October 7, 2013

Saag Paneer Curry

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I adore the colour, taste and texture of this curry made with spinach (saag) and Indian
fresh cheese (paneer). Traditionally, the paneer is deep-fried, but you can use a skillet – saving some ghee and maybe a few calories. Saags come in many delicious guises. This one might just be my favourite, but chicken or shrimp saag really hits the spot, too. (Try: Saag Murgh Curry, Saag Jhinga Curry.)

1 tbsp  (15 mL) dried methi
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each: ground coriander, cayenne powder
1/4 tsp  (1 mL) ground turmeric
1/8 tsp  (0.5 mL) ground nutmeg
2 medium bunches spinach (1-1/2 lb/750 g), stemmed, washed
3 tbsp (45 mL) ghee
12 oz (375 g) paneer, cubed (3/4 inch/2 cm)
1 large onion, grated
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 tsp (5 mL) puréed ginger
2 large plum tomatoes (total 9 oz/255 g), chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) or more kosher salt
1/3 cup (75 mL) heavy cream (35%)
3/4 to 1 cup (175 to 250 mL) plain yogurt

Masala: In small bowl, stir together ingredients.

Curry: In large pan, cook spinach (with water clinging to leaves), stirring occasionally, on medium-high heat 5 minutes, or just until wilted. Drain, but do not press to remove more water. Reserve pan. Let spinach sit in strainer until lukewarm. Chop.

In 12-inch (30 cm) skillet, heat ghee on medium-high until shimmery. Add paneer. Cover skillet with splatter guard. Fry, shaking skillet and turning paneer occasionally, 5 minutes, or until golden brown on most sides. Using slotted spoon, transfer to plate.

Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) ghee from skillet to reserved pan. Heat on medium until shimmery. Add onion. Cook, stirring often, 4 minutes, or until golden. Stir in garlic and ginger. Stir in masala 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and 1 tsp (5 mL) salt. Stir in spinach. Cook, stirring often and scraping pan, 2 minutes, or until well combined. Add cream. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 5 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in paneer. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes, or until hot and coated.

Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup (175 mL) yogurt. Adjust salt. If desired, add some or all of remaining yogurt to adjust creaminess.

Makes 4 servings. 

  • For vibrant flavour, Indians toast and grind spices just before using them.
  • I fool with tradition and stir in the yogurt at the end, as it curdles and offends the eye when simmered.

Kitchen Secrets: Grating the onion using the large holes on a box grater is an Indian culinary trick. Be warned: It will make you cry. Finely chop the ends you can’t get at.

Shopping Cart: Drop into an Indian grocery store to buy the methi and paneer (fresh cheese sold in blocks). Some supermarkets now sell paneer, too, which makes me happy.

M is for Methi: Leaves from the fenugreek plant are known as methi. They are sold fresh and dried. The former may be called methi greens. The latter have a smoky accent; they may be labelled qasuri methi.

G is for Ghee: Indian clarified butter is called ghee. Longer simmering leaves it nuttier and more golden than clarified butter. Many supermakets sell ghee. Sometimes, I make my own.