Palak Paneer (Fried Indian Cheese in Garam Masala and Cream Spinach)
There are few dishes as synonymous with Indian cuisine as palak paneer . After tandoori chicken and naan (Indian round fluffy bread made of white flour), it's probably the most common item on menus at Indian restaurants. Variations of the dish are prepared all across the country.
At the core, though, palak paneer is a very simple dish. Spinach (or palak in Urdu) is cooked with a spicy cream mixture and studded with fried Indian farmer's cheese, called paneer. The cream is spiced with the same masala that is used in many other dishes. If you're new to Indian cuisine, this is a great introduction. You'll never go back to regular old cream spinach again.
Yields: 6 servings2 (1 lb) packages fresh baby spinach (pre-packaged)
4 tablespoons ghee
16 oz paneer, cubed
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste
1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 whole green Thai bird chiles
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 bay leaf, torn in halves
1-1/2 teaspoons garam masala spice mix
1/4 teapoon green peppercorns, freshly ground
3 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
For the paneer: Heat the canola oil in a pan and fry all the cubes of paneer until they are golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel. Reserve the oil. Set the paneer aside.
For the masala sauce: In a medium-sized pan, heat the remaining oil. Add the shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the onions until nicely golden over medium low heat, stirring frequently, (it may take 5-10 minutes). Add the chopped tomato, bay leaf, garam masala spice mix and turmeric powder. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, then add the yogurt. Remove the bay leaf and transfer to mini-blender, blend until the sauce is smooth. Add the heavy cream. Set aside.
For the palak (spinach): Wash the spinach thoroughly in a large bowl of water. Drain, then remove all the excess water using a salad spinner. Roughly chop all the spinach leaves. In a large sauté pan or a large wok, add the minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of ghee. Cook the garlic for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Add the ginger garlic paste (see tips), red chili powder and 2 whole green bird chiles. Cook for another minute. Add 1/3 of the amount of spinach to the pan, constantly lift the spinach leaves using 2 slotted spooned on each side of the pan. The leaves will start to wilt after 30 seconds or so. Add the other 1/3 of the spinach and repeat the same procedure for 30 seconds. Season with a little salt (this will prevent the spinach from changing color and keep a bright green color). Repeat one more times with the rest of the spinach, then transfer all the container of the pan into a large bowl. Remove the green chiles, coarsely chop them and reserve them for garnish later (do not slice them if you don't want to make it too spicy). Set aside the excess water from the spinach if you have any. You can use the liquid to thin the masala sauce if the sauce starts to thicken too much (I usually don't). Using a handheld mixer, coarsely blend the spinach (about 2-3 pulses). Do NOT over-blend.
For the palak paneer: In the same pan, add the rest of the ghee. When the ghee is melted, add the masala sauce. Bring to a boil until it's thick and creamy (about 2-3 minutes). Add the fried paneer. Cook it down for about 1-2 minutes so the paneer soaks up all the sauce and is nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach and toss it for about a minute. Put the green chiles back in the palak paneer.
Serve with steamed basmati rice, naan or roti (flat Indian wheat bread). You can decorate with a few fennel seeds if you like.
Indian cuisine often calls for ginger garlic paste. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife, then finely chop the root. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.
You can either make your own garam masala spice mix or buy it at any Indian store.
It's important to slightly sauté the spinach in order to keep a bright green appealing color. Do NOT overcook! My other tip: A bright green colored spinach depends on the power of your stove. The higher the range of your stove is, the better. We use a 20,000 BTU burner at home. The food cooks faster and you get to keep all the nutrients in your food, especially when sautéing vegetables.
If you want to reduce the amount of heavy cream for health reasons, you can add about 2 tablespoons of cashew mill for the same creamy texture (but due to my little sister-in-law's nut allergy, I don't add it). She absolutely loves this dish.
A brief reminder on how to make cashew mill: You can either buy ready-made cashew flour, or make it yourself. Grind the whole cashew nuts with a food processor or spice grinder. Make sure you stop before it turns into cashew butter. I use the VitaMix Dry Blade Container. The result should be a fine white mill.Published By: on June 18, 2009.