Thursday, October 6, 2011

Palak Paneer - Spinach with Tofu or Paneer Cheese





I'm a borderline addict to hot and spicy food.  In fact, I may have recently crossed the line when I was asked to verify if I truly meant 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper in a recipe.  Needles to say, Thai and Indian food top my list of spicy favorites.  My love of spice began at an early age when my dad introduced my sister and I to an Egyptian hot chili pepper sauce "Shatta" and Indian curried picked Mango "Anba".  Both sauce/chutney could be enjoyed on sandwiches, mixed in with rice to give that extra punch without altering the true essence of dish.  A condiment, sauce, chutney should be a compliment to the flavors and not overpowering.
Indian food has become something of an obsession over the years.  In my early 20s, I had a flavor epiphany when I had my first vegetarian Indian meal. The combinations of heat, smokiness, tang and cream made for the most light and filling meal.  My first love was, Mattar Paneer* - lightly sauteed onions and peas in a creamy red sauce that was dotted with cubes of paneer*.  Another favorite is Channa Masala, and of course, Palak Paneer.  Typically, I'm a carnivore, but when it comes to vegetarian Indian dishes I don't miss the meat all.  In fact, I eat mostly vegetarian meals when I'm trying to drop some pounds.  Delicious meals don't have to be bland and boring folks.  You just have to know the spices and flavors you enjoy.

Palak Paneer is a dish that I often prepare for many of my health conscious clients.  They often ask if the meal was truly healthy!  This recipe lends itself to being a vegan version by using tofu in place of paneer*, soy or almond milk in place of cream.  Trying to cut a few calories?  Then use tofu and fat free half and half or yogurt.  Use what you have in your fridg or pantry.
A few things before we get started on with this recipe.  *Paneer is an acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or other food acid.  This cheese can be found at Dekalb Market, Patel Brothers, and some health food stores (Harry's, Whole Foods, etc.).  If you live in the Kennesaw/Marietta Suvidah is a well stocked Indo-Pak Grocer.  Or you can make your own paneer please check out this video.
If your local, and would like to accompany me the next time I visit Suvidah then email me somer@stovetopsolutions.com and we can set up a time - you  may have to buy me ice cream while we are there.
Palak Paneer - great as a side or main dish
serves 4/6

Ingredients


1 10 oz package of chopped frozen spinach or 2 (5 ounce) bags baby spinach
8 oz. of paneer or 1 package of extra firm tofu - drained 
2 medium tomatoes pureed or 8 oz tomato sauce
1 small onion chopped (not traditional, but I find that it adds depth to the flavors)
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 teaspoon coriander powder (dhania)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (jeera)
Pinch of asafetida (hing) - optional
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil - canola, vegetable, peanut
1/4 cup heavy cream, yogurt, sour cream, fat free half and half, soy milk, etc.-- you get the picture 

Method
If using frozen spinach, thaw, drain, and puree in a food processor for a minute so the spinach has a creamy texture but without becoming pasty. On occasion, I use chopped frozen spinach and skip this step completely if I don't have time.
If you use fresh spinach then cut spinach into shreds and cook in 3 tablespoons water until tender; remove from heat and process in a food processor or blender.
In a small bowl mix the turmeric, chili powder, paprika, garam masala and tomato puree and set aside.
Cube the paneer or tofu into 1/4 inch pieces and saute them on medium high heat just for few minutes so paneer become very light gold in color, take paneer out on paper towel so extra oil can be absorbed.  Or you can cut them into thirds, fry, then cube which is my preferred method because it's easier than flipping individual pieces of tofu and paneer.


Drain all but one tablespoon of oil.  Return pan to heat, test the temperature by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks or pops immediately then the oil is ready.  Add the rest of the cumin seeds, hing, onion, ginger and garlic.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add tomato mixture, cover, and cook until its reduced by half about 20-30 minutes.
      
Add spinach and salt - cook for 10 minutes.  Mix in cream or yougurt and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Gently fold in the paneer or tofu cubes and cook for 2 minutes.
Serve with toasted naan bread or rice.


Cooks Note: if you would like a hotter version add another 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne to kick up your dish.  Good time to adjust salt.  - Do this prior to adding the paneer or tofu.