Sunday, November 11, 2007

Almost Palak Paneer (Indian Spinach with Cheese)

As I seem to state before every recipe I write that does not include Velveeta or white bread, I am not an authority on ethnic cooking of any sort. But I love tasting different culture’s foods-- and am drawn to foodies from different parts of the world (pestering them until they relent and cook their specialty for me). My bedside table is stacked with cookbooks from all over the world, that I read like novels before I go to sleep.

Palak Paneer is a classic Indian dish that is essentially fresh spinach with Indian seasonings and fresh, Indian cheese. In this case, because I can not get my hands on Paneer (the fresh cheese), I use a cooking cheese that I can find in the grocery store and spices that are readily available. The bottom line is that this is a very tasty dish, indeed. Mine is not completely authentic, but delicious none the less.

1 pound (450 grams) fresh, washed spinach
1/3 cup tomato puree
1 two inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 French (oblong) shallot or two small, round ones, peeled and finely minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Graham Masala (found in most super market spice aisle, but definitely in Asian or gourmet stores)
Dash or two of cayenne (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 pound cooking cheese (cheese that will go soft, but not melt, like Halloumi or any grilling cheese), cut into 1 cm cubes

1) Set a large pot over medium-high heat and add in the spinach and about 2 tablespoons of water. Cover for a minute, then uncover and turn the spinach, bringing the spinach from the top down to the bottom. Do this until all the spinach is wilted.

2) Add in all the other ingredients except the cheese cubes. Stir, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often and making sure that the spinach stays wet-- if it begins to dry out add a bit of water. Up to this point, the dish can be prepared up to one day ahead and held, covered in the refrigerator until ready to bake and serve.

3) Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Butter a small baking dish that fit’s the spinach nicely. Toss the spinach with the cheese cubes (the spinach should be slightly soupy), pour into the baking dish and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes.

Serves 4 and can easily be doubled or tripled.

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