Sunday, November 8, 2015

Palak Paneer

Palak/Spinach - 1 large bunch fresh (not baby spinach), or 1 bag thawed frozen chopped spinach
Paneer - I make it myself (instructions below), or 8-16oz of frozen cubes.  Also called queso fresca.
                 1 gallon of milk, preferrably raw milk
                 2-3 tsp of citric acid or a lemon
Onions - 2 large
Tomatoes - 1 jar or can, or 2 large fresh
Oil/Ghee/Clarified Butter - 3-5 Tbsp
Garlic - 2-3 cloves
Ginger - 1-2 inch piece
Chili powder - 1 tsp
Curry powder  - 1 Tbsp
Garam Masala - 1 Tbsp
(optional - another tsp of coriander powder,
         - a couple Tbsp of heavy cream)
need pots, pans, food processor, and clean cheesecloth, colander, an empty sink, and a kloodged pressing set up.
Typically served with rice and maybe naan or parathas

1) Make the paneer, many hours ahead of time.  Put the milk in a large pot and bring to a near boil.  It will take awhile but you need to pay attention when it gets close because in most pots it can boil over easily and make a mess, and you'll need to turn the heat down when it gets close.  If it does boil it will still be fine, (if it doesn't make a mess), but the texture will degrade the longer it boils.  Dissolve the 2-3tsbp of citric acid in about a 1/4 cup of cold water, you just need enough that it dissolves.  When the milk is boiling well add the citric acid (or alternately squeeze all the lemon juice out of both halves of a fresh lemon of large lime.  Stir a bit, the milk should fairly quickly clump up into milk-solids on top (the curds), leaving behind a bunch of yellow-greenish (boiling) liquid (the whey).  If the liquid is still fairly milky in color/texture, you may need to curdle it a little more with a little more lemon juice/lime juice/citric acid.  A little vinegar will work too.  Turn off heat and let it cool 10 min.  Put the cheesecloth over the colander and both in the empty sink.  Pour the pot into the cheesecloth (curds and whey).  The whey should flow through the cloth, out the colander and into the sink, leaving only the curds.  Press the cheesecloth by hand to get more whey out, it will be hot.  Gather the corners of the cheesecloth, and tie them off, or use a rubberband, or sandwich bag tie, or something to close it.  Now you need several hours of long slow press to get more of the whey out.  I put a flat-bottomed metal strainer over the pot I just used, put the paneer-curds in the cheesecloth on it, put a skillet over it, and then a serious weight (say my 5lb jar of flour or sugar or something).  The idea is to use the weight to slowly press the whey out of the curds, and give it a place to run-off to without doing any damage or re-absorbing.  It takes a couple hours, say 3-5 optimally.  If you have a real cheese press, that should work too.  Or other similar kloodges.  Paneer is the easiest cheese to make at home.  The Mexican cheese queso fresco, and the Slavic cheese tvorog are basically the same thing in other cultures.  If you use milk that is a little soured, the same process yields the Indian chhena (don't press it quite as long), or the Slavic quark,
2) about an hour before the dish is done - if the spinach is frozen thaw it in the microwave for 6 min, if fresh, chop roughly and steam in a little bit of water until soft.  You can do this in the microwave or in a pot.
3) Chop garlic and ginger in food processor, remove (into a little bowl, with a good spatula) and set aside
4) Finely chop onions in the food processor (you'll probably need to cut them into chunks first).
5) Heat oil in heavy pan over medium-high heat.
6) And finely chopped onions and after 5 minutes add the garlic and ginger.  Fry a bit more.
7) Meanwhile, puree the tomatoes in the food processor
8) Add the curry powder, chili powder, (and optionally the coriander).  Fry 2 minutes.
9) Add pureed tomatoes and fry a while
10) Puree the spinach in the food processor
11) Add the pureed spinach and fry for 2-4 minuted
12) Add the garam masala
13) Unwrap the paneer, chop it into 3/4inch cubes, add to the frying mix and stir in softly (it breaks easily)
14) Turn heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes (Start the rice in the rice cooker nowish, don't forget to salt the rice)
15) Lace the Palak Paneer with a couple of tbsp of cream
16) Serve with rice and naan or parathas

Commentary:  This is a family favorite, taught to us by Hema Coleman-Ganupatti.  It's vegetarian, and stretches well.  Making your own paneer is totally worth it.    If you like making your own paneer at home and get the hang of it, you could advance to trying mozzerella, queso Oaxaca, or sana, each of which are only a little harder.