When I was a spinach-disliking child, my brother would torment me at the dinner table by telling me how delicious the spinach was, “MMMMmmmMMMMMMmmm”, in that annoying way that only little brothers can do. I later found out that he didn’t even like it himself. He admitted that he just ate it because Popeye did. Well, Popeye wasn’t one of my childhood heroes, but fortunately I did eventually learn the joys of leafy green veggies and now I’m a total convert. Nobody has to tell me to eat my greens now.
One reason I like making saag paneer is that you can make the delicious green sauce out of anything you have at hand, even frozen spinach. When Indians refer to greens in recipes it usually means you can use any leafy green vegetable. For instance, saag paneer (or similarly Palak Paneer) is often made of spinach with a bit of mustard greens thrown in for good measure even though “saag” often gets somewhat mistranslated as “spinach”. Of course in New Zealand we are fortunate to have a variety of leafy greens available all year round especially if you frequent Asian supermarkets as I do. So, It’s cheap, delicious and healthy. Three cheers for easy healthy meals!
The second reason I like making this is that I love paneer. As I was frying this up I realised that many people might not have access to fresh paneer, so watch for my upcoming post on how to make your own. But, until then, try Indian spice shops and just ask the shopkeeper if you don’t see it in the fridge. Another alternative that I’ve heard of (although I haven’t tried myself) is to use tofu. Paneer has a very mild taste and so I can imagine this working with a firm tofu.
The two things you can play with here are the texture and the treatment of the paneer. If you have a hand blender or a food processor you can blend the whole sauce before adding the paneer so that you get a nice, smooth gravy. But if you like it with more texture, you can just leave it as it is. Also, I like to fry up the paneer so that you get that nice, golden crust on the outside. But it’s absolutely OK to just cook the paneer straight in the sauce.
Tomato Saag Paneer
Vegetable oil for frying
3 cloves of garlic (or more)
A couple of centimeters of fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon of cumin powder (jeera)
½ teaspoon ground coriander powder
½ teaspoon turmeric (haldi)
½ teaspoon of chili powder
100 grams of paneer cubed
250 grams of spinach or other green leafy vegetable (you can use fresh or frozen)
2 handfuls of chopped fresh tomatoes or one tin
Salt to taste
Fry the paneer in a little oil until brown and then set aside on kitchen paper. You don’t have to fry it, but it gives a nice texture.
Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed and fry the onion for a minute before adding the garlic and grated ginger for one more minute.
Now add the spices and stir around until fragrant (about a minute).
Add the spinach and cook down adding the tomatoes and paneer at the end.
Let everything simmer together with a bit of salt to taste and serve with rice or roti.