Sunset cooking! So lovely! Of course, the sun went down pretty quick after I started, but it’s something. And yes, this is another dish I made with chicken, but I won’t focus on that, so I can feel better about offering more variety. Saag paneer is kind of like the Pad Thai of Thai food, or the Sesame Chicken of Chinese…a gateway dish to Indian food for a lot of people. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, or great even. It’s just usually a more mildly spiced dish and, also, I think the word curry can scare off food newbies. Pff, picky eaters (wow, did I used to be one).
You’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy this dish is, primarily because you can use frozen spinach in it. Any dish that involves washing, drying, and chopping greens is inevitably going to be some sort of a hassle. If using frozen spinach won’t compromise a dish, then it’s very worth it, as it is in this case. The paneer can be handmade, and that will of course up the complexity factor. I’ve never tried this, but I’d really like to. Until then, I’m stuck buying overpriced simple, un-aged cheese. You could also use a simple, firm farmer’s cheese. I’ve seen tofu used, but that’s just silly, I think.
I thought going for a more rustic version of this dish would be fun. Usually, at restaurants, the spinach, onions, and everything else is pureed into a silky sauce. Maybe I’m lying when I said that I intended to go for the rustic version, and what really happened was that I was lazy. I think if you do decide to go “rustic”, the one thing you should absolutely do is press, rather than mince, the ginger. I don’t really like chunks of ginger, and even though I minced them decently well, they still don’t soften up much, so they were distracting. Otherwise, you can puree the sauce before you put the cheese in.
The one thing in this recipe that I did not add, because I didn’t have it, is asafoetida powder. I have never used it, I must admit, though I’m really curious to try it. It’s also called great things like Devil’s Dung because it’s so fetid. How neat is that? “Hmm, this thing smells like shit. Let’s put it in our food!” Humans are great.
If you would like to add chicken, I recommend doing it as a one pot type meal. Cook the chicken in the pot in oil before any of the below steps. I used thighs, so I cooked them about 5 minutes each side. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add the chicken back in while simmering, making sure it gets cooked all the way through.
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 inch cube of ginger, peeled and pressed in a garlic press
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (or equal amount in powder)
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 pinch asafoetida powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
cayenne to taste (I don’t really like things too spicy)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 16 ounce package of frozen, chopped spinach (or like 2 1/2 – 3 pounds of fresh spinach)
1/2 cup heavy cream (yogurt would work too)
1/2 pounds of paneer, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1. In a large heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon butter. Add ginger, garlic, cumin seed (but not if using cumin powder) and onion and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, spices, cream, and spinach to the pot and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. You can then decide to puree the mixture. An immersion blender would be the best.
3. While the spinach mixture is simmering, heat remaining butter in a saute pan. Add the paneer and fry until golden on at least two sides.
4. Gently add the paneer to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes, uncovered. Adjust seasonings.
That’s it! Super easy and really great. Garnish with cilantro, if you have it. If not, it’ll be fine.