Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spin a yarn in Spinach - Palak Paneer

There are two reactions/incidents that come to mind when I think about today's choice for my recipe - a good and a not- so- good. Both memorable days in my cooking history. Lets start with the not-so-good and get it out of the way first.

A colleague at work asked me what my lunch was. I was still new at this job, and the only source of cultural diversity. His expression told it all...he didn't really want to know. When I asked him why, he said that my dish looked all gooey, that there was no texture to it. 'Vegetables are supposed to be crisp and el dente', he said. 'Mashed potatoes are all gooey', I said. 'Yeah well, they're potatoes, not veggies'. Needless to say, he turned down my offer to at least try a bit from my lunch before hitting the 'Dislike' button.

The other incident is from when A invited his friends from work for a weekend dinner. I'd never met them. Didn't even know of them. And they were not Indians. I went ballistic at him. At any given point in time, I find entertaining to be stressful, if it isn't for my closest friends. I worry about the tiniest detail. And here he was, throwing complete aliens (read, not Indian) at me, with less than a week's notice to calm my nerves. 'Don't worry about it', he said. 'They're really nice. Cook your everyday dinner, and we can order a pizza to give them their choice'. It's a miracle he's still alive after that speech! I did cook my everyday dinner. Minus the choice of Pizza.....
Needless to say, his friends are now my friends too. Especially since not only did they try everything I cooked, but they genuinely seemed to like it. Unlike my colleague at work, E was smitten with Palak Paneer. Come to think of it, she was the first person EVER to compliment my cooking. That alone makes her stand out! I have made it a couple more times for her since, and she's even asked for the recipe. I doubt she ever attempted to make it by herself though. So today's recipe is for you E. For being you. And for your 'Like'.
Palak Paneer
(Spinach and Cottage Cheese)

1 bag (14 oz) fresh spinach
200g Paneer (cottage cheese)
1 medium sized onion chopped
1 large tomato chopped
3-4 green chillies chopped
1 inch piece of ginger chopped/grated
Salt to taste
Red chili powder to taste
Turmeric powder a pinch ( Optional)
Vegetable oil 1/2 Tbsp
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
  1. Wash, coarsely chop the spinach and blanch it in a cup of boiling water for 5 min; or till the leaves wilt. Cool. Blend into a coarse puree with a hand blender. Reserve the liquid.
  2. Cut the paneer into 1 inch cubes. Paneer is cottage cheese that's been drained of its curds and shaped. Usually available at Indian stores through out US in the refrigerated sections. Tastes almost like mozzarella, so I feel that a substitution is possible.
  3. Heat oil in a saute pan and temper with cumin seeds.
  4. Add the chopped onions, saute till translucent.
  5. Add tomatoes, ginger, green chillies and all spices. Add the liquid you saved after blanching spinach. Cook till you get a chunky sauce like consistency.
  6. Now add the spinach puree and paneer cubes. Cook till heated through. Roughly 7-10 min.
That's it. In my meals, it is usually a side with chappati. My two cents: There's quite a few variations that I do with this dish.
  1. If I'm out of Paneer, the no-brainer for me is to substitute with boiled potatoes. Still tastes good.
  2. For a quick, guest-worthy variation, I add a small can of garbanzo beans/chick peas to this. Make sure you drain out the beans though.
  3. And finally, if I'm in no mood for extra anything, I make it with just spinach. In which case, don't puree the blanched spinach, just chop it into small pieces before blanching.