Slow-Cooker Tuesday: Saag Paneer

It’s hard to live in San Jose and not have a love affair with Indian food. It’s all over. From all over India. And it is very very good.

I fell in love with Indian food in my late teens. It was in a small restaurant originally built as a Taco Bell that had been lovingly transformed into a miniature palace. It was my first full thali dinner. I loved the small bowls of exotic flavors. I adored the way the vegetables were served (I was a vegetarian at the time). Especially the spiced spinach pureed smooth and dotted with hunks of fresh cheese. It was so very different from what I was used to. I was hooked that night, and have been hooked ever since. Saag paneer has become my go-to dish when trying out new digs, as well.

It was only natural that I’d try to recreate some of those flavors at home. My first attempts centered around simple Americanized curries. Once I began cooking in earnest, I thought I’d tackle some more authentic recipes. I found a huge tome covering the styles of the entire Indian sub-continent and diligently toasted, ground, and blended my own spice mixes. I spent hours making a meal with the reward of eating some very good food at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, spending hours grinding spices and slow simmering curry is no longer a practical way for me to cook. At least not on a week night. Lately Indian has been relegated to take-out or dine in treats. But then a magical thing happened. Amazon must have realized I was missing some spice in my life when it suggested a book I might like:  The Indian Slow Cooker by Anupy Singla.

1/2 the spinach and the veggies and spices getting ready to cook.

Apparently I am not alone in wanting a way to cook tasty food from India without spending all day in the kitchen. I highly recommend picking a copy up if you, like me, love Indian food but don’t have all day to tend the stove top. Honestly, this cook book has been love from first recipe. But the easiest and tastiest so far has been the lovely saag paneer.

I don’t think I’ve ever made an easier dish. Put everything, practically whole, into the slow cooker for a few hours. Use an immersion blender. Cook for a couple more hours. Add cheese and serve. Making rice is harder. I even discovered that my local Costco sells blocks of paneer cheese. I’ve also seen it at Whole Foods, and the Indian grocery store. Of course, you can also make your own. It’s simple, you just need to make sure to remember to make it the night before you plan on making the curry. The Indian Slow Cooker includes a recipe if you are so inclined.

I’ve made this dish a couple of times and have this to offer: don’t add the salt until you taste the puree. I actually leave the salt out altogether, but we’re a very low sodium home. Also, because I refuse to pay for tomatoes in the winter, I’ve been making it using one can of diced tomatoes and it seems to be fine. I can not wait to make a batch with some garden-fresh ingredients. I think my “salsa garden” might just change into a “saag paneer” garden this year.

Saag Paneer: Curried Spinach with Fresh Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, washed well
  • 2 large yellow or red onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 (4-inch) piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 20 cloves (one whole head) garlic, peeled
  • 5-10 green Thai, serrano,or cayenne chilies, stems removed
  • 4 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 heaping tablespoon red chili powder
  • 1 heaping tablespoon garam masala (an Indian spice blend available at most grocery stores, or any speciality market)
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Cooking Directions

  1. Place 1/2 the washed spinach into the bowl of a 5 quart slow-cooker. You don't need to dry the spinach, or even remove the stems. They get blended in the end. Top with the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT FOR SALT: onions, tomatoes, ginger, peeled garlic, chilies, and spices. Put the rest of the spinach on top. The bowl will be brimming with spinach. Squish it down and put the cover on. It will cook down quickly.
  2. Cook on high for 3 hours (or low for 4-5). Stir once or twice if you're around to get any spinach sticking on the sides from drying out too badly.
  3. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender and puree. Make sure the curry is smooth and well blended. Return the puree to the slow-cooker.
  4. Taste the curry and add salt to taste if needed. Continue to cook on low for another 2 hours. The dish might look done, but the extra cooking allows the flavors to fully develop.
  5. After cooking, add about 12 ounces of cubed fresh or fried paneer to the curry. Turn the slow cooker off, then replace the lid and let sit for about 10 minutes to gently heat the cheese. If you are using homemade paneer, add just before serving so the cheese maintains it's shape.
  6. Serve with rice, roti, or naan.
  7. The recipe yields about 10 cups so you will have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Everything in this dish is available at regular grocery store–except for the garam masala. I’ve seen it at Safeway and specialty stores. If you have very well-stocked pantry, there are recipes available to blend your own. I have a feeling that after making this dish, you’ll be glad to have some around.

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13 Responses to Slow-Cooker Tuesday: Saag Paneer

  1. laura says:

    this is on my very very short list of crock pot meals to try out-ok it might the ONLY one! this looks lovely and I can swing it this time of year <3 thanks Valerie!

  2. Anupy Singla says:

    Love that you LOVED it….Anupy

  3. Mimi says:

    In my slow cooker right now…

    I used several bunches of swiss chard which is a very nutritious and flavourful stand-in for spinach…

    My house smells wonderful and can’t wait for dinner!

    Love the fact that you can make it vegan, gluten-free etc. without a problem!

    • Dawn says:

      OMG, thanks for this comment! I’m such a beginner to Indian, never would have dreamed of subbing chard, but i have a BOATLOAD in the fridge. YAY!!!

  4. Carol says:

    Thank you sooooo much for posting this, as well as the reference to the cookbook. I’ve been looking for a way to combine two things I live – Indian and my crockpot – into easy dinners.

  5. Epifurious says:

    Since I had a half block of tofu left, I decided to make Palak Tofu instead of using Paneer (which I also love). I also made a half batch of this recipe since I have a smaller crockpot. Since I’ve had iffy experiences with my hand blender, I pureed the mixture in my Ninja blender instead. I served with Trader Joe’s Paratha, which were delicious – you just heat them over the stove for two minutes on each side and they almost taste homemade! So simple and delicious. And no oil (except for in the paratha). This is just pureed veggies and spices. Amazing! http://epifurious.tumblr.com/post/19768812117/palak-tofu

  6. Drewdle says:

    I made this recipe. I too, saw it in her book; Followed it to a T. I barely ever have problems cooking- but this recipe.. is just awful.

    I’m not sure if something might have gone wrong. I really can’t see what it may have been. Maybe it was the garam masala. Personally, I think it was the turmeric.. I think it completely ruined the entire dish.

    Some of my family members enjoyed it.. I find it inedible. It’s the only time I never enjoyed Saag Paneer.

    • s meyer says:

      I completely agree. What a sad waste of two pounds of organic spinach and three organic tomatoes. I always love this dish, but this version was murky and bitter with way too much spice–maybe all the cumin was the culprit. We all hated it and we threw it out, which we never do. Very disappointing.

  7. Kelley says:

    I cooked this tonight and it was DELICIOUS. Thank you so much for the yummy and healthy recipe!

  8. kyrin says:

    I just made this with half spinach and half collard greens, and it was great! My daughter, who always orders saag paneer when we go to the “India Café” in Hunstville, AL (our favorite Indian restaurant), thought it was terrific, and my husband even liked it and approved it for encore performances. That’s a big deal, because he doesn’t care for Indian food at all.
    Once made, I split the saag in half and added homemade paneer to one half and sautéed chicken to the other. Delicious!
    Now, I’m heading to Amazon.com to buy Anupy’s book. :)

  9. Tori says:

    I have to agree with Drewdle. Though I don’t think it was any particular spice but rather the TOTAL AMOUNT OF ALL the spices. Thankfully I ran out of cumin at the 3rd TBlespoon. As I was making the dish I kept looking back at the measurements of the spices thinking…did they mean teaspoons not Tablespoons?!? I followed the recipe anyway as it was my first time making this dish. I always like to follow a recipe exactly the first time and make adjustments later and I certainly will be making adjustments ie. less spices. It was ok once I added a TUB of yogurt to it at the end (though I don’t think the leftovers are going to be eaten-unless maybe I cook up another pound or two of spinach to mix with it). My guests who don’t eat a lot of indian food liked it (not knowing better). When I tasted the final product I got to work making some gobi masala and indian spiced cabbage to go with b/c there was no way I was going to serve this alone! It just seemed WAY overspiced and I don’t mean like “spicy” but more like I just ate a bottle of spices with a little Spinach (even though it was 2 LB. Of spinach). I am still wondering if the “tablespoon” measurements were supposed to be tsp. measurements. I had high hopes and was even considering looking into getting the book (because who wouldn’t love a cookbook full of slowcooker indian recipes?) but very disappointing.

  10. Morgi says:

    I ADORE this recipe, and it’s much less work than carting palak paneer home from an Indian restaurant and having it get cold on the way. Except that time steam built up between spinach layers and blew the lid of the slow cooker.

  11. Naomi says:

    Not to be disparaging, but coming from someone who has been cooking Indian food for years, and who learned all of my original recipes from my Indian friends. I would have to agree with the other comments on the spice measurements. 1/4 to 1/2 TEASPOON of turmeric would be absolutely sufficient for this recipe. Turmeric is overpouring and bitter if you use too much of it and can literally destroy any other flavors. :( I learned this the hard way when I accidentally spilled some over a pot while measuring it and didn’t realize how powerful it was. The same goes for cumin, chili powder and especially garam masala, which can completely take over the flavor of any dish if you use too much. 1 level Teaspoon of cumin, 1 Level TEASPOON of chili powder and 1 LEVEL TABLESPOON of Garam Masala would also be absolutely sufficient to season two pounds of spinach. Fresh spinach cooks down and dehydrates very quickly, making it dehydrated, which causes the spices to be very concentrated, which is why a lot of saag paneer recipes call for frozen spinach.

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