There will come a day when I don’t start my posts by apologising for my recent inactivity. Today is not that day. I’m sorry for the delay in sharing, I’ve been feeling quite uninspired recently with relentless coursework, group projects and exams. I WILL DO BETTER!
In any case, today I’m sharing my recipe for one of my all-time favourite curries, a dish which I once assumed was beyond the realm of home cooking, following an ill-fated attempt (involving several birds-eye chillis and about a tenth of the necessary spinach) in 2013. I’m pleased to say that over time, with much trial and error, I’ve perfected my homemade Saag / Palak Paneer, which is very good news indeed, as curry houses are few and far between here in Lugano (though Tabla really blew my mind last weekend!)
The dish commonly goes by Saag Paneer in U.K. curry houses, but I was raised eating it at the Country Club in Hong Kong, where it is called Palak Paneer. The latter is actually more accurate for this dish, as Saag refers to a combination of spinach and mustard greens, Palak to spinach alone. The more you know!
As usual sharing a dish that’s not culturally ‘mine’, apologies in advance for any gross violations of Indian food norms. All I know is that this is very tasty.
Serves 4 as a main alongside your chosen carbs and / or other curries.
700g frozen spinach
120g shallots (unpeeled weight – about 2 large)
4 tbsp ghee
15g ginger (a ‘thumb-sized’ piece)
2x large garlic cloves
1/2 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tbsp ground chilli pepper
1 tbsp tumeric
1 medium-sized tomato (ca. 100g)
1/2 lemon, juiced
Salt and chilli flakes, to taste
Step one: Marinate the Paneer
1- In a sizeable (preferably not white if plastic, yellow tumeric stains are a devil to remove) bowl, mix together 2 tbsp (melted) ghee, 1 tbsp tumeric and 1/2 tbsp ground chilli pepper.
2- Cut the paneer into 1inch cubes, place in bowl and marinate with ghee-tumeric-chilli mix. Set aside.
Step two: The Curry
1- Dice shallots and place in large pot with 2 tbsp ghee on medium-low heat.
2- While the shallots sweat, mince garlic, peel and grate ginger.
3- Once shallots are sufficiently softened (should take about 8 minutes – make sure heat is not too high, we don’t want them crispy-fried) add garlic and ginger and continue to fry on medium heat for about 2 minutes.
4- Add coriander, cumin and garam masala, mix together and allow the spices to toast for a minute.
5- Dice tomato and add to shallot-garlic-ginger-spice mix. Fry for about 5 minutes.
6- Defrost the spinach in a microwave-safe bowl, add to pot. Turn up the heat to medium, mix and allow to cook for 10 further minutes. Taste and use your judgement on whether more chilli or salt is required.
7- Optional step, but recommended – blend the mix using either a hand blender or traditional blender. Keep warm on low heat.
8- Fry the marinated paneer cubes in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. This is a little like frying halloumi, but will require a little more effort as you’ve got 4 sides to sear.
9- Once the paneer is sufficiently seared, add it to the spinach with any additional oil in the pan. Squeeze in juice of half a lemon. Mix together and serve!
Leftover rating: 3/3, just as good the next day and will keep for just under a week.
Serving Suggestions / Swaps / Tips
Being the clean eating queen that I am, I like to eat my curries with brown rice or quinoa. Both are extra delicious with a little ghee mixed in (if you haven’t already had your fill from the 4 tbsp in the above recipe). Tom ate his share with naan bread. Alongside it, I made chana masala (chickpea and tomato curry) but didn’t rate my recipe enough to write it up (boyfriend really liked it though). So, basically, it’s great served alongside other curries and basic carbs!
Paneer and ghee aren’t always easy to find in shops. In the U.K., the same Arab stores I love so much usually sell them – but as do most of the larger supermarkets. In Hong Kong, Netra Nepali Indian Dhaaba sells paneer frozen (it tastes just as good!) and ghee. Here in Lugano, Asia Market is your best bet. Otherwise, there are tons of online guides to making both yourself, so perhaps give that a go! As an aside, from my years of testing, ghee is critical to this dish. Vegetable oil just doesn’t do it justice. So try your best to find it. It’s a pantry staple for me.
As far as swaps go, feel free to increase the quantity of spinach or use a little less paneer – it comes in 250g packs here but if you’re looking to make it a little lower-calorie, the ratio can be shifted. Conversely, you’re looking to up the calories or reduce the chilli kick, a couple tablespoons of cream wouldn’t go amiss. I forgot to buy fresh chillis but normally would fry a small green chilli with the shallots. As usual, onions can take the place of shallots. I just hate them.
Enjoy! I haven’t really delivered on my promises to take better photos here, but trust me, this is delicious.