My first and only previous attempt at making palak paneer was, how shall I put it, a fiasco? Yes, that would be the right word to describe it. All I knew about palak paneer was that it was essentially pureed palak or spinach and paneer or Indian cottage cheese cooked together; I had paneer and spinach in my fridge, hence the decision to make palak paneer. That a recipe was missing, and that I did not know what other ingredients went in, did not bother me; I ploughed on bravely, boiling and pureeing, sautéing and stirring and essentially throwing in whatever came to hand.
At the dining table (or rather, a cardboard box that served as a dining table - we were just getting started), gku sampled the green curry with his usual (and sometimes over) enthusiasm towards food. Having tasted it earlier, I knew it was not great, and had warned gku so. Nevertheless, I hoped gku would vehemently disagree with me and declare it the best paneer he had ever eaten. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit (I do enjoy a touch of drama), but I did hope he would at least say it was passable or not as bad as I thought it was. This is what he said, "You know Indu, it just isn't possible to make paneer curry at home the way they do in restaurants. It is not your fault." Ouch! Though his words were meant to console, they left me wondering why he could not have eaten his meal in silence, or why he could not have talked about happier things like the weather, and whether it was only him or had the cosmos destined all men to be tactless.
A couple of years had gone by since that fateful day (what did I tell you about my inclination towards drama?) and I decided it was time for one more attempt at palak paneer. I wanted to make sure it was good, so this time, I browsed through many recipes online, and realized that this was a very mildly spiced curry with the flavours coming from the spinach and paneer and the tiniest bit of spices; whatever it was, it definitely did not need that heaped tablespoonful of garam masala that I had added earlier.
This is how I made it this time:
You will need:
200 grams Paneer
5 bunches fresh spinach
2 clove garlic
2 teaspoons ginger, chopped finely
1 onion, minced
1/2 tomato, minced
3 green chilies, slit lengthwise (or adjust according to tolerance)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons fresh cream (optional, I couldn't resist)
2 tablespoons oil (any refined cooking oil)
To taste, salt
As required, Water
Dice paneer into one inch by one inch by half inch pieces. Heat oil in a pan and fry the paneer to a golden brown colour. While frying the paneer, boil a cup of salted water (a pinch of salt will suffice), and keep aside. Remove the fried paneer with a slotted spoon, and put them into the hot water. Drain water after 10 minutes. This prevents the paneer from hardening incase you have fried them a bit too long.
Wash spinach thoroughly in running water until no dirt remains on the leaves. Cut off the stems and blanch the leaves in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes. Transfer the leaves immediately to a bowl of chilled water. This prevents the spinach from being cooked further and helps retain the vibrant green colour of the leaves. Drain the water and grind the spinach into a smooth paste.
Heat oil (that you used to fry the paneer, adding more if required) in a pan and add cumin seeds. Fry for a few seconds and pour in the minced onion. Fry till the colour of the onion starts changing. Toss in the chopped ginger, garlic and green chilies. Saute for a minute before adding the minced tomato. Stir for a few more seconds, then add pureed spinach. Mix well and adjust seasoning. When the gravy comes to boil, add the fried paneer and lemon juice and mix together. Cook for a minute more, and finally add fresh cream.
I did some background check on spinach, and learnt that while spinach may not make you as strong as Popeye (The Sailor Man), it has high nutritional benefits; it is packed with vitamins and is a good source of iron, calcium and antioxidants. (Antioxidants are supposed to slow down the ageing process. Ladies, are you listening?!) Click here for additional information on spinach.
I served the palak paneer with kulcha, which is a kind of flat Indian bread. This kulcha recipe has been tried and tested by my parents (who gave me the recipe) and my friend crl (with whom I shared the recipe) and by myself. Crl was quite happy with it, and asked me to post it on my blog. So here goes:
For the dough:
250 grams plain flour/maida
1 1/2 teaspoon active dried yeast
1/3 cup tablespoons hot milk
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons curd
2 tablespoons oil (any refined cooking oil)
1 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped
Mix together all the ingredients for the filling.
Dissolve yeast and sugar in hot milk. Sift together flour and salt and add the yeast mixture, curd and oil. Knead into a soft dough, adding more milk or water as required.
Cover with a moist cloth and leave in a warm place for 5 to 6 hours, or till the dough has doubled in size. Knead the dough once again and let it rest for 15 more minutes.
Divide the dough into balls larger than lemons. Roll out a ball into a 5 cm (round) disc on a lightly floured surface. Place a tablespoon of filling onto the centre, and bring together edges of the disc to enclose the filling. Roll it out once more. Repeat with all the balls.
To cook the kulcha, you can
Either bake the kulcha in an oven at 200C for 8 to 10 minutes.
Or place the kulcha on a heated tawa/pan. When one side is cooked, flip over and cook the other side.
Or apply water on one side of the kulcha. Place the kulcha on a heated tawa/pan, wet side down, and press with a spoon so that it sticks to the pan. Invert the pan over the flame, so that the kulcha is exposed to direct flame and brown spots appear on the surface.
I am submitting the kulcha recipe to YeastSpotting.
Enjoy your hot palak paneer and kulcha along with onion slices and lemon wedges.
PS: I must add that the few years of our life together has done gku a lot of good. Today, if I try on a new outfit and ask him whether I look fat, he either talks about the weather, or runs to the toilet clutching his stomach, or gives me a bear hug that he takes care not to break until some distraction arrives, usually in the form of my son. Cheers !!!.