Saag/Palak Paneer

Hi everyone!

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their support for my last post and my blog in general! I am truly humbled and honoured that people have taken the time to read what I have to say/write and like the things I make! So thank you thank you! *queue happy dance*!

My friend Dmitry was in town visiting this past weekend and I decided to make us a nice Indian lunch including oven baked tandoori chicken (see here), prawn masala, and to lighten off the meal, a vegetarian dish, saag paneer. So what is paneer? Paneer is  a fresh cheese most commonly used in South Asian cuisine. I often order paneer at Indian restaurants here in Vancouver either in a saag or palak sauce (spinach) or fried into pakoras. There is a restaurant that I often frequent called Tasty Indian Bistro where they take sandwich a mint and coriander chutney between two pieces of paneer and then batter and deep fry. The result is s simply divine! Crispy on the outside, and warm and soft in the inside with a bit of a kick from the chutney! Mmmm, it makes me want to trek out to Delta for some right now! But alas, I am not so talented as to make pakora at home…maybe if I can convince Orion to let me buy a deep fryer, it may be a different story. But I digress…

Paneer Pakora from Tasty Indian Bistro.
Paneer Pakora from Tasty Indian Bistro.

Anyhow, I decided to make saag paneer for Dmitry but first I needed to make the paneer which I made the night before. I have never ever even considered making cheese by myself before. I mean it’s cheese! Leave that to the professionals, I don’t want to get food poisoning from my home made milky fermented concoctions…right? I found a recipe from Vij’s cookbook and the recipe only called for two ingredients – a quart of milk and lemon juice and turns out the cheese isn’t fermented at all. Seems simple enough right? I decided to give it a shot….what’s the worse that could happen, we just eat spinach without the cheese. No big deal. So here goes…

Paneer 

Ingredients:

The ingredients
The ingredients
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar or fresh lemon juice (I used the juice of one large lemon)

Directions:

  1. In a medium to large size pot (it has to be able to fit 8 cups of milk and have at least three inches left to the top), add the water and the milk.

    Step 1
    Step 1
  2. Set the stove on medium heat and wait for the milk to come to a boil, do not stir. On an electric stove, this will take about 30 to 35 minutes.
  3. When the milk is close to a boil, stand over and watch the milk carefully with the lemon juice or vinegar ready in your hands.
  4. The milk will start to rise, when the milk has risen 3 inches, remove the pot from the heat and swirl in the lemon juice into the milk. Do not stir the milk.

    Step This will happen quickly, be ready!
    Step 4 –  This will happen quickly, be ready!
  5. Let the milk mixture sit for 10 minutes to let the milk solids separate from the liquid.

    Step 5 - milk solids formed after 10 minutes of rest.
    Step 5 – milk solids formed after 10 minutes of rest.
  6. Place a colander into the sink and cover with folded cheesecloth. Slowly and carefully (it’s hot) pour the milk mixture into the cheesecloth. Let the milk solids sit in the colander for 15 minutes to allow excess water to drain.

    Step 6 - Let the cheese sit. Taste it! It should be reminiscent of cottage cheese.
    Step 6 – Let the cheese sit. Taste it! It should be reminiscent of cottage cheese.
  7. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth andcriss cross and tie together. Place the wrappedpaneer into the sink.

    Step 8
    Step 8 – The paneer should be fully covered.
  8. Fill a clean pot with water and place on top of thepaneer. This will help flatten thepaneer and squeeze out any excess water.

    Step 9 - Be patient!
    Step 9 – Be patient!
  9. Let the paneer sit. If you want softer paneer to be eaten like cottage cheese, 15 minutes should be sufficient. For this recipe, I wanted a firmer consistency so I let my paneer sit for 1 hour.
  10. Unwrap thepaneer from the cheese cloth and marvel at your own skill!

    Step - Excuse the dent in my cheese...
    Step 10 – Excuse the dent in my cheese…
  11. If you are not using it right away, wrap thepaneer tightly and store for up to 5 days.
    Step 11 - Wrap paneer tightly if not using right away.
    Step 11 – Wrap paneer tightly if not using right away.

    The taste of the paneer is very light and soft. If you wanted to, you could use this as cottage use and serve with preserves or fruits and would taste delicious. Just keep in mind in Step 9 to only rest the paneer for 15 minutes or so.

Alright…are you guys still with me? Shall we make the spinach park of this now???

Saag/Palak Paneer 

I used Aarti Sequeira’s recipe from the food network. See original recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne*
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Paneer, cut into 1 inch cubes (see above)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoons)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound box of spinach **
  • 1 large green serrano chile, finely chopped***
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masal
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Modifications I made:
* I like spice, so I may have free handed cayenne a bit.
** I used a 1 pound box of fresh spinach and wilted and minced myself. The original recipe called for a 16 oz package of frozen spinach. If you choose to use the frozen spinach, thaw thoroughly and squeeze out excess water.
***I didn’t have any serrano chiles on hand, so I just three thai red chilis instead.

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons oil. Toss the cubes of paneer in the mixture (If you are using the homemade paneer, I would cut the cubes into slightly larger pieces, it will be easier to work with). Let the cubes marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients together and prepped.
  2. In a shallow pan, wilt spinach. Drain in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Place the spinach into the food processor or finely chop yourself.
  3. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the paneer as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of paneer should be browned on one side. Fry another minute or so, and then remove the paneer from the pan onto a plate. *Be careful, my paneer fell apart, I didn’t end up having golden brown paneer. There are recipes that don’t call for this step, if I were to make this dish again, I would skip this step completely and in turn skip Step 1 as well* 

    Step 1 - Pan fry the paneer
    Step 3 – Pan fry the paneer
  4. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add in the onions ginger, garlic and chile and saute the mixture until it is nicelycaramelized. Be patient, this takes around 15 to 20 minutes.

    Step 4 - Caramelizing the onions, garlic, ginger, and chile mixture.
    Step 4 – Caramelizing the onions, garlic, ginger, and chile mixture.
  5. Add in the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you feel that the onion mixture or the spices are starting to burn, add a little bit of water. Cook 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 stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid off.

    Step 6 - Incorporate spinach into the onion mixture.
    Step 6 – Incorporate spinach into the onion mixture.
  7. Turn the heat off. Add the 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.
  8. Serve and enjoy!
    Saag/Palak Paneer!
    Saag/Palak Paneer!

    Alright – that’s all from me today. I know this was a slightly longer post than usual so thank you for bearing with me! As always, I hope you enjoyed the recipe and this motivates you to go and make your own fresh cheese! Happy cooking! – J

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