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Blessed Are The Cheesemakers…

Spinach + Paneer Curds: Not Your Usual Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer [1] is one of the regular features of Indian restaurant fare, usually a spicy, saucy concoction, the main components of which are spinach (and sometimes other leafy greens) and chunks of pressed paneer. Here spinach and paneer curds have joined forces in a simple salady thing that you might eat for lunch along with some crusty bread and nice tomatoes. It’s like saag paneer just took a Mediterranean holiday.

paneer and spinach

The paneer:
  • 2 litres whole milk
  • 3-4 tblsps white vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 5cm length
The rest:
  • 400g spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • large pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tblsps pine nuts
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice
  • 0.25 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • butter or olive oil for frying
The Steps:
  • Make a batch of paneer as per the basic recipe (given below), but add the cinnamon stick to the pot with the milk. Remove the stick once the curds are separated and strained. You just need soft curds for this recipe, so let the curds sit and strain while you get on with the rest.
  • Wash the spinach well and remove any tough stalks. Chop into strips about 2cm wide. Finely chop the garlic.
  • Toast the pine nuts over a medium heat in a dry frying pan until golden. They burn easily, so toss them around frequently and watch them carefully. They should only take a few minutes to brown lightly.
  • Place a pan over a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add about a tblsp of butter or a glug of olive oil and swirl it around the pan.
  • Add the garlic to the pan, stir and fry briefly and then add the spinach, salt and cayenne, if using.
  • Stir and fry for a couple of minutes, until the spinach has just wilted.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the strained paneer curds, the pine nuts, the lemon juice, a good twist of black pepper and, if it needs it, additional coarse salt to taste.
The Variations:
  • Substitute your choice of other greens for the spinach.
The Results:
  • Lunch portions for 4 or so

Basic Paneer

This comes from my oft-consulted copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

You’ll need:
  • 2 litres whole milk
  • 3-4 tblsps white vinegar
You’ll also need:
  • A large, heavy saucepan in which to boil the milk, plus a colander and tea-towel for straining.
The Steps:
  • Place your colander in the sink and line with a clean tea-towel or few layers of muslin.
  • Put the milk in a large heavy saucepan over a medium-high heat.
  • Stir the milk occasionally while it’s heating, otherwise you’re likely to end up with burnt milk residue on the base of the pot (at least that’s what happens to me!)
  • When the milk is just beginning to boil, turn the heat to low and add 3 tblsps of vinegar. The milk should curdle and separate into solid white curds and a thin greenish liquid, the whey.
  • The curdling should start happening right after the vinegar is added. If it doesn’t, add another tblsp of vinegar.
  • Once the milk is separated (which won’t take long, maybe a minute or so) remove from the heat and pour the contents into your lined colander. Most of the whey will drain out.
  • Now, you can either just let the curds sit and drain for 5-10 minutes and use them as soft curds (as you might use ricotta) or you can press them into a solid patty.
  • To press into a patty, gather up the ends of the tea-towel, twist and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Then take your little cloth bundle, flatten it into your desired patty shape and leave the top firmly twisted. Sit it on a board in the sink and top with another board and weight it down for about 3-4 minutes. The weight (a heavy pot, say, or a combination of pots) should weigh at least 2.25kg.
  • The paneer is now ready. It can be sliced and fried or cut into cubes and used in any number of Indian recipes.
The Variations:
  • Having read Jenni’s post on the world of dairy infusion [2], I thought, hey, ho, I could add something into the milk to impart some flavour while it boils. So far I have tried adding a piece of cinnamon stick and ended up with lovely, mildly cinnamon-flavoured curds. There are lots of other things you could try adding, like bay leaves, cloves or other whole spices, depending on how you want the curds to taste.
  • If you’re going to press the paneer, you can mix herbs or spices into the curds just before you press them. For Indian dishes I like to add 1 tsp of toasted cumin seeds and a couple of twists of black pepper to the paneer but you can choose the flavouring to suit whatever dish you’re making.
The Results:
  • Approx. 250g of paneer