Whenever I go to a new Indian restaurant I always try the tandoori chicken, garlic naan and saag paneer (or palak paneer). These are my benchmarking dishes and I am not ashamed to say my taste for Indian food is not much more complicated than these dishes. If I was stuck on a desert island (apart from feeling like I was in paradise) I’d be pretty OK if these dishes were all I had to eat.
Paneer is a simple cheese, made by heating milk with lemon and separating the curds from the whey. It’s also pretty easy to get in supermarkets these days, though I find store-bought can be a bit hard and the texture a little chewy. Technically this dish made with spinach is palak paneer, as saag can mean spinach or any other ‘greens’, such as mustard leaf.
This is a fantastically easy meal to make quickly, is super tasty and freezes pretty well too. Pity it’s a difficult meal to make look pretty in a photo!
Adapted from the wonderful SBS food
Paneer recipe from the Foodnetwork
Paneer (makes about 300 g)
- 2 L full cream milk
- ¼ lemon juice
- Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over the sink.
- Heat milk in a large pot on a medium-high heat until it just starts boiling – watch carefully, it can boil over very quickly.
- Add lemon juice and turn down heat to low.
- Gently stir in a figure-of-8 motion to allow the curds to separate from the whey (if nothing happens after a minute, add more lemon juice and turn the heat up a bit).
- Once the curds form, pour into the cheesecloth in the colander and rinse with cold tap water to remove lemon flavour.
- Gather up the cheesecloth and twist into a tight ball. Tie the cheesecloth ball over the kitchen sink tap and leave it to drip into the sink for about five minutes.
- Once the ball has stopped dripping, place on a plate (with the tie to the side) and place another plate on the top to flatten it.
- Place in the fridge with a couple of 400 g cans on top for about 20-30 minutes to allow it to chill and set into a firm disk.
- Remove the flattened disk of cheese from the cheese cloth and use immediately, or store in fridge for a few days.
- 2 bunches spinach leaves, washed and stems removed
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 cm ginger, grated
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon tumeric
- 100 g tomato, skin and seeds removed, finely chopped
- 225 g paneer
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoons cream
- salt for seasoning
- Place the spinach in a large dry pan over a medium heat with a lid and cook (tossing with kitchen tongs every now and then) until wilted.
- Place the spinach in a colander and allow to drain, then chop and finally puree in a blender until you get a paste.
- Melt the ghee in a pan over a medium heat, then fry the cumin seeds for 15 seconds until aromatic.
- Add garlic, ginger, shallots, green chilli and tumeric to the pan and sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes and cooking until soft.
- Add the spinach, cream and garam masala and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, cut the paneer into 2 cm cubes and fry gently in a separate pan in the peanut oil until golden (frying the paneer is optional, but heck, why avoid fried cheese when it’s this good?).
- Add the paneer to the saag base and gently stir though, cooking for a further 2 to 3 minutes before serving with Indian bread.