Saturday, April 7, 2007

Palak Paneer

I actually was a vegetarian for a couple of years. It was around the time when I had my first decent kitchen and was starting to cook a lot, mainly using Mollie Katzen's original Moosewood Cookbook and
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada's Higher Taste, which is a little Krishna Consciousness tract with really good recipes. Later on I got hold of Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine, which is pretty much the last word on Vedic cooking, as well as one of the best-written cookbooks I've seen on any subject.

However uneasy-making other aspects of ISKCON may be, I admire their philosophy of food and cooking quite a lot. Everything you cook is presented to Krishna before you eat it. You aren't just cooking for yourself or your friends; every time you pick up a knife and turn on your stove, you're cooking for God, and what you end up eating is God's leftovers. So everything you do in the kitchen is to be done with love and care and attention and a sense of holy purpose.

The downside is that Krishna's a bit of a picky eater. Besides being a vegetarian, he doesn't like onions and garlic. Serious Vedic cooks use asafoetida instead. Which, if I ever had any inclination to become a devotee myself, would be enough to dissuade me.

I still value Indian cuisine in general for its vast and wonderful possibilities for vegetarian cooking. As much as I love rogan josh and lamb vindaloo, nothing gets me going like bengan bharta, or gobi aloo, or a good mixed vegetable curry. And of course palak paneer. Man, oh man. Serious comfort food.

I'm not sure where I got this recipe. It's decidedly unsuitable for a Vedic diet. Krishna's loss.

8 oz. paneer, cut into ½-inch cubes. (To make paneer, bring a gallon of milk to a boil and add a tbsp. of lemon juice to it to make it curdle, then pour it into a cheesecloth-lined colander, wrap the cheesecloth over the curds, put a weight on it, and let it drain overnight. Or buy the stuff at an Indian grocery or Whole Foods or somewhere like that.)
1 billiard-ball-sized onion, medium chop.
2 fat garlic cloves and a thumb-sized hunk of ginger, minced together.
½ tsp. cumin.
¼ tsp. coriander.
¼ tsp. tumeric.
A pinch (or more) of cayenne.
2 smallish tomatoes, medium chop.
A 10-oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted in the microwave and drained.

Fry the paneer in ghee or peanut oil till lightly colored. Don't let it get too crispy or it will take on an odd styrofoamlike texture. Drain on paper towls and set aside.

Saute the onions with about ½ tsp. salt till transparent. Add the spices and the garlic and ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes and cook for about five minutes, till everything is well acquainted. Add the spinach, turn the heat to low, and cook for about ten minutes more. Add the paneer.

Makes 2 healthy servings. Serve with basmati rice and hot lime pickle, and maybe some nice cucumber chutney as a mouth-cooler.


T said...

Oh. Oh. Oh! One of my all-time favorites...J is drooling, too, and we may have to try to make it with tofu for her--not the same, of course, but better than none at all.

Rob said...

Or substitute fried potatoes for the paneer: palak aloo.

Orion said...


An Briosca Mor said...

Hey, I think I'm gonna have to try this one. I haven't done much Indian cooking myself, although I did take an Indian Dinner class at L'Academie a couple of Saturdays ago. We made samosas, a Bombay beef curry, shrimp curry, sweet and sour chickpeas, naan bread and mago and coconut ice cream. Maybe when I attempt some of these at home I'll photoblog my way through them.

Any hints on making basmati rice? That's the one thing that they provided for us already made at the class. I haven't got a foolproof method for cooking rice at home yet (maybe I should break down and get a rice cooker), and it would be good to know what the little flavorful spices and other add-ins they put in the rice were. They didn't tell us that.

Rob said...

Wow, John I'd love to see all those recipes. I haven't got a clue about cooking meat in this style, and making my own naan seems as abstruse to me as making my own microwave oven.

I use Lundberg basmati, which is American-grown and seems a little more toothsome than most Indian brands. It also doesn't require the laborious rinsing process that basmati usually calls for. I just follow the package directions: two parts rice to three parts water, a little salt, bring it to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. The only trick I know of is not taking the lid off the pot while it's cooking. It's nice to throw a couple of cloves in, or some cracked cardamom pods, or some currents, but I generally don't mess around too much with it. The stuff is delicious enough to eat by itself.

Maybe if I had a rice cooker I'd understand why they're so awesome, but I don't see the appeal, frankly. Just another single-purpose machine to take up space. Now if I could find a rice cooker that grilled paninis and made daiquiris, I might consider it.

An Briosca Mor said...

The beef curry (aka Sacred Cow Hash, since traditionally it probably would have been made with lamb) is just a stew, technique-wise the same as a western meat stew (cooked long and slow), just with different spices and thickened with coconut milk at the end. The shrimp curry cooks quicker as it's basically a vegetable curry with shrimp thrown in at the end because they cook quickly. Apparently the traditional way to cook shrimp in India is very well done rather than semi-raw as we eat them here.

We weren't able to do the naan bread in the traditional throw-it-on-the-side-of-a-Tandoor-oven way, so instead we grilled it just like the way I grill pizza. The dough is made with yogurt and a lot of yeast, so it's very fast rising. I bagged some of the dough in a plastic baggie to bring home, and by the time I got home the bag had sprung a leak and a fairly large dough appendage had sprouted out.