January 11, 2011

Palak Paneer

I don't go to restaurants often; I've never developed the habit. My parents didn't go out to eat much, and even less with us kids. Then for almost my whole adult life, I've been living the student lifestyle, and so I still don't go out to eat very often. My husband is not too adventurous, so when we do go out, he likes to make sure he can order a good steak or ribs. All this is to explain why I haven't had many international food experiences.

My current boss is a restaurant-aholic, and a group of us sometimes go out for lunch. I have to go, right? A few months ago we went to a nice Indian buffet. Hands down, my favorite dish was palak paneer. Primarily made of spinach, this dish somehow tastes like dessert to me!

I did a cursory search online and found out paneer cheese is pretty easy to make. Fresh cheeses, like paneer and ricotta, are actually all very similar. The main difference is that paneer is pressed to get out more liquid than ricotta.

This is the second recipe I've made of palak paneer, and this one pretty closely resembles the dish I had at the buffet. It probably should be supplemented with naan, but instead I ate it all by itself for several heavenly meals.

Palak Paneer
from Indian Simmer

1 pound fresh green spinach
8 oz packet of paneer cut into cubes (or try making your own, see below)
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup tomato, pureed
3-4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 inch ginger
2-3 thai green chili
1 tsp fennel seeds
3-4 cloves
1/4 cup heavy cream or 2 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
3 tbsp olive oil/cooking oil

Boil spinach in a big pot adding fennel seeds and cloves to it. Drain and reserve water for later. Let the spinach cool and blend it in a blender, still leaving it chunky.

Grind onion, ginger, garlic and thai chili making a thick paste.

Heat oil in a medium sized pot and add the ground paste of onion, garlic and the other ingredients.

Cook everything until the paste starts changing color from light pink to darker pink and then slowly towards golden. Then add salt.

Stir for a minute until the onion starts losing some oil. Then add coriander powder and curry powder.

Mix it all together and add pureed tomato.

Cook everything until the paste is thicker and all the liquid from the tomato is cooked. Add the pureed mixture of spinach, fennel seeds and cloves.

Turn the heat to low and continuously stir for a minute or two. Cover the pan with a lid to let it cook. If the gravy is too thick, add a ladle or two of the saved boiled water from the spinach and then cover the pan.

In a separate sauce pan boil salted water, turn off the heat and add the paneer cubes. Let it stay in hot water for 2-3 minutes while the curry is being cooked. This helps drain all the excess fat from the cheese making it softer.

Add cream or sour cream to the spinach curry. Mix well. Drain paneer cubes from the salt water and add it to the gravy. Give the mixture one quick boil and serve.

from Food

makes 8 ounces or 2 cups

6 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

Prepare a place for the paneer to drain, placing a colander in the sink and lining it with 4 thicknesses of cheesecloth or a clean linen kitchen towel.

In a large (at least 3 quart) saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly to prevent it from burning or boiling over.

As soon as the milk comes to the boil, add the yogurt and sir gently. The milk will soon foam up into soft clouds and then break into thick curds of cheese floating in a thin, faintly greenish liquid called whey.

Remove from the heat and pour the contents of the saucepan into the cheesecloth-lined colander placed in the sink to drain away the whey.

When the cloth is cool enough to handle, bring its corners together and squeeze the cheese into a ball, twisting the top portion of the cloth to force out more liquid and then securing it with a rubber band.

Suspend the cheese from the faucet and let it hang over the sink for about 30 minutes to drain off any remaining whey.

Now press the cheese to make it firm enough to cut. To do this, place the wrapped lump of cheese on its side in a pie pan or frying pan, and place another pie pan or frying pan of equal or smaller size on top of it, or cover the cheese with a plate. Balance a weighty object, such as a teapot filled with water, on the pan or plate to compress the cheese. Press for 30 minutes more.

Carefully unwrap the pressed cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes, transfer it to a container and seal tight. Refrigerate until needed. The paneer will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer.

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