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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cook's Illustrated Recipe Testing: Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer
It's November, and as usual I am observing neither No Shave November or National Novel Writing Month, but am instead doing the annual CI recipe testing marathon.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, today is the first actual CI recipe in a while.  I'll keep it going until the New Year since I've got a backlog of recipes to test from CI, as well as the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  Today I was on the lookout for something that bears little resemblence to anything normally served at Thanksgiving.
Anyway, there was a recipe for Saag Paneer in a recent issue of CI.  Based on my fondness for dairy products and my one-time relationship with Cowdude, I think it's probably a safe guess to say that I was a cow in a past life.  I love saag paneer.  Veggies, spices, cream, and cheese - what's not to like!?!?  I've never made it at home, although I have bought paneer and eaten it all by itself.
Anyway, CI doesn't usually do anything half-assed, so they had a recipe to make the cheese as well.  I've made ricotta, yogurt, and kefir, but have never made paneer.  Fortunately for me, other bloggers have blogged about it already so I can cut and paste the recipe. There are a lot of pictures and amusing commentary so I recommend checking it out

Homemade Saag Paneer

Yield: Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


3 quarts whole milk
3 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons salt
Spinach Sauce:
1container baby spinach (11 ounces) spinach, washed
1 large bunch turnip or mustard greens, washed
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 inches fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno chile, diced
1 (14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes
1/4 cup peanuts or cashews
1 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
Fresh cilantro (garnish)
Cashews (garnish)
Rice, for serving
Helpful Equipment:
Cheese cloth
Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe.

Making Cheese

My only advice, if you decide to make this, is to make sure you use a very large colander and have enough cheesecloth.  Mine was overflowing and got clogged.  I got out a sieve and used that once the curds had started to stick together,  I probably lost a lot this way, though.
Anyway, bring your milk to a simmer and stir in the buttermilk and salt. Then let it sit for a few minutes. Pour that through your cheesecloth lined colander and let it drain for about fifteen minutes.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and place the cheesecloth-wrapped ball on a plate.  Place another plate on top and set something heavy on top. (I used a dutch oven)  Let it sit for 45 minutes.  It will firm up and drain off more liquid during this time.  Remove the cheesecloth and cut the cheese into cubes.  Allow to air dry while you are making the sauce.

The Spinach  Sauce
While the cheese part has a few ingredients but is maybe a bit intimidating, the spinach sauce has a bunch of ingredients but is really simple to make.
You could use all spinach, but CI recommended using  turnip greens which gave it a more peppery flavor.
Basically just rinse all your greens and then chop off any large stems. Add them to a large bowl and microwave them on high for 3-4 minutes until they are wilted and tender. You will have to work in batches.

Chop up enough spinach and greens to equal 1/3 cup of each and set it aside. Then add the rest of the greens to a blender
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet. Then add your ground spices, diced onion, and a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is soft.  Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno and cook another minute.
Then add in your canned tomatoes and let that all cook together for a few minutes.  Add half of the mixture to the blender along with the water and cashews.  Puree it and return it to the pan.  add chopped greens and buttermilk to pan, and add additional salt if needed.  Bring to a simmer and cook  minutes.  Then just gently fold in the cheese and cook it for another minute or two so everything is warm. Be gentle with the cheese or it will just crumble into super-tiny pieces.  Serve with rice.

Anyway, this recipe is steppy and I got an awful lot of dishes dirty, even though I was using stuff multiple times.  It came out really well - I loved the pepperiness that the turnip greens imparted, and appreciated that it was lighter and healthier than the usual restaurant version.  The taste was pretty similar, even though I forgot a few ingredients  Next time I will just buy the cheese, make it in advance, or use tofu.  But overall it was a winner and I will make it again.

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