Saag Paneer

When I went to Oregon, Mom had messaged me asking if I’d show her a couple of recipes while I was there, and wanting to know what she should buy for them. Now, I know perfectly well she’s capable of cooking them without me, but it was really nice to spend some time in the kitchen with her. Thanks, Mom.

My mother and sister cannot eat gluten for medical reasons, not some fad diet, so we picked recipes that reflected that. I suggested Pad Thai, with rice noodles, and something I’d never cooked myself, although I have done other Indian dishes, saag paneer. I’ll cover that today in the blog.

We used this recipe for the spinach cheese dish.  I did modify it slightly. Also, this was the first time I’d made cheese, which was pretty nifty. Mom’s an old hand, she keeps goats and makes soft cheese fairly often. Paneer, the Indian cheese used in this dish, is basically the same as Queso Blanco. It’s a very fresh cheese, can be made in mere moments, and it does not melt. In texture it’s firmer than tofu, but like tofu is almost flavorless on its own. With the level of spices in this dish, that’s not a problem at all.

Milk and lemon juice
Soft Curds, draining
Compressed, chilled, now a dense soft cheese

The cheese making went smoothly, starting with 8 cups of regular whole milk (not goat’s milk, Mom’s does are dry at this time of year). Brought to a low boil (high elevations made it hard to bring to a full boil) and addition of lemon juice, which started to curdle, then separate as you see in the top picture.

After this stage, the curds are slowly poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth (Mom corrected me, I was expecting the loosely woven stuff you see at the store, but she says real cheesecloth is basically muslin). She warned me to pour very slowly, or it could slop and burn me. Once the curds were all out of the pot, they are allowed to drain for five minutes, then hung and gently squeezed to drain some more before being twisted up tightly and placed in the refrigerator to chill, with a weight on top. That photo didn’t come out, but I was using two plates with a large tin of pumpkin on for a weight.

We went to my grandmother’s house to finish the recipe as we were eating there. This posed a few logistical problems, as you will see, I put all the spices into a baggie so I didn’t have to pack up multiple containers of spice.

spices to travel
turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and other spices. It smelled so good.
hungarian paprika
You know I’m always telling you to use the good stuff? This is the good stuff.

Once at grandma’s house, I tossed the spices with the cubed cheese to marinate it, and prepped the onion, garlic, and ginger. We used a whole serrano chile, pithed and seeded, but I think a half would have been better. It was spicier than we wanted.

paneer cheese
Cubes of paneer and chopped onion
cooking flavors
Onion, garlic, ginger, and serrano chiles.
saag paneer
Cubes of cheese tossed with the spices to soak up flavors

I did skip the part where she browns the paneer separately due to time and space constraints. I did not skip the part where you carefully caramelize the onion and other flavor components, that is important. Don’t rush it. The brand of frozen spinach Mom picked up for the recipe was pre-squeezed I think, as it was rather dry and I had to add about 1/4 cup of water during cooking. Keep an eye on it during the final stage, so it doesn’t stick and burn. When stirring, do so with gentle folding motions to keep from crumbling up your cheese. Mine held together fairly well.

Saag Paneer-9And there you are! Green cheesy stuff with a huge spicy kick! This was served as a side dish, but it could easily make a meal on it’s own. I’ll have to make it at home sometime soon for the First Reader, who has tasted it and seemed to enjoy at a restaurant.