I love Indian food. I remember the first time I went to an Indian restaurant. Growing up in Arkansas, Indian food wasn’t something that was commonplace. At all. In fact, the first time that I went to an Indian restaurant was in college. There was one in the entire state of Arkansas. A little place in Little Rock called Star of India. And even though it has been many years since I’ve been there, and I’ve been to a dozen other places since then, it is still one of my favorite spots. It was at Star of India that I discovered curries, biryanis, papadum, chutneys, and one of my favorite dishes, Saag Paneer. Saag is an Indian curry dish usually made from spinach or mustard greens, sometimes diced broccoli or other greens. It is like an Indian version of creamed spinach. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese. It is usually fried before being tossed in the Saag and is a firm, squeaky cheese.
I tend to judge an Indian restaurant by two things- the saag, and the samosas. Next week, I’ll be sharing a recipe for samosas that I hope you will enjoy. But for now, let’s talk about saag paneer! I made this dish, hoping it would be a decent replication of the stuff I get at my favorite restaurants, but it was even better! And it was easy! And I made my own cheese!
I’m sorry. That was a lot of exclamation points, but I’m telling you, it was pretty darn exciting.
First up, I made my own cheese! I went to a cheese making class a year or two ago and learned how to make some basic soft cheeses. I was surprised by how uncomplicated it can be. But this was the easiest I have come across. Seriously, you can make cheese in about two hours with about 20 minutes of work. Boil milk, add lime, drain, fry, eat. (More detailed instructions are below, but really, it is that easy.) One of the reasons I’d never tried to make saag paneer before is because my grocery store doesn’t carry paneer. Now I know that it is something I can make myself at home!
And then the Saag. It was pretty straightforward. Sure, you have to dirty two pans instead of one, but other than that, it was very easy to assemble. I am thrilled to find out that I can make this delicious Indian dish at home. Whether you are a curry aficionado or a novice in the world of Indian cuisine, you can make this dish and make it work.
This recipe comes from Entice with Spice: Easy Indian Recipes for Busy People by Shubhra Ramineni. I made a few more recipes from this book that I will share with you next week, and I’m very happy with this purchase. The book is straightforward, perhaps overly simplified, but full of delicious recipes. I look forward to diving into it further in the future.
Here you go! The recipe for Saag Paneer. You can do it!
Fried Homemade Paneer
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 lime, juiced (possibly a second lime)
- 3 TB vegetable oil
Heat milk over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed, medium sized stockpot. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium low before it boils over. Add the lime juice and stir gently for about 1 minute, or until the milk separates into curds (the solid clumps) and whey (the watery liquid). If the milk does not separate, add more lime juice, 2 tsp at a time until it does.
Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into four layers and line a colander with the cloth. Pour the liquid through, allowing the cheesecloth to catch the curds and drain the whey. When the whey has stopped draining, fold the edges of the cloth over the top of the cheese. Press a spoon against the cheese packet, draining extra liquid. Move the cheese bundle to a plate. Unfold the cheese cloth and shape the cheese into a block shape, about 3/4 inch thick. Fold the cheesecloth back over the cheese. Fill the stockpot with water and set it on top of the cheese to press out any additional liquid. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Remove the pot, and then the cheesecloth. Refrigerate the cheese for 1 hour or overnight.
To fry the cheese, heat oil in a large skillet. Cut the cheese into cubes and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
- 1 8 oz package frozen spinach
- 1 large ripe tomato, quartered
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 3 TB vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 1 green chili, diced
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Put frozen spinach, tomatoes, and water in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Pour the oil in a small skillet and place over medium heat. Add the ginger, onion, and chili. Cook until onion begins to brown and caramelize. Add to the spinach mixture. Add the cheese and cream. Simmer for five minutes over medium heat. Serve hot over rice.
Photographs by Jessica Yager.