Saag Paneer(ish)–That’s Right, Italians Can Rock Indian Too
I bet when you think of a full-tomato-sauce-blooded Italian plotting ways to duplicate beloved Indian dishes, your gut tells you that somebody’s had too much wine and should probably quit while they’re ahead. Personally speaking, this is pretty much true with every non-Italian dish I’ve ever attempted to make on my own (Asian, Thai, Japanese, Indian–you name it), but I recently came across a recipe that, through a few modifications based on my personal taste, seemed to finally break the barrier.
I’ve ‘tested’ this dish three times since my initial modifications, and have been pleased with the results each time. That said, I think this is a pretty solid–undoubtedly bastardized from what you’d actually be served in India, but solid nonetheless–version of the traditional Indian dish, Saag Paneer.
I invite all Italians and non-Italians and curious cats to give this one a try–despite all the text, this is really a simple dish to make and great for multi-tasking. (Also, in case you missed it, the original recipe can be viewed at the link above.)
- 1/2 medium to small onion, chop-mashed (in Andrea language, that means mined as finely as possible, and then mashed with a spoon)
- Approx. 1/2 tbsp. of garlic puree (this can be bought in small jars or paste tubes–try to purchase the one with the smallest ingredient list)
- Small nub of garlic, the size of a nickel or quarter, mined as finely as possible
- 1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 cup plain milk yogurt (I’ve been using low-fat, but suspect that whole milk might actually be better for this recipe)
- 4 oz. buttermilk (makeshift buttermilk recipe here)
- 1 cup half and half
- 2 tsp. red chili powder
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 1/2 tbsp. (or less) of dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp. garam masala (4 tsp if you prefer spicier)
- 6 oz. paneer cheese
- Salt, to taste
- Grind onion, garlic and ginger into a fine paste, using a small food processor. NOTE: Even with the food processor, it’s difficult to get the onion into a paste (I even tried mashing it with a mortar and pestle but that didn’t do anything but make a mess). So once I got it into the Dutch Oven, I used an immersion blender to make it as fine as possible—this satisfied me [enough].
- In medium saucepan (I recommend a Dutch Oven), combine paste, spinach, yogurt, buttermilk, chili powder, garam masala, cinnamon stick, clove, and brown sugar. Simmer at medium heat for 20-30 minutes. I recommend half-covering the lid; stir occasionally.
- Mash the ingredients with an immersion blender (avoid destroying cinnamon stick) or potato masher. Add half and half, and simmer until mixture has creamy consistency, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut paneer into 1/2-inch(ish) cubes.
- When mix seems creamy and a thicker consistency, add paneer. Simmer 5 minutes, and season with salt. Serve with naan and/or basmati rice. (I really like this dish with coconut basmati rice).
Yields 4-6 servings.
Like always, if you try this out and make your own successful alterations, be sure to post a comment! I’m curious as to what other non-Indians would change to get that delicious Saag Paneer taste