I’ve been eating a lot of creamed spinach lately (my husband and I are on a mission to rank New York City steakhouses), and thus I've been also been thinking about another, decidedly non-American version of this dish: saag paneer. If you’ve never had saag paneer, you’ve been missing out. It’s the Indian version of creamed spinach, delicately spiced and swimming with chunks of paneer cheese, which is firm and a little squeaky — kind of like halloumi.
A couple of years ago, I tried my hand at making my saag paneer, and it actually came out pretty well. I unearthed the recipe last week, and voila: here it is!
2 tablespoons cumin seed
1 tablespoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons mustard seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 whole cloves
2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
8 oz paneer cheese (if you cannot find paneer, halloumi is a good substitute)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons spice mixture (see recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
Step 1Using an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the spices together as finely as possible. This spice mixture can be stored in an airtight container for a few weeks, but its potency will decrease over time. Makes about 1/4 cup.
Step 2If you’re using fresh spinach remove the stems, and then rinse and dry the leaves thoroughly. Chop roughly and set aside. If you’re using frozen spinach, squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible and set aside.
Step 3Put the ghee or vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cut the paneer into ½-inch cubes and add it to the pan. Cook, tossing frequently, until the cheese is lightly browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the paneer with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Step 4Add the onion to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Step 5Turn the heat up to medium and add the spinach to the pan all at once. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach is wilted (or until the frozen spinach is warmed through), 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the buttermilk and cream and simmer until thickened, another 3 to 5 minutes (add more buttermilk and/or cream if the mixture seems dry). Taste and add more salt if necessary, along with the nutmeg and some pepper. Stir in the paneer and serve.