Forget the mystery of the Taj Mahal, the residence of the Dali Lama or the sacred waters of the Ganges River the true mystery for me has aways been producing outstanding East Indian cooking and the intricate layering of spices. Most Indian dishes are easily constructed but complexly layered. The assortment of mouthwatering recipes for Indian food is simply awe inspiring and for a "newbie" like me rather daunting. It is often said that `variety is the spice of life, and never has a proverb held so true than it does to describe Indian cuisine.
Nowadays I can at least spell asafetida and make paneer but finding most of the exotic ingredients used in Indian cooking is a fruitless safari here in K-town. A while back Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen came to the rescue and sent me a care package of some of her favourite spices and combinations to get me started. This gave me the confidence to skim, saute and sneeze my way through layers of spices, vegetables and meats and demystify East Indian cooking for life. I have looked forward to the day I no longer need to stop for East Indian takeout at one of our local hangouts and can move the cooking and recipe development into my own kitchen. I want to thank Lisa for getting me started , motivating me and developing a life long passion for another cuisine.
One of my favourite ingredients when making East Indian food is paneer. This fresh pressed cottage cheese is not only a special favorite with Northern Indians with its delicate milky flavour but is used all over India to make delicious dishes ranging from curries to desserts. Until now I had to make my own paneer cheese if I wanted to recreate any of my favourite dishes. Imagine how thrilled I was to find ready made paneer at one of our local grocers!! You can use other fresh cheeses if paneer is unavailable such as Mexican or Spanish style fresh cheese which are especially good.
Saag paneer literally means “spinach cheese.” This classic northern Indian dish has become so popular that it's sold here in the frozen food section, but, as always, homemade is best. Since Lisa has a vegetarian blog it seemed only fitting to recreate this dish in my own kitchen. This recipe is the perfect way to ease yourself in to East Indian cooking and open up the gateway, or in my case the flood gates. With a good cookbook, a visit to Lisa's Kitchen and some guidance you can demystify East Indian cooking as well.
By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
2 bunches spinach, trimmed
2 tablespoons (25 mL) vegetable oil
3/4 tsp (4 mL) cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (10 mL) finely grated ginger root, or minced
1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh coriander or parsley
2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground Indian hot pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon/2 ml cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) turmeric
1 pinch cinnamon
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup (75 mL) plain Balkan-style yogurt
2 teaspoon (10 mL) lemon juice
3/8 teaspoon (1 mL) garam masala
8oz (227 g) paneer, cubed
In large pot of boiling salted water, blanch spinach just until wilted; drain, chill under cold water and drain again. In food processor, purée spinach with 1/4 cup (50 mL) water; set aside.
In large deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; cook cumin seeds until slightly darkened, about 10 seconds. Add onion and butter; cook until onion is golden, about 8 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium; stir in garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Stir in fresh coriander, hot pepper, salt, ground coriander, turmeric and cinnamon; cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes break down, about 3 minutes.
Stir in puréed spinach; cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adding 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) water if mixture is no longer saucy, until steaming hot, about 3 minutes.
Stir in yogurt, lemon juice and garam masala; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low; add paneer. Cover and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
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