Thursday, July 17, 2008

Friday night Indian food



This will be the first in a series of catch-up posts; I cleaned off the digital camera today and found all kinds of photos of food I haven't had time to blog about here yet, so here we go. Last month, Chris and I were craving Indian food but we didn't want to go out to eat, as we'd done so quite a few times already that month, so we decided to cook it for ourselves instead. It wasn't an entirely made-from-scratch meal; we used the President's Choice butter chicken sauce, and bought some naan at the local Indian grocery to have with dinner. However, I did make the saag paneer from scratch, and it ended up being my favourite part of the meal. A poetic friend from Buffalo sent me a recipe for it months ago and I had never gotten around to trying it out, despite the fact that it's my favourite Indian dish. It was long past time.

It was an amazing meal. The butter chicken sauce is an easy and pretty darned tasty shortcut (we got the regular kind this time, not the Blue Menu, and as expected, the regular one tastes much better and is far worse for your waistline) and the naan, warmed gently in the oven, was the perfect carby foil for the spicy and rich stews. We'll be making this meal again and again in cooler weather. The colours were gorgeous, too. I first had saag paneer at my friend D's wedding last year and I'm totally hooked on it now. It's fun to be able to make it at home!

Saag means greens, but you'll sometime see this referred to as palak paneer (spinach and cheese) as well. We did use spinach but I can totally see adding kale to it next time for fun. This recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. I made a half batch, using a block of paneer from the Indian grocery. It's a firm white cheese, very mild, that has a high melting point, so you can fry it without it losing its shape. I like to puree the spinach with a little water before cooking, for a smoother texture.

Saag paneer

1 inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 fresh hot chile, sliced roughly (I used a green one), seeds removed
Paneer, cut into chunks
salt
¼ tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 ½ pounds spinach, washed, trimmed, and very finely chopped (I used frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
3 Tbs heavy cream (optional, we used light sour cream and it was fine)

Put ginger, garlic and green chili into the container of an electric blender or food processor along with ¼ cup water. Blend until you have a smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick saute pan over medium flame. Put in the pieces of paneer and fry them, turning gently as they go golden brown on all sides. (This happens fairly quickly.) Remove from pan and place on plate in a single layer. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, the garam masala and cayenne. Set aside.

Put the paste from the blender into the hot oil in the pan (keep your face averted) and fry it, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Now put in the spinach and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir thespinach around for 1 minute. Cover the pan, lower the heat and let the spinach cook gently with the ginger-garlic paste for 15 minutes. There should be enough water clinging to the spinach leaves to cook them. If all the water evaporates, add 1 to 2 tablespoons (or more as needed) and continue cooking.

Now put in the paneer and cream, stir gently, and bring to a simmer. Cover, and continue cooking on low heat for another ten minures. Stir once or twice during this period. Serve hot. Makes about 4 servings, as part of an Indian meal.

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