I love vegetables. I love greens. However, from a vegetable standpoint, winter is tough. Not a whole lot of variety this time of year when it comes to greens. Not much can withstand the frigid temps. Nonetheless, there are a few (hearty) vegetables that thrive this time of year. Of course, there are root vegetables, as well as winter squash and kale. One vegetable that actually seems to peak this time of year, that embraces the frost, is spinach.
And when you have spinach, lots and lots of spinach, I can’t think of anything better to savor than saag (palak) paneer. It’s an all-time (Indian) comfort food.
Palak refers to spinach; whereas, saag consists of a combination of greens.
Paneer refers to the type of cheese used in this dish, a fresh, farmer’s cheese.
But, you don’t have to rely on spinach alone. In fact, this dish may be even better, if that’s possible, with a combination of greens. I’ve made versions using a mixture of chard, tat soi, arugula, spinach (Organic Girl Super Greens), and fenugreek leaves (aka methi).
There are countless variations of saag paneer. There’s a wet and a dry version; chunky or smooth; with or without tomato; with cream, buttermilk or yogurt; and on and on. I wanted one with a bit more texture, a varied assortment of greens, finished with just a bit of cream, as not to overwhelm the other flavors.
Here’s my take on it…
These are fenugreek leaves, which have a mild but pleasantly bitter and herbaceous quality.
If you can’t find fresh fenugreek, no worries. Just add more of the other greens. But if you do have access, fenugreek leaves are a nice addition to this dish.
I simply blanched all the greens, then pulsed them in the food processor.
My mise en place…ghee/clarified butter, paneer, blanched/chopped greens, chopped/minced onion, garlic, ginger, chiles, and spices.
Serve with plenty of naan or roti to scoop up the greens…
1 1/4 to *1 1/2 pounds spinach leaves, cleaned well (or a combination of greens, such as chard, tat soi, arugula)
2 to 3 handfuls fresh fenugreek leaves, cleaned well, leaves picked from stems (optional)
3 tablespoons ghee, divided
8 ounces paneer cheese, cubed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 green chiles, such as jalapeno or serrano, minced (more or less depending on taste)
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander (toasted and ground)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (toasted and ground)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
cayenne to taste
sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons cream
Naan or roti for serving
Wash the greens well. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the greens and boil for a minute or two. With a slotted spoon, drain and transfer the greens to a food processor. Pulse a few times, until well chopped (there should be enough water still clinging to the leaves; if not, add a tablespoon or two of water, one at a time, until well chopped and still a bit chunky, but not completely pureed). Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon ghee, fry the paneer until browned and crispy. Remove with slotted spoon, drain, and set aside
Heat another 2 tablespoons ghee to the pan. Add the cumin seeds and toast 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chiles, and salt, and saute, stirring often, about 15 minutes.
Add the garam masala, ground coriander and cumin, turmeric, and cayenne, and stir until fragrant. Add the spinach/greens, cream, and paneer, and simmer until the spinach is soft, about 8-10 minutes. If it appears a little dry, you can add a little bit of water. Taste and reseason with salt as needed.
*If omitting the fenugreek leaves, use 1 1/2 pounds of greens.