Thursday, January 21, 2010

Veggie Might: Palak Paneer - World Curry Tour ‘10

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Last we left World Curry Tour ‘09, I was experimenting with asafetida and curry leaves alongside my imaginary mentor, Madhur Jaffrey. Well, it’s a brand new year and it’s time get the band back together.

Last week, I showed you how to make easy-and-delicious paneer with just milk and a little lime juice. Now, let’s put the cheese of that labor into its proper place: palak paneer, courtesy of Mahanandi, shared by the delightful Anand.

Palak paneer is the classic North Indian spinach and cheese dish ubiquitous in Indian restaurants across America. It’s (generally) mild, always delicious, and can be healthier than the cheese suggests. This recipe is spicier than most restaurant versions (as my charming dinner guest [CDG] will testify), so cut back on the chilies if you want less heat.

For this recipe, I used homemade paneer made with 2% milk and substituted the ghee (clarified butter) with a splash of canola oil. The original recipe also called for optional cashews, which I omitted for fat and calories sake.

I made two other divergences for convenience and seasonality: jalapeños for green chilies (I looked at 3 shops without success!) and canned crushed tomatoes for fresh (It’s January in NYC!).

Even with the modifications, the palak paneer was a success. Savory, spicy, and creamy, it went perfectly with the urad dal (split black lentils) I bungled by going off on my own and veering from this Mark Bittman recipe. All was not lost; CDG was still impressed.

Oh Hey, This Is Fascinating: Until this writing, I always thought “saag” was spinach. Well, live on the Internet and learn. Turns out, “palak” is spinach, and “saag” or “sag” is greens, like collards, mustard greens, spinach, etc. Thank you, InterWeb.

And thank you, Anand, for sharing this recipe. It takes a little bit of work, but the payoff is worth it. World Curry Tour is back. Next stop…only Madhur knows for sure.

If you like this recipe, you may enjoy

Palak Paneer
serves 4
Adapted from Mahanandi's Palak Paneer.

2 tsp canola oil
6 cups spinach (one large bunch), washed and torn
5 oz paneer, cubed
8 oz canned crushed tomato
5 green chillies or 3 jalapeños, finely diced
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic-ginger-cilantro paste (or more to your taste)
1/2 tsp coriander powder (or freshly ground coriander seeds)
1/2 tsp cumin powder (or freshly ground cumin seeds)
1 tsp salt

1) In a large skillet, heat a teaspoon of oil over medium heat and sauté chilies for 2 minutes or so. Add spinach and toss until wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.

2) Blend the spinach and chilies with a pinch of salt in a food processor, blender or food mill until smooth. Set aside.

3) In the skillet, heat a teaspoon of oil over medium heat and sauté onions until translucent. Add the garlic-ginger-cilantro paste, cumin, and coriander, and continue to cook for 2 – 3 more minutes.

4) Add the pureed spinach and crushed tomatoes to the onion mixture along with 1 tsp of salt. You may add a bit of water, if necessary, but it should not be runny or soupy. Simmer for 5–10 minutes.

5) Add paneer cubes and simmer for 2–3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

6) Serve with dal (lentils/beans) and rice for delicious meal that is sure to impress.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price per Serving
162 calories, 10.3g fat, 4.25g fiber, $1.16

2 tsp canola oil: 80 calories, 9.3g fat, 0g fiber, $0.05
6 cups spinach: 42 calories, .75g fat, 6g fiber, $1.50
5 oz paneer: 331 calories, 26g fat, 0g fiber, $1.50
8 oz canned crushed tomato: 72 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, $.50
3 jalapeños: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.24
1/2 large onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, 3g fiber, $.50
1 tsp garlic-ginger-cilantro paste: 3 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.012
1/2 tsp coriander powder: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.02
1/2 tsp cumin powder: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.02
1 tsp salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.02
Totals: 580 calories, 36.3g fat, 17g fiber, $4.36
Per serving (totals/4): 145 calories, 9g fat, 4.25g fiber, $1.09

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