Sarson ka Saag Paneer
So first off, I don’t know Hindi. I’ve never been to India. Sometimes I really have no idea what I’m doing when I’m in the kitchen making Indian food. I’m trying to be authentic with my flavors and combos, but in all honesty I’m totally winging it half the time! Thankfully I have access to Google, and, even better, an awesome base of followers on Instagram that help keep me on track!
That being said (if you’re still reading), I’m not 100% sure how authentic this recipe is. My goal was to recreate the delicious saag paneer that I get in restaurants, while cranking up the spice level, and adding mustard (sarson) because, well, I love mustard greens. I also added spinach (palak) to keep the flavor from becoming overpowering as mustard greens can be pretty intense sometimes! I am fortunate enough to have both of these growing out in my garden this time of year, but if you don’t, most large grocery stores offer them in bulk (the Cub Foods by us does, and it’s nothing fancy!)
If you have an immersion blender it makes this SO much easier – just don’t wear your fancy white shirt because you will for sure be speckled in green by the time you’re done! If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can (carefully) scoop everything into a blender. Just make sure to vent it occasionally while blending as the laws of hot foods in closed containers say that the top will pop off eventually if you don’t!
If you’re going for a strict vegan take on this, sub tofu for the paneer on a 1:1 basis and treat it exactly the same. It’s not going to taste exactly the same, but it will still be delicious.
Asafoetida powder, or hing, has a very unique, deep flavor and smell, kind of like almost-burnt garlic and onions. It’s not something that you can really sub out for something else, so if you can’t find it (I got mine on Amazon, but Indian grocers carry it as well) just skip it. Fenugreek seeds are the same. They’re a bit more available, but if you can’t find them, just leave it out.
One last note. When you’re grinding the spices (and please, please do this, pre-ground just aren’t the same), be careful about sniffing it before everything has settled in the grinder. This may seem super ‘duh’ but I made the mistake of opening the grinder while the hot spices were still floating around in it and it ‘poofed’ out and about gagged me. I now have the smell of Indian food permanently burnt to the inside of my lungs. Could be worse I guess…
Please let me know if you try this recipe! If you’re an expert (or even just have a little knowledge to share!) let me know how you and/or your family makes saag paneer! I am always looking for ways to tweak, improve and variate my recipes!
- 2 (8oz) block Hard Paneer, cut into 1/2" cubes, cold
- 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 2 Thai red chilies, dried
- 1/2" piece Cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
- 1 tsp Fenugreek Seeds (Methi)
- 1/4 tsp Asafoetida Powder (Hing)
- 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 2 medium White Onions, roughly chopped
- 1" square Ginger, peeled and minced
- 4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 Thai green chilies, minced
- 2 large Tomatoes
- 2 large Bunch Spinach, washed thoroughly
- 2 large Bunch Mustard leaves, washed thoroughly
Heat the 2 Tbsp of veg oil over medium high heat in the bottom of a 5 quart dutch oven. When it is shimmering, drop in the cubed paneer, one half at a time so that all pieces are able to brown.
Use a spatula to flip the cubed paneer over and continue to brown. You want to get all sides to be an even, golden brown. When the first batch is done remove to a paper plate, or paper towel lined baking sheet, and repeat with the second batch. Set aside for later.
While the cheese is sauteing bring a quart and half of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. One it is boiling drop in one tomato, cook for about 30 - 45 seconds in the boiling water and then remove and do the same with the other tomato.
Core and skin the tomatoes ans set aside for the masala.
Reduce the heat in the dutch oven to medium. Drop in the red chilies, cinnamon, cumin and the fenugreek seeds and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 - 45 seconds or until aromatic.
Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a spice grinder along with the hing. Pulse everything in the spice grinder until well combined. Set aside. (Don't add the salt yet)
Add the remaining oil to the dutch oven and return to medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and Thai pepper and cook until onions are browned. Add the tomatoes and smash down with a potato masher or wooden spoon.
Cook mixture for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tomatoes have broken down a bit.
Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook mixture for another 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir the masala, it should be softened with the tomatoes almost completely broken down. If not, return the lid and cook another 5 minutes. Otherwise pile the spinach and mustard greens on top of the base and cover. You may need to press down to get all the greens to fit in the pot!
Cook the greens over medium heat without opening the pot for about 20 minutes. Uncover and check, the greens should still be fairly bright, but they should also be reduced in volume by about half. If not cover and cook another 5 - 10 minutes.
Once the greens are thoroughly wilted it's time to blend. If you have an immersion blender use it to turn the masala into a smooth, bright green emulsion. If you're using a blender CAREFULLY scoop everything out and pulse in the blender until it's completely smooth. Return to the pot and bring to medium heat.
Add the cheese and tempering spices, stir, and season to taste with salt (I used about 1 1/2 tsp of kosher). Serve hot with chapatis!