Saag Paneer over Turmeric Rice
I’ve been on a kick of making Indian food recently -- I just love the bold flavors of the spices and I find it’s easy to make vegetable-centric meals like this Saag paneer entree. The chilies in this dish help to keep you warm during chilly winter days! Going for meatless Monday or just need an idea for a hearty and (fairly) healthy vegetarian dish? This is your winner.
Saag paneer is a spinach-based dish combined which combines fragrant spices with paneer, a rubbery Indian cheese. If you can’t find paneer, then halloumi, the rubbery Greek cheese can easily be swapped in its place. Some iterations of the dish serve the spinach whole but I chose to purée it for easier scooping when using warmed naan. It’s amazing how much spinach you can put into the pot and the minimal ball that comes out. A pound and a half may seem like a mountain of spinach but after it’s blanched you end up with a mere handful. Be careful when cooking with turmeric, it tends to stain anything white that it touches. If that happens, you can soak the stained items in bleach or, if you want to go for a less chemical method, mix equal parts baking soda and water and let it sit before scrubbing.
If I’m trying to add some more vegetables into my diet I try to sneak them in where they can’t be tasted as much and only enhance, not take away from, what I’m eating. I add some riced cauliflower, (which can be easily made by finely dicing florets of cauliflower or buying it premade at the grocery store) into the cooked turmeric rice. I go for a 50/50 mix as it adds a great texture and the turmeric helps to season cauliflower so it doesn’t taste so… healthy.
For the saag paneer:
1½ pounds baby spinach
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 small Thai birdseye chilies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons ghee*
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
6 ounces paneer, cut into ¼” thick, 1” cubes**
For the turmeric rice:
2 tablespoons ghee
2 medium shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup basmati rice
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1½ cups vegetable stock
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Naan, for serving
For the saag paneer:
Bring a large pot of water over medium-high heat to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch until bright green and tender, about 30 seconds. Remove spinach to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the spinach then squeeze out any excess water.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat through. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chili and cook for an additional minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garam masala, coriander, and turmeric, stirring to cook the spices for just a few seconds. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach to the pan. Stir together the spinach mixture and vegetable stock and cook until the greens are soft and deep green and most of the vegetable stock has been absorbed, about 4 minutes.
Add the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until a coarse paste forms (should look similar to pesto). Return to the pan then stir in the ghee and yogurt.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip the pieces and repeat on the other side, cooking about an additional 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
For the turmeric rice:
Heat medium saucepan over medium heat, add the ghee and allow to melt. Add the shallot and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté, for an additional minute. Add the basmati rice and turmeric powder, stirring to coat the rice and sautéing for 30 seconds to toast the rice.
Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer the rice until all the stock has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and fluff with a fork.
To serve: Divide the rice among bowls. Toss the paneer in the saag mixture then ladle over the rice. Serve warmed naan on the side (or omit for a gluten free version).
*Note: Ghee is clarified butter often used in Indian cooking. The milk solids and water are removed leaving the pure butterfat.
**Note: Paneer is a rubbery, mild-tasting Indian cheese. If you cannot find Paneer substitute with part-skim mozzarella cheese.