Indian cottage cheese or paneer belongs to North India. Paneer was not very popular in the South because of the process involved in preparing it in homes. The milk had to be boiled and curdled with the addition of lime juice, and the solid milk protein or paneer had to be tied in a muslin cloth and hung for the whey to drain. Though my family is very fond of paneer, I found it tedious and cumbersome to prepare it in this manner. But paneer burst into popularity in South Indian homes when different brands of commercially prepared paneer appeared in the refrigerators of supermarkets. The palak paneer which could be tasted only in restaurants, started to grace the tables of adventurous South Indian homes. The nutritient contribution of this dish to a meal is excellent as the milk protein in paneer is a complete protein (easily digested and utilised by the body) and the spinach is rich in minerals, vitamins and fibre.
The following recipe is not my own. I cannot recall from where I got it, but I have organised the recipe and simplified the method. I use either Amul or Nilgiris Malai Paneer.
For cooking the spinach
- 3 large bundles Spinach
- ½ tsp Salt
- ½ C Water
For frying the paneer
- 400 gm Paneer (cottage cheese)
- 1 T Ghee (clarified butter)
For the masala
- 1 large Onion, diced
- 3 cm piece Ginger
- 6 cloves Garlic
- 1 Green Chilli, de-seeded
- 2 medium Tomatoes, slurried (pulsed in blender)
- ½ tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 T Ghee
- Salt, to taste
- Grind together the ginger, garlic, and green chilli.
- Clean and wash spinach.
- Pressure cook the spinach for 5 minutes with the salt and water.
- Cut the paneer into 2-cm-square pieces.
- Heat the ghee in a non-stick kadai or wok. Shallow fry the paneer pieces. Remove.
- Add the rest of the ghee; when hot add the cumin seeds, wait for them to splutter but do not brown.
- Add the onion and fry till it is tender.
- Immediately add the ginger, garlic and chilli paste and fry. When cooked (fragrant aroma arises) add the slurried tomatoes.
- Stir and blend well; cook till the fat separates from the masala.
- Pulse the cooled spinach at speed 1 for 10 seconds in a mixie or a blender.
- Pour the spinach over the masala, stir, adjust salt and bring to boil.
- Lower heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove.
- Add the fried paneer cubes to the spinach; serve with chapathis or parathas.
- Do not use more than half a cup of water to cook the spinach, because spinach itself will release a large quantity of water.
- If spinach is not available, pasalai/pasarai keerai can be used instead. You will not know the difference as the flavour is similar.
- If you are not using the paneer immediately after purchase, store in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. Storing it in the main compartment of the refrigerator will give it a sour taste in a few days.