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Palak Paneer success
pumpkinhead
thisisthehabit

On try #2, I succeeded so well with my palak paneer making attempts that I don't think I'll ever make it this good again. The first one was ok but lacklustre; this is better than what I've had at most restaurants. You folks know I don't tend to think much of my cooking most of the time, so if I'm this happy about something I cooked that should tell you something.

I tend to cook in a rather off-the-cuff, make-it-up-as-I-go style. The downside of this is that it's hard to replicate things when I do end up making something that really, really works. Writing it up promptly seems to help. So - here 'tis. All quantities are extremely approximate.

By the way, this is a vegetarian meal - there's no meat of any sort, and the cheese doesn't contain rennet.

Ingredients

Quantity Warning: As listed, this recipe will feed a small army, especially as it's served on rice and you should have much more rice than you do palak paneer. However, it freezes great, and who doesn't love having curry in the freezer?

Butter warning: As listed, this recipe contains near-fatal quantities of butter. I made this as a present for some friends, and they're into that sort of thing, but it's not something I (or most people) can afford to do day-to-day. I'll update as I find out how much I can cut the butter without hurting the flavour.

  • Lots of spinach - I used about 600g. Frozen is easier and more convenient, but fresh works.
  • Lots of paneer - I used about 400g.
  • 2 big onions, finely diced
  • 1/2 bulb FRESH garlic, finely chopped then crushed
  • 200g butter or ghee(oh shit!)
  • 1 - 2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 - 2 tbsp ground tumeric
  • 1 - 2 tbsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 - 2 tbsp garam masala. Use fairly fresh - old garam masala tastes like dirt.
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes / crushed chilli
  • 3 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp grated whole nutmeg. Could probably use 1-2 tsp ground instead.
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 Massel veggie stock cubes

See "ingredients notes" below for details on ingredients, ingredient freshness recommendations, etc.

Method

Assuming you're using frozen spinach: defrost, then add a little water and blend with a wand blender / bench blender / food processor until it's a puree. It doesn't have to be *too* smooth. If you're using fresh spinach instead you'll want to chop it, cook it a little, then blend it. Once you have a spinach pureé, put it aside.

In a wide-bottomed pot big enough to hold the completed curry, melt about half the butter. Once melted, add the nutmeg, then sprinkle in the cumin seeds, being sure to crush them between your fingers as you sprinkle. Cook on low until the cumin begins to sizzle or pop slightly (do not burn!) then add garlic. Cook another couple of minutes on low, then add onion and stock cubes. Fry slowly, occasionally adding a splash of water - you want the onion to go clear and begin to break down. Allow a good 15 - 20 minutes low cooking.

While the onion is cooking, melt the rest of the butter in a big frying pan. Add paneer, and fry until the paneer browns on the outside and begins to soften. Pour the paneer and butter into the pot with the onions once the onions have clarified and softened nicely.

Add the rest of the spices and the salt, stirring them into the mix well. Pour the spinach pureé in, then bring to a simmer and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Season further as desired.

Serve with rice on a day you've had lots and lots of exercise ;-)

Ingredient notes

Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese. It's a fresh (ie un-aged) pressed-curd cheese that is generally used in cooking. It's really, really tasty. You can get it pre-made at any Indian supermarket and many other asian grocers, in fresh packaged and/or frozen form.

If you don't have whole cumin seeds, omit it where it's called for in the recipe. Instead, add 3 or 4 tsp of ground cumin seed with the rest of the spices later. I find cumin to be notably better when used whole.

All your ground spices should be reasonably fresh. Within a year seems to be a reasonable yardstick, though how well they keep depends on storage conditions and how old they were when you got them. Add ground spices toward the end of cooking. Whole spices keep better, but still far from forever, so your three-year-old open packet of whole cumin seeds should probably be replaced. Whole spices should usually be added early, or pre-roasted.

If you want to use other whole spices in place of ground spices, you can probably just pre-fry them along with the cumin seeds, using about 1/2 to 2/3 as much as you would ground. If you're using whole coriander seeds you'll probably want to crush or grind them after pre-frying though - scoop the whole butter-and-spices paste out, let it cool a bit, and blend it (gasp!) or grind it an a mortar+pestle.

Garam masala is just a spice mix, so you can always add appropriate spices directly instead. I can never be bothered, but you'll get much better results if you do so, especially if you add the spices to pre-fry with the cumin seeds.

It'd probably be yummy to add some whole black cardamom - not ground, just left whole in the pot.


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