Monday, February 7, 2011

Saag Paneer - Curried Spinach with Cottage Cheese

My favorite veggie to order in an India restaurant is Saag Paneer, a rich creamy spinach and cheese dish. I've had it served several ways: sometimes the paneer (cheese) is presented in deep fried cubes floating in slow cooked spinach; or it's incorporated as a cheesy cream spinach sauce. I prefer the latter.

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 paneer -- but upon doing a little research, I found out it tastes similar to cottage cheese. Just imagine all the liquid squeezed out and the curds formed into cheese blocks. So I put two and two together and came up with a budget-busting, calorie-skimping entree anyone can make.

 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.

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.) It is a hard cheese that softens to gooey deliciousness, making my Saag Paneer recipe extra rich.

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, 99 Cent Chef Saag Paneer a try -- all it takes is a little spinach chopping and some slow cooking.

 Ingredients (2 -3 servings)
  • 2 bunches of spinach - or about two 6 ounce packages.
  • 1 whole onion - chopped
  • Small 8 ounce container of cottage cheese.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin - if you have curry powder, use that.
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons of milk - optional during final cooking stage.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Queso Fresco cheese -  optional. I used half a 4 ounce package, that is broken into bite sized pieces.

Heat oil in medium sized pan or pot. Add chopped onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes over a medium heat.

While onions are cooking, start cleaning and chopping spinach. Chop off long stems of spinach bunches. No need to chop all spinach at once. You will add it in batches - as one batch cooks down you chop another to add.

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 chopping spinach and adding it to pot or pan until it is well blended into cottage cheese/onion mixture. (For extra richness add Queso Fresco cheese when spinach cooks down.)

Once all the spinach is added, season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and cover to cook for 20 - 30 minutes.

Check spinach mixture from time to time to make sure liquid does not completely cook out. Stir periodically.

As spinach cooks down it adds a lot of liquid. The object is to cook spinach until very soft and cream-like. Some of the cottage cheese will dissolve into the sauce. Add a couple of spoonfuls of milk if it starts to dry out.

 This would make a delicious pairing with my African Spiced Water Buffalo Wings or Coconut Rice.


Dinahsoar said...

I make my own paneer

It's an easy process that starts our with a gallon of milk and ends with not a lot of paneer--(i.e. curds which I press into a block by shaping and weighting down and leaving for several hours to compact so that it is able to be cut into cubes)--and beau-coups of whey (which is the liquid that is left--you add lemon juice or vinegar to the almost boiling milk which separates the whey from the rest creating the curds).

Hence, I find cottage cheese a great substitute.

We especially like peas with paneer. And cottage cheese is perfect in this dish.

I make it the traditional way which calls for a tomato to be roasted in the pan with the spices and onion, garlic and ginger.

But to give the dish richness, my Indian friend shared her secret: she adds about a half cup of any brand of jarred cheesy pasta sauce--like the Ragu 4 Cheese sauce. It makes a huge difference in the finished product, giving it a richness you don't get if you only use fresh tomato.

Thanks for sharing the saag panner...I love it too.

SoCal said...

Chef how did it taste? Interesting. I luv to go out for Indian food but never considered trying to make it myself, it seems so exotic. Nice job!

99 Cent Chef said...

Nice additions Dinah, I'll try it with tomato next time.

99 Cent Chef said...

hi SoCal, it's delicious of course, and so easy to make!

sam said...

This looks delicious! I can't wait to try it out. Thanks for the low-cal and easy-to-find ingredient recipe

tamiko said...

just tried this the other night and it was so delicious. even without the extra cheesy sauce, it was rich and creamy and soft and delicious! thanks for the great recipe!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

dang that looks good!

wv: appicalo
(Italian for applause?)

Unknown said...

This dish would be compared to Palak (spinach) Paneer (Indian cottage cheese). Saag is potato

99 Cent Chef said...

Saag may be potato, but Google Saag Paneer and spinach comes up ;-P

M.W. said...

Ugh, 'saag' does not mean potato. It means 'leafy greens' in general, while the subtype 'palak' means spinach in particular. Both words are acceptable for this dish. Since I make it with turnip greens, I'd call mine saag paneer. The word for potato is 'aloo.'

RK said...

Saag is leafy green. Potato is aloo.

Lisa Rose said...

hmm no. Palak is a type of Spinach it is not the name for Spinach, which is Saag, The name for potato is Aloo.

Lisa Rose said...

Palak is a type of Spinach, it is not the name for spinach, which is indeed Saag. Aloo is potato :)

like_a_flowing_river said...

@lisa rose
Nope. Spinach = palak. Saag = generic term for leafy greens.

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