Wednesday, December 21, 2005

palak paneer

A couple years back I was attending a falconry field meet in Yuba City, which is about an hour or so north of Sacramento, and straight north. The kind of place where you expect biscuit and gravy instead of garlic bread. Imagine my surprise to find a small but thriving Indian community.

After a fine day of hawking I invited two falconers to have dinner at the Indian restaurant. One of them, a Southern Californian and more than a little provincial, asked me hesitantly, "They do serve meat there, I hope?" He ended up really enjoying the lamb curry and tandoori chicken, and I had enough naan and palak paneer left over to make the other falconers at the field meet wonder what the heck I was eating for breakfast.

I'm glad to have gotten this one figured out, because seemingly all my favorite Indian restaurants have stopped serving palak paneer for lunch in favor of saag aloo (spinach with potatoes instead of paneer). The recipe will make enough palak paneer to serve two decent portions and freeze two more for another day.

Paneer (the cheese)
Don't use lemon juice or vinegar. Bring 1 gallon milk to a boil, and slowly add about 3/4 of a quart of buttermilk, stirring slowly. It'll separate into large curds. Pour the lot through a cheesecloth, reserving a bit of the whey. Wring dry and let it cool. Turn curds into a bowl, add a little salt, and knead to break them into finer bits. It should ball up, dough-like. If too dry, add a little reserved fluid.

Put on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, flatten to about 1/2" thick and let it settle again. With a smooth knife, slice into cubes or rectangles no more than 3/4" long. For the palak, fry the paneer cubes lightly in ghee.

It's really worth it making your own paneer. The flavor is totally better. Frozen paneer is available, but the texture is too dry to slice without crumbling.

Palak (the spinach)
Clean all the mud and crap off 3 buns spinach, or defrost and wring 3 10-oz packages frozen. Cube 2 small onions and start them sauteeing in 2 oz ghee. Mince a thumb-sized piece of ginger root and throw that in. Coarsely chop the spinach and throw that in, turn the flame down to medium-low and cover. Prod it once in a while so it's cooking evenly. Cook about 1 hr until everything is getting mushy (while it's doing that, you can fry the paneer). Add about 1 T ground cumin and 2-1/2 T garam masala, salt/pepper to taste, cayenne to taste. Add your fried paneer and fold it in (but if it breaks, so what.) Let it cook and absorb the flavor for 15 or so minutes or as long as you like. This usually tastes better the next day.

1 comment:

C. Y. Noquote said...

From all the women who look at an asparagus spear and gain weight, to all the men who lose weight by waking up -- we hate you.