Monday, January 10, 2011

Palak Paneer

For the most part we ate American fare growing up. When it came to ethnic food, my mother didn’t venture very far except for Italian standbys like lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs. I was introduced to ethnic food in my early twenties when I met Nick. On a whisk around the local restaurant “globe” I discovered a whole new world around eating. What a thrilling culinary escapade ... Chinese, Mexican, Indian and Mediterranean became some of my all-time favorite cuisines to eat.

While I truly adore them all, if I was forced to choose one as my favorite, its Indian cuisine! Particularly palak paneer, a popular dish with spinach and cheese. Spinach, one of my favorite vegetables – the palak part, is mixed with robust flavored spices and milk and then whirled in a food processor until it’s smooth and creamy. Paneer, a non-melting, fresh farmer cheese gets a quick sauté in oil. All in all it’s a flavor sensation, not to mention the wonderful combination of textures!

After so many years of enjoying this dish in restaurants, I finally got the courage to prepare it. I did some palak paneer recipe research and found many variations. I didn’t follow any one particular recipe; rather I used what I had on hand based on ingredients found in many of the palak paneer recipes I perused. Nick and I were thrilled with the results of my endeavor. Great news, it’s surprisingly simple to prepare.

Helpful to know: I use Thai Kitchen red curry paste in this recipe, I love the way its complex flavors unfold in this dish. Red curry paste can be found in the international isle and paneer can be found in the cheese department of most grocery stores nationwide. If you are lucky enough to have an Indian grocer nearby, they will likely have both in stock. As for serving, I prefer paneer situated on top of the palak but you can also mix it with the paneer.

Palak Part

2 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons red curry paste

One 16-ounce bag chopped spinach, thawed

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

In a large pot over moderate heat, heat oil, add cumin, turmeric and ginger, stir until well combined, cook for about 1 minute. Add red curry paste and spinach, stir until ingredients are incorporated. Add flour; stir until combined with spinach mixture. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly, add salt, reduce heat and simmer for about 7 minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth. Return to pot and keep warm while you prepare the paneer.

Paneer Part

1 tablespoon canola oil

One 8-ounce package paneer cheese, cut into bite size pieces

In a saute pan, heat oil over moderately high heat and sauté paneer until golden brown.

Palak Paneer

To serve, divide palak among 6 shallow rimmed bowls, top palak with paneer, distributing equally. Serves 4-6.