Saag Paneer Recipe

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Some people have requested the recipe to the Saag Paneer dish that Lindsay and I frequently make. As with the Punjabi Samosas, it comes from my favorite Indian Cookbook.

Before starting this dish, you will need two ingredients that you may have to prepare. First, you will need paneer. Paneer is a simple cheese made by boiling whole milk and adding something acidic (vinegar, lemon juice) to separate the curds and whey. The whey is then drained out and pressed for several hours to form the cheese. It is then refrigerated and fried. You can purchase frozen paneer from an Indian grocery and sometimes from international or oriental groceries. Here in Manhattan, you can usually get it at the Shamrock Indian gas station/grocer. I've also been able to find it occasionally at the International Food Store.

However, Lindsay and I have always found that frozen paneer does not compare to the real/fresh thing. So, if you have the courage and time, we recommend trying to make your own paneer! (We've also noticed that you get more yield and a better cheese from using milk from Jersey cows instead of Holstein, probably because they produce a higher butter-fat content milk --- in Manhattan, Emrich's Creamery milk, which you can purchase at Peoples Grocery, is from Jersey cows. Most all milk you find in grocery stores is from Holstein cows.)

Paneer - 4 cups 1/2-inch cubes of cheese

1 gallon (16 cups) whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

  1. Heat milk to boiling in 6-quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
  2. Stir in vinegar; remove from heat. The milk will immediately separate into curds (solids) and whey (liquid). *** watch very carefully because as soon as the milk begins to boil it will rapidly expand and overflow your pot if you do not remove it from heat right away
  3. Line large colander with cheesecloth or muslin; place in sink. Pour curds and whey mixture into lined colander. Lift edges of cloth; swirl in sink once or twice to remove excess liquid. Completely wrap curds in cloth; return to colander. Place a large jar, Dutch oven or stockpot filled with water or similar weight directly on curds. (I usually put 4 5lb. weights inside a stockpot) Leave undisturbed in sink 5 to 6 hours to drain.
  4. Remove weight and remove cheese to cutting board; discard cheesecloth. Cut cheese into 1/2-inch cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.
  5. Heat oil (2 to 3 inches deep) in wok or Dutch oven over medium high heat until thermometer inserted into oil reads 300 degrees. (we sometimes pan fry the cheese and sometimes deep fry it)
  6. Add about half the cheese cubes to hot oil. Fry 4 to 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until light golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining cheese cubes.
  7. Tightly cover and refrigerate cheese up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 months.
The second ingredient that you may need to prepare ahead of time is the spice mixture garam masala. You can purchase garam masala from a variety of grocery stores. Each garam masala is slightly different. Just like the paneer, however, Lindsay and I have found that making your own fresh garam masala yields the best flavor.

Garam Masala - 1/4 cup spice blend

1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (removed from pods)
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
2 three-inch sticks cinnamon, broken

  1. Heat 6-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Place all spices in skillet, and roast 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until seeds crackle, spices turn one shade darker and the mixture has a nutty, sweet aroma. Transfer to a bowl, and cool 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Place roasted spice blend in spice grinder. Grind until mixture looks like the texture of finely ground pepper. Store in an air tight jar at room temperature for up to 1 month; beyond that it will start to lose its full flavor.
And now the Saag Paneer...

Saag Paneer - 6 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped gingerroot
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
1 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
1 teaspoon grond red pepper (cayenne)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages (10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed (do not drain)
2 cups 1/2-inch cubes fried Homemade Cheese (Paneer)
1/2 cup whipping (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon Garam Masala

  1. Heat oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and gingerroot; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is golden brown.
  2. Stir in tomato sauce, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground red pepper, and salt; reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer 7 to 8 minutes or until thin film of oil starts to form on surface of sauce.
  3. Stir in undrained spinach. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until spinach turns a light olive green.
  4. Stir in Homemade Cheese. Cover and simmer 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese is hot; remove from heat.
  5. Stir in whipping cream and Garam Masala.

And that's all there is to it. If you've got the paneer and the garam masala, this is a pretty easy and quick dish to make. It's best served over fresh basmati rice (with naan if you've got it!).


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