Project Food Blog Challenge #2: The Classics - Saag Paneer


The second challenge for Project Food Blog is to tackle a classic dish from another culture. I chose to make saag paneer (also called palak paneer), a classic vegetarian dish from northern India. I have to confess that I tried to make Indian cuisine (mutter paneer) from scratch once before. Suffice it to say that it didn't go too well, as I scorched the milk when making the paneer and the gravy was way too watery and hardly the creamy and flavorful sauce I'm used to eating at my favorite Indian restaurant in Fort Collins. Giving Indian cuisine another go is most definitely an attempt at redemption after that abysmal failure.

Upon researching recipes for saag paneer, the unifying theme seemed to be that there isn't one agreed-upon recipe for this dish. In the end, I chose to meld together a recipe from one of the cookbooks I had on hand (1,000 Vegetarian Recipes) and recipes found online to make my final dish. In addition, this YouTube video was indispensable in helping me to visualize what the recipe would look like as I prepared it.

I opted to make the paneer (cottage cheese) from scratch. However, if you are lucky enough to have an Indian or international grocery store in town, you should be able to pick up pre-packaged paneer. If you'd rather make a vegan version of this dish (or, say, your homemade paneer turns into a mushy, oil-spitting disaster at the frying stage), you can substitute extra firm tofu, cut into cubes and dry-fried.

Since one of my favorite sayings is "Go Big, or Go Home," I also decided to make some naan from scratch as well. The results were not quite the same as what you'd find in an Indian restaurant, but also not too shabby for my first attempt, either. In the end, my (second) foray into Indian cuisine was definitely more successful than my first attempt, and I used a number of spices that I hadn't used before -- all in all, I'd call it a success. And hopefully this time I won't let another year pass before I cook Indian cuisine at home again!

makes 4-6 servings

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 tablespoons ghee, divided (see instructions below)
1 can organic diced tomatoes, pureed
20 oz fresh organic spinach, stems removed and chopped
1 1/2 cups freshly-made paneer (see recipe below)

1. Mince the ginger and garlic cloves. Place both in a small bowl and use the back of a spoon to create a paste. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Blanch the de-stemmed spinach leaves in the boiling water (I did about three batches) for about 30 seconds. After removing the spinach from the boiling water, place in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Use a potato masher to squeeze out most of the liquid from the spinach leaves. Place the drained spinach leaves on a cutting board and roughly chop. Set aside.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium-high heat in a medium-sized skillet. Fry the paneer until golden brown (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat, and place the paneer cubes on a paper towel to drain off any excess oil.
4. Add 2 tablespoons ghee to a medium-sized saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.
5. Add in the ground coriander, whole cumin seeds, garam masala, paprika, and ground turmeric. Cook until fragrant, stirring frequently. Stir in the tomato puree and ginger-garlic puree. Next, stir in the spinach and paneer. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until heated through.
6. Serve with basmati rice.

For the ghee:
makes ~8 tablespoons

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat.
2. Once the butter has melted, turn up the heat slightly and bring the butter to a boil. Continue cooking until the butter stops sizzling and brown solids have formed.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and let butter sit for at least 10 minutes.
4. Pour the liquid butter through a sieve to remove the milk solids.


For the paneer:
makes about 1 cup of cheese

8 cups organic whole milk (be sure that it is not ultra-pasteurized)
100 mL lemon juice (about 2 lemons-worth)

1. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir while heating to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
2. Stir in the lemon juice until curds form. Remove from the heat.
3. Line a colander with cheesecloth. Pour the milk mixture through the cheesecloth to capture the curds.
4. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth to form a ball. Squeeze out any excess moisture.
5. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth around the sink faucet or onto a wooden spoon placed over a bowl to drain off the excess liquid. (I did not use a long enough piece of cheesecloth, so I used a rubberband to tie up the ends of the cheesecloth and another rubberband to attach the cheesecloth pouch of cheese to the sink faucet.)
6. Let the paneer drain for at least an hour.
7. Compress the cheese by placing it underneath a heavy item (such as a cookbook) for 15 minutes or more. Cut into cubes for immediate use, or store in water in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to week.

For the naan:
makes 10 pieces

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups plain organic low-fat yogurt

1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Stir in the yogurt.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead the dough for about five minutes, or until it softens and becomes smooth and elastic.
4. Form the dough into a ball and place into a lightly-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel and place in an oven set to warm. Let rest for an hour.
5. Divide the dough into 10 different balls. Roll out each ball one at a time into a rounded disk.
6. Place a heavy baking sheet on the top rack of your oven and turn on the broil setting.
7. Carefully place a flattened dough disk onto the heated baking sheet. Watch closely and remove once the dough has begun to bubble and lightly brown in spots, about 1-2 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven, brush with ghee, and serve immediately.

Comments

  1. What a challenge! Looks like you really pulled it off. I am not sure I would have the same luck trying to create an Indian dish!

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  2. this is a nice dish for pfb challenge 2 :) best of luck with the future challenges!

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  3. Looks like this was a success! Congrats!

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  4. Looks delicious - congrats on a success! I voted for you - good luck with challenge 2!

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  5. YUM!

    Voted for you and good luck with PFB :)

    I would like to invite you to participate in my giveaway
    http://atasteofkoko.blogspot.com/2010/08/mini-pistachio-tea-cakes-40.html

    Here is my entry for PFB http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/1039

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  6. What an excellent dish! You really went above and beyond with this one. The name of your blog caught my attention and I enjoyed looking through your archives. You definitely have my vote and good luck with future challenges! :-)
    Katrina

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  7. This dish sounds so good...Good luck with the challenge :)

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