This one’s for the Aunty ji who frowned at me one day in the Lajpat Nagar Mother Dairy booth when she saw me pick a slab of readymade paneer. I think she even muttered something like – “Aaj kal ke bachche mehnat toh karna hee nahin chahte.” (English connotation: Today’s generation is a bunch of lazy asses.)
Well, Aunty ji, this “aaj kal ki ladki” is now all grown up and also has some time on her hand. Not to mention living in a country where she has to travel 12 clicks to reach to the closest place which sells paneer.
I guess this is inspiration enough to satiate my paneer buds, and make this Indian cheese at home from scratch. No, it did not taste like Styrofoam. And yes, Aunty ji, to do you proud I even got the correct "pressing weight : to time" ratio the key to making spongy paneer! I even have proof, incase you were thinking I am all faff! Here, have a look!
The versatility of paneer baffles even the best of home cooks! But I stuck to the traditional Palak Paneer (paneer cooked in spinach) which not quite surprisingly is a substitute for meat in many vegetarian North Indian / Punjabi homes. On its own, paneer gives a cook a whole lot of possibilities of flavors to play with. But sometimes you don’t really need a recipe, you should just have the basics right. Like garlic or ginger, with a blend of spices.
Palak Paneer is a dish which mirrors the nutrition value of the curdled milk and bumps up in the health quotient with fresh spinach thrown in. Here is how I made my traditional Palak Paneer, just to do Aunty ji proud.
Ingredients for Palak Paneer are:
300 grams homemade paneer, cut into cubes
400 grams fresh spinach, cleaned, washed and puréed with a couple of green chilies
1 medium size red onion, finely chopped
5-6 cloves fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 ripe red tomato, puréed
2 small cardamoms and 2 cloves, crushed
3-4 green chilies, slit lengthwise
1 teaspoon julienned ginger
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
A pinch of kasoori methi
2 tablespoons desi ghee
1 tablespoon heavy cream
A pinch of sugar
Heat the ghee in a pan and add the cumin seeds and crushed cardamoms and cloves. Sauté for a few seconds and add the chopped onions. Fry the onions till they turn golden brown, but not brown! This is when you add the minced garlic. Cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes and add the puréed spinach. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on low-medium heat, covered if you are getting drenched by squirts of spinach.
Now add the puréed tomato, turmeric and red chili powder. Cover and cook again for 5-7 minutes.
Let the spinach-tomato and spices cook till they lose their rawness. Season with sugar (optional) and salt. Gently release the cubes of paneer into the spinach gravy. You will also see the spinach gravy changing color to a lighter green than its original dark, rich green.
Mix gently so as not to break the pieces of paneer.
Add kasoori methi crushed between the palms of your hand. Cook for a couple of minutes more and turn the heat off. Drizzle a spoonful of heavy cream and garnish with julienned ginger and slit green chilies.