk (or cream) to adjust the consistency if you find it very thick. I like to keep it this way since its more pleasurable later to scoop with warm rotis :)
Cube the paneer into desired shape and size. You can pan fry them but I prefer otherwise for this dish. If you are using a store bought paneer, take the required qty and bring it to room temperature. Or you can soak it for couple of minutes in hot boiling water. It tends to soften the paneer.
Add it to the spinach puree.
Make sure to keep the flame low and not to cook for a long time (will make it look murky green). Season with more salt, if needed. Keep in mind that spinach by itself is quite salty and doesn't require much salt. You know there is enough salt when the spinach doesn't taste earthy. Add the pepper and lemon juice to taste. I use pepper wherever I use turmeric (here's why) and the lemon juice here is to aid the absorption of iron from the spinach.
Serve hot with roti(s) and/or steamed rice. Nutritious meal all ready under 30 minutes.
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