|above photo by Heidi Swanson|
In other news, as some of you already know, in a joke that became very real, Matt did a three-day juice cleanse. And as much as I enjoyed making fun of him for it on Instagram, I’m actually incredibly proud of him as it’s inspired the whole family to eat a little healthier. For example, I’ve been seeking out healthier recipes. Whenever I do this, I find myself on 101 Cookbooks. So there I was, clicking away when I came upon this version of saag paneer.
My previous experience with saag paneer was a frozen version from Amy’s Organics that I used to take to my graduate assistant job back before this blog was invented. Heidi’s version sounded way better—what with all that golden paneer and buttermilk mixed in.
And it was. After I added about a cup and a half more whole milk yogurt than she calls for. Pre-extra-yogurt, it just tasted like flavorful spinach. Fit enough for a side dish. Post-extra-yogurt and with some toasted naan bread mixed in, it was rich, hearty, and delicious.
As Matt was setting up the final shot, Teddy pulled himself up onto one of the dining room chairs, slapped the nearby chair with his palm and yelled, “Mama, mama, mama, mama!”
It took me a few seconds but then I got it. I asked him, “Do you want to eat?” He nodded emphatically. I figured that I would let him try a few bites, but I hadn’t planned on him eating a giant bowlful of basically spinach, paneer, and yogurt. But he did and loved it. (If you try this at home and your child does not love it, apologies in advance!) (The other day I made him some salmon fried rice and he just shook his head.)
Heidi warns you about this and so I feel compelled to do so as well: 1 1/2 pounds of fresh spinach is a TON of spinach. You'll see when you go to the store to buy that much. It does cook down of course.
1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 - 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup buttermilk
splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional) [I personally found this non-optional, adding about 1 1/2 cups of whole milk yogurt in the end.]
LOTS of fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle
Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.
While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.
Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.