Curried Spinach with Cheese: Palak Paneer
This classic subzi (vegetable dish) will stimulate your digestion and delight your dinner guests.
Looking for a tasty way to spice up your greens? Try palak paneer, a delicious Indian dish made with curried spinach and a simple homemade cheese.
According to ayurveda, bitter leafy greens like spinach have a stimulating effect on digestion. They’re also high in protein, calcium, and carotenes–and, hence, a vital component of a healthy vegetarian diet. Fresh local produce contains more prana (life energy) than older store-bought produce, so ideally, pluck some spinach from your own garden or buy it at your local farmers’ market.
Paneer is rich in protein, vitamin B12, and calcium–and easier to digest than other cheeses. Ayurvedic theory states that the nutrients in milk become more available through boiling. Making paneer takes this one step further by adding a powerful acid–lemon juice–which breaks the milk into two substances: curds and whey.
Step 1: Making Paneer
Paneer is surprisingly simple to make. Follow this recipe the night before so it has time to cool. (It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.)
1. Warm up 1/2 gallon of 2 percent or whole milk on the stove on medium heat. Juice 4 lemons while you wait for the milk to reach a foaming boil. (Be attentive so it doesn’t boil over. If it looks like taking it off the heat won’t do it quick enough, try blowing directly on the rising foam. Your breath is much cooler than the boiling milk and should get it back down in the pot quickly.)
2. Add the lemon juice, stirring briefly, and then allow the milk to boil for another few seconds until the milk curdles. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes while the curd separates from the whey. Line a colander with a cheesecloth and strain. Tie the corners of the cloth together, squeeze out the excess liquid, and hang it above the sink for about an hour while it drains (you’ll get about 1 cup of paneer). Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Step 2: Making the Curry
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
1 cup paneer
10-12 ounces fresh spinach, washed and stems trimmed
2-3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 small onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 inch-piece fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika (for a spicier kick, use 1 teaspoon garam masala or chili powder instead; add more to taste )
3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of ghee into a medium pan with the onion, garlic, and ginger. When the onions have softened, add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and paprika (or garam masala or chili powder). Cook the spices for 1 minute.
2 Now it’s time for the greens. Fresh spinach cooks down quite a lot, so you can fill up the pan and keep stirring until there is room for more. The spinach will become tender and release most of its juices within about 5 minutes. Add the salt.
3 Carefully dish the cooked spinach (and liquids, too!) into a blender or food processor and puree until you reach the desired consistency. You can add paneer at this stage if you prefer a smooth, uniform texture, or leave the paneer in larger chunks and add it at the end. Add whey, water, or yogurt to the blended spinach if you want a thinner consistency.
4 Return the blended mix to your pan and crumble in any remaining paneer, stirring briefly. You may need to add a little more heat to warm up the paneer, but it does not require any cooking. Serve with warm basmati rice or a flat bread such as chapati or naan.
For the Paneer: Paneer hardens in the refrigerator, so if you want a softer, smoother cheese, make it right before cooking your greens. If you’re craving extra ghee, use some to lightly fry the paneer in a skillet until lightly brown. This makes a nice blend of textures in the dish. Substitute tofu for a vegan version.
For the Greens: Substitute Swiss chard for spinach.
What to do with whey: You can keep the whey for use in bread or other baking recipes, or drink a half cup a day as a cooling, cleansing beverage.
+ For more delicious paneer recipes and a quick ghee recipe, go to www.yogaplus.org/paneer.
Jon Janaka has worked in the Himalayan Institute kitchen over the past five years creating soups, breads, and baked goods.
Yoga+ is an award-winning, independent magazine that contemplates the deeper dimensions of spiritual life–exploring the power of yoga practice and philosophy to not only transform our bodies and minds, but inspire meaningful engagement in our society, environment, and the global community.
Jon Janaka, Yoga+