I grew up on Indian food. Not so much in my early years, but in high school, a large number of my friends were of Indian descent, and some of my favorite memories are of Friday nights in their homes, seated in a big blanket eating homemade Indian food with my cross country team. It was exotic, spicy, aromatic, and delicious, a wonderful way for us high schoolers to get to know our friends’ heritage and to eat some amazing food. A vegetarian and often anemic, I quickly came to love Saag Paneer ( a dish made with spinach and homemade Indian cheese) for its delicious, creamy, flavors and the fact that its iron content made me feel great when I ate it, still does. I have eaten it dozens of times over the years, but never in my life have I attempted to make it.
If you read my blog often, you know that I cook frequently but that most of my food is fairly simple. I am learning to take risks, and advancing to the next round in Project Food Blog provided the perfect excuse. I was going to make Saag Paneer.
The timeline for this post was short, so I mustered up my 50th wind for the week and headed to the grocery store straight after work. I had an idea in my head of what the ingredients would be, and I consulted a few websites for the others.
I thought about trying to buy already-made Paneer, soft cheese popular in Indian cooking, but then realized my post wouldn’t be much without it, so I took the leap and decided to make it myself using an incredibly easy recipe from All Recipes. For the Saag part, I loosely followed a recipe from the Food Network.
I tried to keep my ingredients local. The hot pepper, onion, garlic, butter, and buttermilk were all from Massachusetts or somewhere else in New England.
|Saag10 ounces of spinach1 TBS curry powder
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 red chili pepper, finely diced
3 TBS grated ginger
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup buttermilk
5 TBS ghee, clarified butter made by heating butter until a boil, then filtering out the white foam, or milk solids
|Paneer1/2 gallon whole milk4 cups buttermilk|
Since I was most nervous about the cheese, I started with that and found that it could not be easier. Boiling milk, slowly streaming in buttermilk, straining it in cheesecloth, and allowing the packed curds to cool was all it took.
I was hungry, and it was difficult for me to not eat the whole ball of cheese in all of its fresh, creamy deliciousness. I flattened the cheese out and allowed it to cool so that I could later cut it into cubes.
The spinach ended up being easy as well. I made the ghee by bringing butter to a boil, the pouring it through a fine mesh strainer which got all of the white solids out, leaving behind a clarified butter. In that ghee, I sautéed the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper. Meanwhile, the spinach cooked down in a small bit of water. Once the spinach had wilted down sufficiently, I added it to the flavorful ghee mixture, tossed it all around, then turned the heat off before adding the yogurt and buttermilk.
I topped the spinach with cubes of cheese. The recipe called for me to fry them, but they were so delicious on their own, I wanted to preserve those flavors.
This dish turned out so well! It was creamy, slightly spicy, a little tangy, and warm, cozy, comfort food. I am glad that I took the leap, and like with baking, I am learning that even dishes that seem complicated are easy if you have all of the ingredients you need.
Thank you to all who voted for me in the first round of Project Food Blog. I never imagined being advanced to the next round, but I was thrilled and so happy to have the chance to take this culinary journey to India. Best wishes to all of the contestants!
Do you have a favorite dish that seems far too daunting for you to make?