It snowed a whole bunch this week and has been quite chilly to say the least (my phone said -15 on Wednesday). In turn, I’ve been craving comfort meals, chocolate and carbs – go figure! Besides loading up on my chocolate covered cherry bars, I’ve been in the mood for Indian food, specifically my mind immediately went to saag paneer.
A couple months ago, I went to an Indian restaurant in Portland while flying out for a design meeting for our yogurt store. We went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and they had incredible saag paneer. It was rich, creamy and comforting. I dreamt about the dish and came home thinking about it for weeks after…must have more of this spinach goodness! Needless to say, I was on a mission to recreate a version, but I aimed at making a little lighter dish that could eaten more often sans the heavy cream.
I made this dish a couple months ago and again this week when my Indian food craving hit, just what I needed to procrastinate shoveling snow 🙂
I adapted this recipe from my favorite Indian cook Aarti on Food Network whom I have mentioned several times before. I decreased the amount of oil, used refined coconut instead of canola, added one bunch of chard for more greens, increased the amount of garlic and onion, and used blended cottage cheese in place of the yogurt since that is what I had on hand.
Just a heads-up, this recipe is not a quick weeknight meal that pulls together in 20 minutes. I wish it was because I would make this on a weekly basis. The cooking time isn’t the problem, it’s the chopping and prepping of ingredients that takes the longest –fair warning but I think it’s completely worth it! If you used pre-chopped onion, chard, ginger and garlic, this would significantly cut down on prep time.
Saag Paneer (adapted from Aarti’s Saag Paneer)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp refined coconut oil (no coconut flavor), grapeseed oil or other neutral oil, divided
12 oz paneer, (Indian cheese), cut into 1-inch cubes*, OR extra firm tofu drained and cubed for vegan (will be different taste)
1 (16-oz package) frozen chopped spinach
1 bunch green swiss chard, deveined, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 large red or white onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1 inch)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green serrano or jalapeno chile, finely chopped (seeds removed if you don’t like it spicy!)
1 tsp store-bought or homemade garam masala (Indian spice mixture)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup of 2 % cottage cheese, blended until smooth or plain yogurt (plain dairy free yogurt for vegan or even cashew cream)
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
cooked brown rice for serving
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt. Add cubes of paneer/tofu and gently toss. Let the cubes marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients together and prepped.
2. Thaw the spinach in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish, 5 minutes on high. Add to bowl of a food processor along with the swiss chard and blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can chop it up very finely with your knife.
3. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat with 1 1/2 Tbsp of oil, and add the paneer/tofu as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of paneer/tofu should be browned on one side. Saute another minute or so, and then remove the paneer from the pan onto a plate.
4. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add the onions, ginger, garlic and pepper. Now here’s the important part: saute the mixture until it’s evenly toffee-coloured, which should take about 15 minutes. Don’t skip this step – this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water.
5. Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven’t already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, until the raw scent of the spices cook out, and it all smells a bit more melodious, 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Add the spinach and chard and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the green. Add a little salt and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid off.
7. Turn the heat off. Add the cottage cheese or yogurt, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the paneer. Turn the heat back on, cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Squeeze in fresh lemon juice, stir and serve over rice. Enjoy!
*Note: Paneer is very easy to make at home according to Aarti – click here for her quick and easy homemade paneer. I am definitely going to try this one day! If you’d like to buy it, this cheese is available in better supermarkets as well as specialty Asian markets.