Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spinach and Farmer Cheese Curry (Palak Paneer)

Palak paneer is a South Asian curry made of palak (spinach) and paneer (Indian cheese). It is popular throughout Northern India and Pakistan, especially in the Punjab region where it is a common vegetarian dish.

Spinach is thought to have originated in Nepal, and through Muslim conquests and trade, was spread to China by 647, and later Spain and other parts of the Muslim world. Spinach was a favorite vegetable of Catherine de' Medici of Florence, Italy, and to this day dishes served on a bed of spinach are referred to as a la Florentine.

The world’s largest producer of spinach is China, followed by the United States. California grows almost three quarters of the vegetable produced in this country.

Spinach is considered to be highly nutritious as popularized by the American cartoon Popeye. Although high in iron and calcium, the type of iron spinach contains (non-heme) as well as high levels of oxalate render these minerals difficult to absorb. In addition, the vegetable contains high levels of Vitamins A, B9, C and K. These are highest in fresh or steamed spinach; cooked or boiled spinach has dramatically lower levels of these vitamins and minerals. In fact, cooked broccoli and cauliflower have twice the iron of cooked spinach.

Fresh spinach loses its nutritional value the longer it is stored. Research also shows it to be one of the most heavily pesticide-contaminated vegetables. In addition, it has been the vector for recent E. coli and salmonella outbreaks.

Despite these nutritional limitations and health concerns, which I must admit were largely unknown to me before writing this posting, palak paneer is a tasty and filling curry. It will last up to five days in the refrigerator.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds chopped frozen spinach
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 - 14 ounces paneer, cut in 1/2 inch cubes (or use extra firm tofu)
2 teaspoons garlic paste or minced garlic
3 teaspoons ginger paste or minced ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne or chilli powder
2 tablespoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
up to 1 cup full or low fat sour cream (optional)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Defrost spinach in the microwave according to package instructions. Set aside to cool. Do not remove excess water.
2. Heat half the oil in a large cooking pot on medium-low. Add paneer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown. Set aside. If using tofu it may take longer to brown.
3. Add the remaining oil and garlic, ginger and cumin seeds. After 3 minutes add onion and salt, and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 more minutes.
4. Transfer onion/tomato mixture to a blender and process for 30 seconds. Add a little water if necessary. Return to pot and add cayenne/chilli powder, coriander, garam masala and turmeric.
5. Mix thoroughly and simmer on low.
6. Transfer spinach to the blender (in more than one batch if necessary). Blend for 30 seconds until mixed. If necessary, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water.
7. Pour contents back into pot and mix well. Add sour cream and paneer and heat until bubbling.
8. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve warm with rice or bread (chappatis, parathas or naan).


erika said...

This is one of my favorite dishes! I can't wait to try it at home.

GOOMA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Love this. Your recipe is much like mine except mine doesn't include tomatoes, and I use cream instead of sour cream. I'll try your version one of these days -- it must be a little tart, and I usually like that.

-- Preets

Anonymous said...

I just love getting these pictures - even if I don't make anything (I'm not that great a cook anyway!) Looks yummy!

Anonymous said...

I just love getting these pictures - even if I don't make anything (I'm not that great a cook anyway!) Looks yummy!

cnew said...

Where do you buy paneer in the city? Fairway and Whole Foods don't have it (according to the cheese people there). This is possibly my favorite thing in all of Indian cooking. Can't wait to make this!

Catherine said...

Paneer is so easy to make, but I'm glad you included the tofu variation. I've made that exact substitution myself and it's wonderful.

Blog is great, Aly. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I want to report that I created a great spinach paneer last night, as a result of guidance from YOUR blog. It also made a great lunch today and I want to really thank you! Your cauliflower curry is next up... ;)