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.
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve with rice, roti, or naan.
- 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.