So, without even talking to my next guest chick, we both wrote blog posts involving vegetables and our kids, and we’re trading websites today. Read all about Lisa’s foray into vegetables for her child here, and then come see me at BeanieDesigns.com.
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Take it away, Lisa and Beanie Designs!
A healthy spinach recipe from India: Palak Paneer
My three-year-old son used to cry, “More broccoli!” But, to my horror, he has come to name nearly every green vegetable as unacceptable over the past 6 months.
Yet even as I enter the hide-the-vegetables-in-the-food era, palak paneer remains one of his favorite dishes. I’m doing what I can to protect this last vestige, since it’s brimming with all the goodness of spinach as well as beneficial spices like turmeric, ginger and garlic.
This creamy Indian curry dish was also one of my favorites long before I met my husband, who is from India. The first chance I had, I asked his mom to show me how to make it. Now we have it for dinner at least once a week, and leftovers also make for a yummy lunch.
Here’s the basic recipe, complete with my notes and modifications. It probably serves 6. Dig in!
Palak paneer ingredients
Note: Amounts seem to be rarely measured in Indian cooking and can be varied according to taste easily. These are approximates for the amounts I use.
- 280 g chopped spinach (I chop up organic pre-washed spinach from the supermarket or buy the frozen kind from the Indian store. It’s labeled “palak” and is already fully shredded and frozen into blocks. Very handy, as you can take out a cube and add it to soups or use in other recipes easily.)
- 1 medium onion, grated (I cut the onion in quarters and toss in the food processor)
- 2 tomatoes pureed (I usually pour in about ½ to ¾ of a cup of packaged strained tomatoes but if you’ve got the time to use fresh, then parboil, skin and puree.)
- About 2 cloves of garlic, grated
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon red chili powder (Or to taste. A little will add some flavor, while more will add spiciness. Some recipes will say you can substitute cayenne pepper, but I haven’t tried it. Since you’re going to the Indian store to buy paneer, I’d suggest just picking up turmeric and red chili powder there. You can get it in small packets, often cheaper than the bottles at a supermarket.)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 400 grams paneer (This is a very light cheese that holds its shape and takes on flavor unbelievably. You might think it looks a bit like tofu when added to a dish, but don’t be fooled. While you could probably substitute tofu chunks in this recipe, you don’t want to miss out on paneer’s amazing flavor and texture. It can be made at home, but I file this one under ‘life’s too short.’ It’s best bought in brick form from the frozen section at the Indian store, then thawed overnight. You can buy it already cubed, but it’s not as fresh tasting.)
- 1 ½ cups water
Time saver: pasted onions, garlic and ginger are very common in the Indian dishes I make each week, so I usually just prepare them in bulk every Sunday and scoop out the amount for each recipe through the week.
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala (This is a common spice used in Indian dishes that adds a bit more flavor. Most households in India make their own from cloves, cumin and other spices, but you can also buy it at your local Indian store. It’s not necessary when making palak paneer, but it can help round out the taste a bit.)
- Dollop of sour cream (My own addition. It adds a nice buttery flavor without all the fat and calories of cream. But you could also add cream or yogurt – or nothing at all.)
How to make palak paneer
1. Boil the water in a pot and add the spinach. Cover and let it boil as you follow the next steps.
2. Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil in another pot. When it’s hot, add the onion paste. Let the onion cook until it turns a deep brown, only stirring occasionally. (If you stir it more frequently, it will take longer for the liquid to evaporate and the onion to brown fully.)
3. Add the pureed tomatoes, stir, and let cook a minute or two together.
4. Add the turmeric and red chili powder and let it cook another minute or two, until you note an oily sheen emerging. (My mother in law notes that it will smell different as the oils start to emerge, but my senses aren’t delicate enough to notice.)
5. Next add the ginger, garlic and salt. And, you guessed it, cook another couple minutes.
6. Now you’re ready to add the spinach and the water. You use the water to create the consistency you like for the dish, so you could add more or keep some from going in when you pour it. (It will thicken up a bit.)
7. Next, I pour the whole thing in the food processor and let it puree for a minute or so. It’s not critical to do this, especially if your onions, spinach, ginger, garlic and tomatoes are already pureed. But I have found it makes for a better taste and so I never skip this step now.
8. Pour the spinach mixture all back in the pan, cube the paneer and add it to the spinach. Then cover and simmer for 10 minutes minimum. (I usually add garam masala and sour cream before the paneer, though it would probably be fine if you added it later, too.) The paneer should soften and absorb the spinach and spices as it cooks.
Serve over basmati rice or with hot naan, which you can also pick up in the frozen section at the local Indian store. Many varieties of naan can be heated up nicely in your oven or toaster oven for a complete, delicious Indian dinner at home.
Lisa, I can smell it cooking on my oven right now. Well, not really, but I hope to try this soon. I haven’t had much luck with spinach and The Things yet.
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