Thursday, March 28, 2013
Kale Palak Paneer + Homemade Paneer
My good friend and roommate, Lianne, was born in India and spent her early childhood there, and while she claims she is a "bad Indian" (since doesn't speak Hindi or eight other languages) she does know how to make a good curry. And while curry is as exciting to Lianne as mashed potatoes and gravy is to me, she indulges both me and my other roommate every now and then and cooks up a curry for us, a cause for great joy and cheer.
Once, however, I was craving curry something fierce and Lianne was out of town and unable to teleport herself back into our kitchen to make us curry (to our everlasting sorrow), so I went ahead and attempted to make the recipe myself. Lianne's "recipe," however, is not so much a recipe as "put these things in a pot and then add spices until it tastes right." Upon asking her how much spice to use, I received these instructions: "Hard to say. Lots of turmeric and cumin, medium garam, a little coriander. Chili powder to taste. Sorry I can't be more specific."
Yet in spite of her cryptic instructions, I managed to make a pretty good curry. It was not the same as her curry, of course, but as I have discovered, if you use the "Magic Five Spices" Lianne swears by (turmeric, cumin, garam masala, coriander, Indian chili powder) you're going to end up with something delicious.
As I mentioned, though, Lianne does not share the same love of Indian food that the rest of our household. Except, that is, when it comes to Palak Paneer, which is her favourite Indian dish ever. It's a rich & silky spinach curry with cubes of paneer (Indian fresh cheese) stewed in it. It is, quite simply, delicious, and once Lianne made it for us I determined that I also had to learn how to make it, because it is a dish our household cannot be without.
But because whenever I make something I have to change it, I decided to switch up a few of the traditional ingredients, using cashews instead of cream, and kale instead of spinach. I have never been much of a fan of cooked spinach (it has a strange earthy bitterness I don't like), and so decided to use kale (which also just happened to be in the fridge at the time). When cooked, though, kale mellows out, losing most of its bitterness and becoming, dare I say, rather palatable. (Because let's face it, raw kale just doesn't taste good.) Paired with yogurt, cashews, and the Magic Five Spices, this dish is something of a revelation.
I think even Lianne would agree.
Silky smooth, with layers of spice and filled with bites of Indian cottage cheese, this take on palak paneer is easy to prepare, and if there are leftovers, they taste as good if not better the next day. If you can't find any paneer, you can easily make your own (see recipe below) or use extra firm tofu in its stead.
1 cup Roasted Cashews + 2 1/2 cups Hot Water
1 Yellow Onion (small or medium)
2 - 3 Garlic Cloves
1 tbsp Minced Ginger
1 tbsp Neutral Oil
1 1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp Ground Coriander
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Ground Indian Chili Powder OR Cayenne (depending on how spicy you want it to be)
6 cups Chopped Curly Green Kale, packed
1 cup Plain Yogurt
8 oz Paneer* OR Extra Firm Tofu
Salt, to taste
*See recipe for homemade paneer below
1. Place cashews in a beaker or bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside and let them soak while you prepare the rest of the dish.
2. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, and ginger. Heat a large pot over low-medium heat, add oil, then the onion, garlic, and ginger. Saute over low-medium heat until the onions begin to brown, at least 5 minutes. Once browned, add all of the spices and saute for another 1 or 2 minutes.
3. Add the chopped kale to the pot and saute until bright green.
4. In a blender, place the soaked cashews and hot water and puree on high until smooth and creamy. Add to the kale mixture along with the yogurt, and stir in.
5. Here comes the messy bit. Begin pureeing the curry in the blender in batches, being sure not to fill your blender too much (or your kitchen will end up looking like a set from Flubber). Blend each batch until smooth and no lumps remain, then transfer to a large bowl.
6. Once the entire curry has been pureed, pour everything back into the pot and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.
7. Slice the paneer (or tofu) into small cubes and add to the simmering curry. Keep cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the curry thickens. If you prefer a thinner sauce, or you find the curry has gotten too thick, just add more water until it reaches your desired consistency. Season with salt, to taste.
8. Serve with rice, naan, parathas, or hearty slices of bread.
This fresh cheese, also known as Indian cottage cheese, is ridiculously easy to make and doesn't require any finicky equipment. Unlike aged cheeses, paneer doesn't melt when heated, so it can be fried and grilled. A few toasted cubes of paneer makes an excellent topping for soups and curries, as well as a main addition to traditional dishes like palak paneer. Just note, however, that homemade paneer tends to be more crumbly than the store-bought variety.
2 L Homogenized Milk (3.25%)
2/3 cup Lemon Juice
1. Set the strainer atop a large bowl and line with cheesecloth. Make sure you have at least two layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.
2. In a large pot or saucepan, bring milk to a boil over high heat. When the milk begins to boil, remove from heat.
3. Immediately stir the lemon juice and salt into the hot milk, and continue to stir until the milk separates into curds and whey. You'll know it's ready when the whey turns slightly green in colour.
4. Pour the curd mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer. Let the mixture drain completely, then twist the cheesecloth closed and squeeze out any extra liquid.
5. Place a plate on top of the cheesecloth wrapped curds, then set a 14-oz can or other heavy object on top of the plate. Transfer the paneer to the fridge and let sit for at least 8 hours or overnight. Once it's set, remove from the fridge, unwrap and use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.