Friday, June 12, 2009

Saag paneer (or tofu, in this case)

saag paneer/tofu from Coconut and LimeA couple of weeks ago, I read about Coconut & Lime's five year anniversary. Coconut & Lime is unique among food blogs because all of the recipes are original, and I have quite a few of them bookmarked to try. To celebrate the blog's anniversary, Rachel is holding a contest that requires readers to try out one of her recipes and write about it. This was the perfect excuse to give one of them a try. I chose her saag paneer recipe because it sounded delicious, and I was in the mood to try out more Indian cooking.

Unfortunately this did not go as planned (but definitely not because of Rachel's recipe). I set out to use her paneer recipe, and somehow I failed miserably. Paneer is a cheese commonly used in Indian cooking, and is very similar to ricotta (but it's pressed to remove even more whey and then cut in cubes). I have successfully made ricotta several times (for lasagna and gnocchi), so I figured that it wouldn't be a problem. I heated my milk, added some lemon juice, and then let it sit to form curds. Then I made my first mistake: I didn't actually check to see if the curds had formed before I started pouring it into my colander. And, to make matters worse, I poured rather quickly and couldn't stop when I realized that there were practically no curds. I was left with about 2 Tbsp of curds, which were delicious but wouldn't do for the recipe. Given my success in the past, I'm not entirely sure what went wrong. I ended up using milk from another dairy - Moo-ville Dairy instead of Calder Dairy - but that shouldn't matter. Otherwise, I used the same method that I've used for ricotta in the past. Oh well, I decided to make do with a substitution that Rachel suggested: tofu.

Saag paneer tofu (slightly adapted from Coconut & Lime)

2 tsp olive oil, divided
10 oz firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, diced
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1/2 tsp asafoetida
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
16 oz frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp plain yogurt

Heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Saute tofu until cubes are brown on all sides, and then set tofu aside. Add another tsp of oil to the pan and saute onion, garlic, jalapeno, and ginger until they're soft (about 5 min). Add mustard seeds and cook another minute, or until seeds start popping. Stir in the remaining spices, spinach, water, and lemon juice, cover, and let simmer on medium-low for 20 min. Add the yogurt and tofu and let cook another minute or so, until tofu reheats. Serves 4.

This was really good, and I'm glad that I didn't let the paneer snafu stop me. In fact, I really liked the tofu in it (it made for a lighter dish). I've made fairly decent Indian food before, but this probably came closest to what you would find at an authentic Indian restaurant. It definitely had the heat of Indian food! I like spicy food, and this was almost too hot for me, which is probably because the jalapenos I normally buy tend to be extremely hot. Next time I'll use less, use a milder pepper, or reduce the cayenne.

I'm also glad that this recipe gave me a great excuse to finally buy asafoetida and amchur powder. These ingredients come up fairly often in recipes I read, but until now I've left them out or substituted for them (garlic, onion, or leeks can be substituted for asafoetida and tamarind concentrate or lime/lemon juice can be substituted for amchur powder). Perhaps that's why this recipe tasted more authentic. Another advantage is that apparently asafoetida is good for your digestion and has also been used for contraception (although I have my doubts that it's effective). Now I'm much more prepared to conquer more Indian cooking!


Julia said...

I've never made paneer before, but I've made ricotta -- and let me tell you ... if you use "Ultra Pasteurized" milk it won't work. The curds will be too small. Maybe that's what happened?

Like the new look!

Katie said...

I didn't even think to check about pasteurization, but it turns out that the milk I used wasn't ultra-pasteurized (nor was it homogenized), so it should be similar to my usual milk. That's definitely something that I need to keep in mind in the future, though!