Palak Paneer and a Sous Chef

July 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

People want to send me their children. Specifically, their girls. Relatives and friends with precocious little spawn coo at their daughters, promising to send them to Camp Erin. For many reasons (like the fact that I still live at home, can barely can keep track of my cat, and often forget to water plants, all come to mind) the idea that I should be entrusted with live humans boggles my mind. ‘Ronka deviously smiles at me and says, “Oh yeah?!” I’m freaking terrified. In fact, the only reason imagine a parent allowing their child to stay with me for an extended period of time is because they want to conveniently “lose” them. If that’s the case, Camp Erin is for them.

So, now that I’m charged with the house while the parentals are off enjoying their first extended vacation together in two decades (I know, right?) I, against better judgement, decided to hold the first ever Camp Erin slumber party. Enter: Margaux.

Margaux is not your average 10 year old. She’s smart, spunky, and leaves me in stitches. In fact, if she were 22, I’m sure we’d be biffles and maneaters together (don’t worry Margs, we can be biffles anyway). What makes Margaux even better? She loves to cook. So when she asked me to hang by the pool with her after work, I did her one better and asked her to make palak paneer with me and spend the night. Of course she was in.

Palak paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes–though lamb vindaloo will always have my heart. The mild, creamy spinach gravy and sauteed paneer over basmati rice is a comforting weeknight meal. Even though I’ve always wanted to make it, I’d see “puree” and instantly shy away–who wants to clean a blender?! Well, I’m glad that I got over my laziness. Pureeing the steamed spinach and tomatoes was a breeze and the recipe, though it requires many ingredients, didn’t demand much brainwork. Margaux approves, too.

You know what the great part about cooking with a kid is? Instant sous chef.

I based the recipe off of ones on Indian Simmer and Paaka Shaale, and used ghee instead of oil. Make sure to soak the paneer for about 10 minutes while you are chopping and steaming before you brown it–I think it makes a dramatic difference in the texture of the final product. If you’re going to go the ghee route, make sure you actually make ghee and don’t get lazy (this seems to be a developing theme for me…) and leave milk solids in at the bottom. I did this, and while it didn’t affect taste, the milk solids burned as the onions were cooking and turned them an unappetizing brown. All was well, because, as Margaux reminded me, “It’s gonna be green anyway, right?” All’s well that ends well.

Palak Paneer

1.5 large bunches of fresh spinach
2 tomatoes
1 block paneer (mine was 400 grams), soaked for 10 minutes.
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 1″ piece of ginger, grated
1/2 green chili, minced, with seeds
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
Ghee or Oil (about 4 tbsp)
1/8 cup half and half
Basmati Rice, cooked (for serving)


1. Puree both tomatoes in blender, set aside.

2. Steam spinach (I used a colander and the stove) and puree with a small amount of water.

3. While spinach is cooking, cut paneer into 1″ cubes. Combine coriander powder, garam masala, salt, and turmeric in a small bowl.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp ghee and brown paneer on all sides. (I get impatient and am usually satisfied if two sides are browned.) Drain on paper towel and set aside.

5. Heat 2 tbsp ghee over high heat and cook cumin seeds until they begin to pop. Add onion and green chili, cook until translucent (about 2 minutes).

6. Add garlic and ginger to the onions, fry over high heat for about 30 seconds.

7. Add pureed tomatoes to ginger, garlic, onions, and chili, cook for about 30 seconds.

8. Add in pureed spinach, cook for 2-3 minutes. Dump in spice mixture, stir to combine, and allow to cook for another 30 seconds. Add in paneer and half and half. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until everything is heated through.

Serve with basmati rice and naan or roti.


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