Wednesday, May 26, 2010

paneer with spinach and simple pilaf

B and I love Indian food. Well, we love almost any kind of food. But Indian is one of our absolute favorites. I've tried to cook Indian food in the past, but the results have been nothing like the wonderful things we eat when we go out. Toasting and grinding spices is a lot of work for a meal that tastes terrible. So I haven't tried to make Indian for a few years. But I found Anjum Anand's Indian Food Made Easy on sale at the bookstore a while ago and when I read her description of her food as not being for purists, I thought this was something I could handle.

The first thing I made was saag paneer, which she calls "paneer with spinach." I served it with her simple pilaf. The saag paneer is my new favorite. I like hers better than any of the ones at the local restaurants--it has a lovely, bright flavor. And true to her title, it was very easy to make.

The recipe makes a rather small batch, so I always at least double it. I've since had a bit of trouble making the paneer successfully, but it has worked when I've used yogurt with a bit of lemon juice, so that's how I'll make it from here on. I used ghee instead of oil to cook in, and I throw a pinch of asafoetida in the cooking oil (on the recommendation of the former chef who owns the Indian spice shop I go to). There's really nothing more to say about this--a little blanching, a little chopping, a little frying, and you've got dinner. Couldn't be easier.

paneer with spinach and simple pilaf (from Indian Food Made Easy, by Anjum Anand)

4 C whole milk
7/8-1 C fresh yogurt or 2 TB lemon juice

Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy-based saucepan. once the milk starts to biol and rise up, stir in 7/8 C of the yogurt or all the lemon juice. Keeping the milk on heat, stir gently to help the milk curdle--this should take only a minute or so. If it does not separate, add the rest of the yogurt (if using) and keep stirring. The curds will coagulate and separate from the watery whey. Remove from the heat.

Line a large strainer with muslin or cheesecloth, and palce it over a large bowl or saucepan. Pour the cheese into the lined strainer and run some cold water through it. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, and hang it from the faucet over the sink to allow the excess water to drain for 10 minutes. Then, keeping it fairly tightly wrapped, place on your work surface with a heavy weight on top (I refill the same saucepan with the whey or water and palce it on top) for 30-40 minutes or until it is flattened into a firm block. Then cut into cubes or crumble, depending on how you want to use it.

Store any unused pieces of paneer in the refrigerator in water in a covered container. You can alos freeze it in an airtight container. Defrost thoroughly before use.

paneer with spinach
7 C baby spinach leaves, washed
3 TB veg. oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2" fresh ginger, sliced into long julienne strips
1.5 TB chopped garlic
1-2 green chilies, left whole
2 tsp ground coriander
salt, to taste
4 C milk, made into around 9 oz paneer with fresh yogurt
1/2-1 tsp garam masala, depending on quality
3/8 C whole milk or 4 TB heavy cream
1-2 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

Blanch the spinach leaves in hot water for 3 minutes or until well wilted. Drain into a colander and run under cold water until they cool. Blend to a smooth paste and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and fry over a mild heat for about 5 minutes or until soft. add the ginger, garlic, and chilies, and cook for 1 minute. Add the ground coriander and salt to taste. Cook for another 30 seconds, then add the spinach and a splash of water, if necessary. The mixture should be loose but not watery. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

Add the paneer cubes, garam masala, and milk or cream. Stir and cook for a few minutes or until the spinach is creamy. Before serving, stir in the lemon juice to taste.

simple pilaff
2 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced (I chopped mine instead)
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
1 C Basmati or long-grain white rice, washed and soaked for 30 min.
3/4 C frozen peas
1.5 C water
1-2 TB lemon juice, or to taste

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and saute for about 6 minutes until lightly caramelized. Add the garam masala and salt, and cook, stirring, for another 20 seconds.

Stir in the drained rice and frozen peas, then add the water. Taste for seasoning. Bring to a boil, then cook, covered, on the lowest heat for 10 minutes. Check that the grains are tender; if not, leave to steam for another 2 minutes. Then remove the lid and allow any moisture to evaporate, Drizzle the lemon juice over and gently mix with a fork, fluffing up the grains.