Monday, September 8, 2014

Palak paneer - ever green choice in Indian restuarants

A big apology for being MIA (missing in action) for the past 2 weeks. Totally unplanned and the longest I have stayed away from the blog without a valid excuse (such as travel, sickness etc). So what is my invalid excuse this time? Been busy :-), yep truly busy but more than that I find that my brain is scattered all over the place not letting me sit and focus on the blog. I keep adding drafts and pictures to my folders but when I am done with work and cooking in the evening, I am just exhausted to create something fresh :-(. The first week went by ok since I have been doing a weekly post anyway, but the second week was a guilt trip and every day I would tell myself that I would sit down and nurture my blog baby but when I did sit down, I would be looking into an empty brain too tired to generate any thoughts. I would glare at the pictures, write a title and then feel sorry for myself and shut the laptop down :-). Since it wasn't healthy for me, I finally told myself not to worry but enjoy the break period. It wasn't like I lost interest in cooking but it was just finding the energy to blog about it. Now after 2 weeks, I am back again (with no promises to do this daily or multiple times a week, but as frequently as I am able to write). And I do miss visiting my favorite blogs, I will be there soon.
So all this MIA act of mine needs a really inviting dish as a come back vehicle, don't you think so? What I have today is an extremely popular side dish in Indian restaurants. And there are umpteen number of variations and family recipes out there, so why am I (a very South Indian from the south of India) blogging about this very common North Indian subzi? I think I have some pearls of wisdom, having (forced to) eaten it every time from rustic, road side dhabas to fancy restaurants with DD since she LOVES it :-). I have enjoyed some versions, hated some, been indifferent to some others. What makes this simple dish a winner? Just a few things to keep in mind as you make it and I will share all I know here. Food is as good as it looks, right? Retain and lock in that naturally vibrant green color for an appetizing subzi (curry) and keep the spices to a minimum to enjoy the inherent taste of the greens.  Freshness of paneer matters a lot, so get good quality paneer from the store or make some at home and here is how.
I made a lot of paneer at home yesterday. BH has a small coffee grinder and powders the seeds every morning and puts it in to the filter for his morning cuppa. He drank his coffee this way for years since we came here and he claimed it was the best coffee. Since we came back from India last month, he started complaining that it didn't taste as good or anything close to his mom's filter kaapi (Indian coffee). Initially I dismissed it as homesickness and then said his taste buds had taken a flight given all the fever and throat infections we fought for a couple of weeks but things didn't improve. And all of sudden a week back, he declared that he was going to stop drinking coffee (!), while he is not an addict, he definitely enjoyed the brown potion a couple of times if he was home or atleast the mandatory first drink in the morning. He has taken to sipping a cup of hot water now. Strange are the ways of the world :-)
A non coffee drinker myself, I am neutral to his coffee habits but we had a whole gallon of fat free milk that he used in the coffee which threatened to go down the sink if I didn't use it before it got outdated. Now, I didn't want to make fat free yogurt with a gallon of milk (I am sure, it would never have been consumed), so I went ahead and made paneer with it. Healthy bhi and tasty bhi. DD says paneer tastes yummy. I am so proud of myself for not wasting that milk. There is about a pound of good quality roasted coffee seeds in the refrigerator and I have no clue what to do with it. I think I will organize a 'coffee over' day in my neighborhood. I will make some nice snacks to go with it, let me know if you are interested :-)

Given DD's affinity to palak paneer, it was a natural choice for me to make the dish today. The curry and the chapatis were done and ready on the table within 45 minutes of me reaching home from work. As the kitchen was engulfed in the flavor of the curry, BH volunteered to help me with pictures('carrots on a stick' is not at all over rated :-)). All in all, family with happy tummies is a good beginning to the work week. So, here is my palak paneer (cottage cheese in spinach gravy) version - curry made in a hurry.
What do you need to make Palak paneer? 
4 cups tightly packed palak or spinach leaves (I used baby spinach)
2 green chilies chopped fine
1 inch piece ginger
1/2 cup yogurt whisked
1/2 cup onion minced or very thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic minced
2 Tbsp cilantro
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp coriander powder
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1 cup paneer cubes
1 Tsp fresh lemon juice
How do you make Palak Paneer? 
  • Bring water to bubbling stage in a sauce pan. 
  • Add the cleaned palak leaves and push them with a spoon to submerge in water. 
  • Boil for 2-3 minutes and as soon the leaves wilt, take it off the heat. 
  • Drain the water out and immediately run cold water on the leaves. 
  • Let them sit for a couple of minutes and puree in the blender along with chopped cilantro. 
  • Heat oil, sizzle cumin.
  • Add crushed garlic and ginger and fry for a minute.
  • Add minced onion and fry for 3-4 minutes until onion sweats and turns limp
  • Add whisked yogurt, coriander powder and salt.
  • Let it come to a boil (2-3 minutes)
  • Add the pureed mixture and stir it in. 
  • Adjust consistency with water and test for salt. 
  • Once bubbles start appearing, add the cubed paneer, give a gentle mix and switch off. 
  • Add lemon juice before serving.  
  • I used fresh, home made paneer and didn't saute them in oil. If you use frozen paneer, saute them in a Tbsp oil until they turn very light brown on both sides, put them in cold water until ready to use. This retains the softness of the paneer. 
  • I do not add garam masala or tomato as I feel it spoils the color :-). If you like, you can puree a tomato and add it (reduce yogurt in this case and skip lemon juice to balance the tangyness).
  • Use butter instead of oil for a richer taste. Add a Tbsp of cream once you switch off and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving to make it richer. 
  • If you love the bright green color of the curry, it is important to follow these steps: 
    • Do not cover and cook while boiling spinach. 
    • Do not cook for more than 3-4 minutes (you should switch off the stove as soon as the leaves wilt)
    • Drain the hot water and run cold water immediately after taking out of stove.
    • Plan the pureeing so that it doesn't sit out for long before getting added to the curry. 


Lakshmi Grandhim said...

ahaaa...olle ootada timege nodi bayalli neeru bantu. Sooper!

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very nice recipe with cute pictures.

Vimitha Anand said...

very healthy dish for chapathis

Priya Suresh said...

Never get bore of this greeny paneer, my all time favourite,love it to the core.