Saag with homemade paneer

We’ve arrived at a varsity-level technique: cheese making! It sounds scary and impossible, but making fresh cheese at home is surprisingly simple and delicious. The only special ‘equipment’ I had to go out and buy was a piece of muslin (I found that traditional cheesecloth was a bit too porous on my first go-round). The final product is a bit different from what you’ll find in a restaurant, but I think that’s part of what makes it delicious. This recipe does require planning ahead (and stocking your pantry with the long list of ingredients), but for a saag-loving maniac like me, it’s completely worth it. This saag is also a bit lighter than what you’d find in a restaurant, which I think is a good thing (not everything needs to be swimming in a pool of clarified butter). I just can’t resist Indian food, because it combines everything that I love: in-your-face spices, lots of stews and sauces, and weird vegetables. If you’re terrified of making your own paneer or are pressed for time, I’ve made the recipe with cubed tofu instead.

Ingredients

Paneer:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Juice of half a lemon

Saag:

  • 1 T fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • half an onion
  • 4 T paneer whey or water
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 6 T butter, clarified butter, or olive oil
  • Fresh paneer cheese (made above) cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 pounds chopped fresh spinach or two 10 oz packages frozen spinach
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 3/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • squirt of lemon juice

Instructions

Paneer: You will want to make this at least a few hours, or ideally a day or two before you’ll actually cook the dish. Making fresh cheese is actually pretty straightforward. Simply pour the milk into a large pot with the salt and cumin, and heat over medium-high heat to bring to a boil. Be sure to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to low, pour in the fresh lemon juice, and stir in a circular motion in one consistent direction. Keep stirring until the curds fully separate from the whey (takes a couple minutes). You may need to add another squeeze of lemon juice if you’re not getting a lot of curds. Pour the entire contents of the pot into a strainer lined with clean un-dyed muslin. Some people recommend rinsing the curds to get rid of the lemon flavor, but I personally like it, so would recommend leaving it in. Taste a bit of the curds, and if you want, gently mix in more salt and spices into the curds at this point. Use the muslin cloth to squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the curds. Once you’ve done your best by hand, shape the cheese, while still in the muslin, into a flat pancake. Put the cheese on a plate, and cover with another weighted plate (as pictured) to squeeze out the rest of the moisture. Let sit for at least an hour and a half, then take the cheese out of the cloth, wrap in plastic wrap, and keep in the fridge until use. The cheese is quite soft, so I actually liked the texture better after drying out slightly in the fridge. This recipe makes about 6-8 oz paneer.

Saag: Start by pureeing the ginger, garlic, onion, whey, coriander, turmeric, cumin, and paprika in a food processor. Heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat in a pot. Once hot, add the paneer cheese cubes, and cook for a few minutes until the sides are nicely browned. Remove the cheese and set aside, and add your pureed spice mixture and chili flakes to the remaining oil over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, until most of the moisture has cooked out. Then add the spinach and cook down over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (garam masala, salt, soy sauce, yogurt, milk, lemon juice), and if desired, puree the entire mixture slightly with an immersion blender (I prefer this texture!). Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Once you’re happy with the saag, carefully stir in the sautéed paneer cubes. You can eat this right away, but it’s best if allowed to sit on low heat for a few hours. Serve with basmati rice and naan.

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