Monday, November 14, 2011

Saag and Tamatar Paneer - a 'Meaty' Vegetarian Comfort Food

Saag and Tamatar Paneer
The thing about being a Vegetarian is that depending on where in the world you live, you find yourself making concessions.  Or at least I do with my low blood pressure and low iron.  I mean yeah, if you find yourself in Eastern Europe or Spain, you could choose to be one of those stalwart vegetarians living on mixed greens and bread.  Not me.  I don't believe that vegetarianism means sacrificing the enjoyment of food.  Particularly, for lack of a better word, I like dishes that are 'meaty' or hearty, rather.  You don't feel left wanting or full of water.  Indian cuisine do this marvelously.  It is a celebration of history, flavour and substance.  Yummo!
Above all dishes, I adore Saag Paneer.  That at the Eggplant dish of Baigan Bartha are my absolute favourites.  I decided last year to make my own Paneer because often in restaurants, the amount of Paneer to Spinach or Peas is a bit disappointing.  It is not hard at all but requires patience.  The first time I made it, it came out a tad crumbly but it still made a delicious Saag Paneer.  You need to cook the curds for a while after they start to separate.  There is a great video on YouTube by a lady called Manjula, seriously, like the Simpsons.  She's great!  When I was younger, I used to watch Madhur Jaffrey on PBS.  I loved how she always started by frying her spices.  Alot of Saag recipes don't call for the Black Mustard seeds but this is a bit of a tribute to my days of watching Madhur Jaffrey.  She always popped her Mustard seeds in various dishes.  I don't know for sure if she used it in this dish.  I really don't know how she managed to keep them in the pan though.  Mine scattered all over so I used a splatter guard.  As well, I didn't fry them.  I dry roasted.
I cook Spinach in a number of ways in Indian, West Indian, Korean, Salads, Spanish ..... In spite of it's leafy form, it is VERY 'meaty'.  It is loaded with iron is fantastic raw or cooked.  In this dish, the Spinach is married with alot of spices but it is still the star.

Saag Tamatar Paneer

600 g (2 pkg) frozen Spinach, chopped (1.5 lbs fresh Spinach)
12-15 oz Paneer (or Extra Firm Tofu, use ~300g if you want less, use 500g if you love Paneer like I do!)
2 T Canola oil
2 T Butter/Gee (Gee is clarified Butter. Use all Butter or Oil but all Butter is better)
2-3 T (6 - 7 medium cloves)Garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups Tomatoes, chopped
1 t Turmeric
1 – 2 t Salt
1 T Cumin Seeds (Jeera)
1/2 T Coriander Seeds
1 t Black Mustard Seeds
5 Whole Cloves
1.5 t ground Red Cayenne
1/2 t Fenugreek (optional)
1 Cardamom Pod (optional)
1 inch Ginger, minced
1 Green Chile, minced
In a dry cast iron pan (or other dry stainless steel pan), toast the Cloves, Fenugreek and Seeds. Move the seeds around until you start to smell them and the Mustard Seeds start to pop. Let the. Cool slightly then grind them fine in a CLEAN grinder used for food or a coffee grinder that is dedicated to spices.

In a large skillet, heat the Butter/Oil on medium high heat. Sautée the Onion until soft and not brown, 3-5 minutes. Add the Chile, Ginger, Garlic for a couple minutes. Add the Spices and the Cardammom Pods and fry for a couple minutes.

**Okay so BE AWARE this is very aromatic! It is heavy and will linger for days so you can do a few things to mitigate 1. Fan on high the whole time. 2. Simmer a saucepan with vinegar water the whole cooking time. 3. Or Mom 'cowboy coffee' after cooking. That means boil water with a few T of ground coffee thrown right in. OR, since all of these things don't work perfectly, do not toast your own seeds, use pre-ground. Then do not fry the spices in the oil until AFTER the Tomatoes. Still do suggestions 1. and; 2. though.

Add the Tomatoes and heat through and mix so Spices and Aromatics are evenly distributed.  Sautee for a few minutes.  Add the Spinach and toss gently.  You don't want to break up the veg too much.  I like a chunky dish.  I really hate the Saag dishes in some joints that look like baby food.
When the all the Spinach as at least started to wilt, or after the Frozen Spinach is heated through, add the Paneer in dice sized cubes.  Fold gently with a wide wooden spoon.  I like to use a Korean Rice scooper.  I don't want to break down the Paneer.
Serve hot over Basmati.  Use Cilantro as a garnish but I know it's not entirely Indian but it's GOOOD.


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