When I was in grad school, I had an addiction…to the Indian buffet around the corner. For a mere $5.95, I could fill my plate with piles of delicious, comforting Indian food that suited both my taste buds and my impoverished student budget. For years after, I tried to recreate the satisfaction of their Indian creamed spinach dish dotted with Indian cheese (my personal favorite). Finally, I think I've come close.
Don't be intimidated by the length of ingredient list or the foreign-sounding items – saag paneer (Indian creamed spinach) is at once an exotic treat and a soothing, simple comfort food. Spinach is finely chopped and melted into the perfect blend of spices and accented with the mild, buttery goodness of sauteed cheese.
Paneer is a firm Indian cheese (similar to Greek Halloumi) which can be purchased at specialty Indian stores, and is increasingly more available at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I would love to find a grass fed version of this cheese, or make it myself with the cheese making kits you can find on my resource page (but cheese is another post for another day.) If you don't have paneer or are avoiding dairy, you could substitute the cheese with cubed potatoes, making Saag Aloo instead.
Saag paneer ingredients
- 10 ounces spinach, de-stemmed and well washed.
- 1 tablespoon ghee, butter, or coconut oil – find coconut oil here
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped tomato
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (remove seeds if less heat is desired)
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 inch fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste*
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
- 1/2 cup cubed paneer – if you're extra ambitious buy cheese making kits to make your own
- Unrefined sea salt, to taste – find high quality sea salt here
Saag paneer method
- In a large saucepan, heat ghee, cumin seeds, and bay leaves.
- Add onions and saute until transparent.
- Meanwhile, in a food processor fit with the rotation blade, chop spinach finely.
- Add tomato, jalapeno, garlic, ginger, cilantro, cumin, garam masala, tamarind, and tumeric and sautee until flavors are well mingled.
- In a small cup, place arrowroot powder and 1/2 cup filtered water – stirring with a fork until smooth.
- Add spinach and arrowroot water to the pan and stir, simmering on low heat for 20-30 minutes uncovered.
- Add small amounts of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
- While saag is simmering, saute cubed paneer in ghee or butter until lightly browned.
- Fold paneer into the saag, add sea salt to reach desired seasoning, and serve on its own, with rice, or flat bread, or as a side dish to a simple roast chicken.
*Tamarind is an interesting pod like fruit – the Indian date – which is sweet and sticky like a date but with a unique tart edge. We found tamarind pods at Whole Foods near the bananas. The pod breaks away easily leaving a fibrous exoskeletal surrounding the sticky pump that holds the tamarind seeds. The fiber pulls off, and then the only minor challenge is removing the seeds from the sticky paste. Alternatively, you could buy tamarind paste or pods at an Indian specialty store or online.
When spinach is plentiful from your garden or your farmer, make a massive batch of Saag Paneer and freeze it for quick meals on busy days. This Indian Creamed Spinach is a great alternative to expensive Indian take out (when you've missed the lunch buffet!)