Ever since our favorite Indian place changed ownership, we’ve been trying new places and coming up short. Which forced me to face my fear of cooking Indian. Recently, I had great luck with a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and last night my sister tackled Sag Paneer.
We picked up the ghee (South Asian clarified butter, slightly nuttier than butter you clarify at home) at Whole Foods, and found paneer at New India Sweets & Spices, an Indian grocery on Fairfax with exceptionally friendly service and a great selection. My sister then used a recipe adapted from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, and I sous-cheffed. The reader who was incensed by my impressions of the Larchmont Bungalow might be pleased to know that I got nailed on my forehead by spattering ghee. It hurt. But one taste of this creamy, subtly spicy, nutty, fresh sag paneer, and the ghee incident was immediately forgiven—if not forgotten.
Adapted from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, by Yamuna Devi
2 serrano chiles, minced
½ inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
6 tablespoons ghee
Paneer cheese, 8-10 ounces cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 lbs fresh spinach, washed, trimmed and finely chopped
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of cream cheese, cut into pieces
Splash of heavy cream
Place chiles, ginger and water in blender and purée. Add coriander, turmeric, cumin and paprika and pulse to blend well. Set aside.
Heat the ghee in a skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Carefully add the paneer cheese and fry for about 5 minutes, constantly turning the cubes to evenly brown them on all sides. When the cubes are golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Carefully add chile mixture to the hot oil and then add the spinach leaves. Reduce the heat slightly, cover, and cook for 8 minutes. Using two forks, turn the spinach over so that the cooked leaves on the bottom change places with the leaves on top. Cover and cook for another 8 minutes.
Add the garam masala, salt, paneer, cream cheese and a splash of heavy cream. Cover and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Stir well before serving.