Unfortunately, it's not a light dish when served in your local India lunch buffet line. Clarified butter and deep fried cheese adds too many calories for this weight-watching kitchen commando.
Plus, it is not easy to find the India cheese called paneer. Paneer is a hard white cheese, that is similar in texture to feta cheese, but milder in taste. Because of a high melting point, it softens but still holds it's shape, even in a stew.
But, upon doing a little experimenting, I found Mexican Queso Fresco cheese has a similar flavor, and holds up well to slow cooking, too. And for a lighter creamy taste I have added a small amount of cottage cheese. So I put two and two together and came up with a budget-busting, calorie-skimping, entree anyone can make.
My latest video recipe, Saag Paneer, combines the best of two culinary worlds, Mexican and Indian.
The main spice is curry powder. I just use cumin - open a jar and smell -- it makes up 75% of your typical curry powder. And cumin is much easier to find on any grocery store spice shelf; plus it's much cheaper than curry powder. Pick up an onion to saute, as this will add a bit of caramelized sweetness.
Click on any image to see larger.
For an extra boost of cheesiness crumble-in half a disc of Mexican cheese called Queso Fresco, that comes cheaply from 99c only Stores and Latin markets (It's showing up in regular groceries, too.) I also use Queso Fresco for the Mexican breakfast classic, Huevos Rancheros - just click here to see that recipe video.
Of course, my Saag Paneer recipe is adjustable to suit your convenience. It is just as tasty without Queso Fresco cheese. Think of this recipe as an India version of typical American Cream Spinach, with a little added curry spice.
Spinach is still a reasonable price and I can get fresh bundles of spinach and cleaned 5 or 6 ounce bags for a buck, or less. Fresh spinach may have dirt, so give it a rinse first. It may also have part of the root and long stems that need removing.. You can leave shorter stems, they will soften enough.
Slow cooking the spinach and cottage cheese with cumin creates a lush dish that is low in calories, especially if you use low fat cottage cheese. So give my delish, India-inspired, Mexican-style Saag Paneer a try -- all it takes is a little spinach and onion chopping with some slow cooking.
Mexican-style Saag Paneer - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 2 minutes, 3 seconds.
My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.
Ingredients (2 -3 servings)
- 2 bunches of spinach - or about two 6 ounce packages.
- 1 whole onion - chopped
- Cottage Cheese - about 8 ounces. Okay to add more to suit taste. I used low fat.
- Mexican Queso Fresco cheese - optional. I used about half a 5 ounce package, roughly crumbled.
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin - if you have curry powder, use that.
- 1 tablespoon oil - for sauteing onions.
- 2 tablespoons of milk - if needed during final cooking stage.
- Pepper to taste - I find there is plenty of salt in cottage cheese and Queso Fresco cheese.
- Queso Fresco cheese - optional. I used half a 4 ounce package, that is broken into bite-sized pieces. You can use more if you like.
Start cleaning spinach if needed. Cleaned spinach in bags may only need a quick rinse. Fresh spinach from produce sections may have dirt and long root/stems. So those bundles will need washing and longer stems trimmed. (No need to prepare all spinach at once. You will add it in batches if your pot can't hold it all.)
Heat oil in medium-sized pan or pot. Add chopped onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes over a medium heat.
Mix in cumin and saute for a couple of minutes. Add cottage cheese and mix well.
Start adding chopped spinach. It will cook down in a minute or so. Continue cleaning spinach (if needed) and adding it to pot or pan until it is well blended into cottage cheese/onion mixture.
Once all the spinach is added, you can pile on some Mexican Queso Fresco cheese.
Season with pepper, reduce heat to low and cover to cook for 20 - 30 minutes until it is like Creamed Spinach.
Check spinach mixture from time to time to make sure liquid does not completely cook out. Stir periodically. The Queso Fresco will soften but still retain it's shape.
As spinach cooks down it adds a lot of liquid. The object is to cook spinach until very soft and cream-like. The cottage cheese will partially dissolve into the sauce. Add a couple of spoonfuls of milk if it starts to dry out.
If you like Saag Paneer more creamy then just add a 1/4 cup of milk or cream during last 20 minutes of simmering.
This would make a delicious pairing with my African Spiced Water Buffalo Wings, Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, and Coconut Rice.