Paneer and Dear

Saag paneer is one of the first dishes that Mary Cate and I shared. We were an excessively polite new couple, and simple conversations about such basic matters as where to eat were somehow imbued with the kind of intricacy and capitulation one would expect of international diplomacy. (They still are.)

One evening, after a particularly unremitting discussion in which the various pros and cons of roughly four thousand nearby eateries were meticulously weighed, we decided to pack it in and head for the closest grub we could get. This happened to be at a charming family-run Indian restaurant a few minutes from my apartment. Saag paneer was ordered, a harrowing fast was broken, and a tradition was born. We order saag paneer every time we’re at an Indian restaurant now. Can’t get enough of the stuff.

As we are apt to do, we soon started to chatter about making our own. Various educational and logistical challenges were then brought up, mainly by me, and the idea slid onto the back burner. A few weeks later, we happened upon a great brick of paneer cheese at the grocery store. Surely, this was a sign. I set out to cobble together a feasible recipe from various books, blogs, and websites. This is what I wound up with:

  • 4 oz. paneer cheese, cubed
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 ½ tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 3 cups finely chopped greens, such as spinach
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of fresh black pepper
  • 2 TBSP heavy cream

The methodology here is actually fairly simple.

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and fry the paneer until it’s golden-brown and a bit crispy. Transfer the cubes to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the olive oil in the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over low heat in a small skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant. This will only take a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, Serrano pepper, garam masala, turmeric, tomato, toasted seeds, and 2 tablespoons of water to a blender. Purée into a paste. (Don’t worry if there are whole cumin or coriander seeds that escape the blades of the blender – they’ll be delicious little pockets of flavor to bite into later.)
  4. Reheat the olive oil, add the paste to the skillet, and cook until fragrant, or about one minute.
  5. Add the greens, salt, and pepper. Wilt the greens by stirring frequently, and cook it down for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  6. Stir in the cream, then add the cubes of paneer and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes.
  7. Serve with rice or naan. Or both. 🐽

It’ll never replace that first shared dish, but this recipe has landed squarely among our personal favorites. And there’s something indescribably nice about being able to summon such powerful nostalgia from one’s own tiny kitchen. Forget mashed potatoes or grilled cheese – this is our comfort food. We’d love to hear from you if you try this one out.



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