Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Five-green saag paneer

8/3/10 update - new photo (not a good one though, ha!)

This is based off of a traditional saag paneer recipe from Dance of the Spices by Laxmi Hiremath. "Paneer" is Indian style white cheese, and it's about the most basic cheese you can make. It's really pretty easy, just requires a little planning. It's similar to cottage or ricotta cheese, except that you press out water until it's rather solid, and then cut it into chunks for use in recipes. "Saag" refers to the spinach sauce that the paneer is in. I've made this so many times I feel like it's kind of taken on a life of its own, especially with the CSA coming in strong in the greens category. Saag paneer is basically my catch-all dish to use up any kind of greens, from lettuce to kale, even the radish and beet tops that you might be tempted to just toss (yes! you can eat them!).

A few specifics on the ingredients called for - I'm pretty sure almost any combo of greens would work. So really you should use the ends of whatever you have! Heck, you could even throw in some broccoli or cauliflower probably. But I do like keeping spinach the predominant one just to keep tradition somewhere in the mix. This is a good use of the outer lettuce leaves that are a bit tougher, especially on a head of Romaine. For the paneer, steps 6 and 7 have ** next to them, because I've done very different times for those steps, and it's always worked. I've let it drain in the sink over night, I've pressed it for only 1 hour... last time I made this I skipped the draining over the sink part, only pressed it for maybe 1.5 hours, and it was ready for dinner that night, no foresight required. So bottom line, make the cheese fit your schedule and it'll be fine.

1/2 gallon whole milk
4 c. (1 quart) 2% milk
3 c. buttermilk

1. In a very large saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. This will take a while. Stir occasionally.
2. When it just gets to a simmer, add the buttermilk and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until the curds have separated from the whey. The whey should be pretty clear when this process is done. It will only take a few minutes. This is when it's easiest for the curds to burn, so make sure you are stirring.
3. Turn off the heat, let sit for about 15 minutes.
4. Line a large colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth, with enough excess so that you'll be able to gather the corners after straining. Pour the mixture slowly through the cheesecloth.
5. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth, and twist/tie up with kitchen twine. Use the twine to suspend the cheese bundle from a faucet.
**6. Let the cheese drain into the sink for 3 hours.
**7. Place an upside down small saucer or salad plate on top of a dinner plate or bowl. Place the bundle on the inverted plate. Put something heavy on top of the bundle. You may need to arrange other random heavy things around this setup so the first heavy thing does not fall down. I usually put my cast iron dutch oven atop the cheese, push the setup into a corner and then balance the dutch oven with two heavy canisters. This is probably the hardest part of the process. Let it stand like this for 2-3 hours.
8. Unwrap and slice for immediate use or store in the fridge. I like my slices about 2" by 1" by 0.5".

About 6 c. packed greens - I probably used about 0.5 c. radish greens, 1 c. ugly Romaine lettuce, 1 c. beet greens, 1 c. kale, and 3 c. spinach.
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
8 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
3-5 serrano chilis, de-seeded and cut into a few chunks.
about 1 c. water
2-4 T. butter
1 small-medium onion, grated (grate this in the food processor first, before starting the saag)
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. turmeric
black pepper
1 t. salt
1-2 t. sugar (optional)
about 1/2 c. heavy cream (optional)
paneer (recipe above, sliced)
shelled pistachios or pine nuts (optional)

1. Place the greens and 1/2 c. water in a very large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high with a cover. Stir a few times until the greens are very wilted; 6-8 minutes.
2. While the greens are steaming, ready a big bowl of ice water. Transfer the greens to the ice water when they are done steaming. Let sit for at least 5 min.
3. While the greens are steaming and chilling, add the ginger, garlic, chilis, and about 1/2 c. of the ice water (try to avoid the ice cubes) to the work bowl of the food processor or blender. Blend until these ginger, garlic, and chilies are well-chopped.
4. Squeeze some of the excess water out of the greens and add them to the work bowl.
5. Process until everything is very smooth. You may need to add more cold water. It should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter... or maybe a thin hummus (having trouble making a better analogy here, sorry!).
6. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium. Add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion browns a bit.
7. Add cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute.
8. Add the spinach mixture. Bring to a simmer. Add more water if necessary.
9. Add in the paneer and warm it up. This is a good time to add the cream, if desired (I like it a lot more with cream, personally wouldn't skip it). Stir it in, then taste and adjust the seasonings - add the optional sugar (I again always throw in just a small amount), and if you want, more salt and pepper.
10. Serve over jasmine, basmati, or (my favorite) brown basmati rice, with a sprinkling of pistachios or pine nuts on top and some Sriracha on the side.

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