Saturday, December 29, 2012

IHCC: Red and Green

Red and green for the holidays. Well the tablecloth is red and the spinach is green.

Actually, red things were hard for me to think of, but the green was easy. Saag Paneer has been on my make-me-sometime list for way too many years. It's a restaurant favorite, although sometimes the paneer can be a tad rubbery. With this week's them, I finally had the excuse I needed to give it a try. I found recipes in a several of Jaffrey's books, but went with the one in World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking (p240; the paneer is on p238).

As the red go-with, I chose Red Split Lentils with Cumin from Indian Cooking (p122). Red lentils are strangely mis-named. They're orange when you buy them and a rather unappealing gold color when they're cooked, but they taste good. This is a simple recipe I've made several times before so there was nothing new here.

Making the paneer turned out to be quite simple. You simply bring the whole milk to a boil, remove it from the heat, stir in some lemon juice, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then you pour the curdled mixture into some cheesecloth and suspend it to drain overnight. (I used butter muslin, and have recently read that it's actually better for the job than what I know as cheesecloth. When I went to top up my stash of cheesecloth last year, not having found any in French shops nearby, butter muslin is what turned up in online UK shopping.) 

The recipe calls for 5 cups of whole milk; I used a liter and adjusted the lemon juice accordingly. It was strange to me that there was almost exactly a liter of whey after the curds were removed. And, actually, not much more liquid came off beyond the whey that originally formed. It could have evaporated, I suppose, but since it's been raining most of the time of late (we're building an ark), I would expect the humidity to be quite high already. The next afternoon the curds were very dry.

Because they were so dry, they didn't really want to hold together all that well, but after being pressed under a cast iron Dutch oven full of water for a couple of hours, the paneer was solid enough to cut up and cook with, although the pieces weren't all that pretty.

The dish itself is easy to make, although I was pleased to have help in stemming all that spinach. I had only about 500g of fresh spinach (rather than 1-1/2 pounds), but that's still a lot. (Next time I might try this with frozen spinach which will make it a really easy dish.) First you brown the paneer, then remove it from the skillet and sprinkle with with salt, garam masala, and cayenne. Using the same oil, you fry a paste of garlic, ginger, and a chile that you've already whizzed up with water. After 30 seconds, you stir in the finely chopped spinach and some salt, cover, and cook slowly for 15 minutes. FInally you add the paneer and some cream, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes. I cut both these times quite a bit short and it didn't hurt a bit.

We were both very pleased with the result. Although the paneer was not as pretty as what you might be served in a restaurant, it was definitely tender and tasty.

This post is shared with this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs.


  1. Hi Kaye, I made paneer once too (, but since it has no real flavour, I now use feta or halloumi instead. Less palaver and the same effect. But isn't it a wonderful curry? My favourite.

  2. I'd forgotten your post, Barbara! You're right it doesn't have much flavor, although I'd think feta would be too strong for this. (And I love feta!) Not sure if I've every had halloumi???
    Jaffrey says sometimes people add some ground black pepper and chopped cilantro to the curds before hanging. Guess you'd have to find a way to give it all a stir too.
    I was very glad to find this dish isn't too hard to make, but I thought the paneer was worth the little bit of trouble, just for the texture. Ed though Mozzarella might work, but I wonder if it wouldn't fry up a bit hard???

  3. Ha, Barbara, I just realized your recipe has you cooking the spinach, then squeezing and chopping, whereas Jaffrey has you chopping, then cooking, and there's no need for any squeezing.
    The one thing about chopping quantities of spinach (and parsley for that matter) is that it ends up all over the kitchen. Even after cleaning up there are still bits attached to odd things. This morning's fun will be discovering all the bits.

  4. So awesome that you made your own paneer. I think everything looks fantastic!

    Please don't ever worry about following the theme word for word. Our themes are more of a loose concept for the week. We really welcome everyone every week no matter what MJ recipe they chose.

  5. Homemade paneer! Lovely I have always wanted to try making my own!
    Looks good with the green spinach!
    Happy New Year!

  6. I've always wanted to try and make homemade paneer - so great you did it!!!

  7. I've had this dish in Indian restaurants but never made it at home. You've inspired me to try it