This whole soft-food thing has been a great brain exercise for us. I’m feeling like I’ve eaten enough white carbs to do me for a while, so thinking of things that are soft and flavorful but NOT bread/pasta/rice is a real challenge. I managed a small bowl of chili at a restaurant last weekend and realized that beans are my friends – soft, nutritious and full of protein. We decided to make red lentil dal for dinner, one of the softest and most comforting foods out there. To round it out, we made one of our favorite Indian dishes, saag paneer (spinach with panir cheese). Panir is the tofu of India: bland on its own, but a great foil for and absorber of strong flavors.
I love saag paneer not just because it’s softly spicy and full of cheese – it’s also really easy to make, assuming you can buy panir at your local shop like we can. If you have to make it from scratch…well, in that case, you might want to make something else (unless you have better luck making cheese than I do). Same with the greens – you could certainly buy a bunch of fresh spinach, but this is a dish where I think it’s better by far to just pull a bag of chopped spinach out of the freezer.
adapted from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine by Yamuna Devi
- 2 green chiles (I usually use serranos, but you could use almost anything – I like a bit of heat)
- 1 piece fresh ginger, about 1/2 inch long
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 3 Tbsp oil or butter or a combination
- 1 pound bag frozen chopped spinach
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 package panir cheese, diced
Grate the chiles and ginger into a bowl with a microplane, then add the spices and a spoonful or two of water. Mix together.
In a large skillet with a well-fitting lid, heat the oil. Scrape the wet spice mix into the pan and saute for a minute. Add the entire bag of spinach and stir thoroughly to blend it with the masala. Cover the pan and turn down the heat to medium low, let it simmer for 5-10 minutes (make sure the spinach is hot through – ice chunks do not add to the experience). Add garam masala and salt to taste. A few minutes before serving, add the cheese and stir it all up. Leave it on the heat until the cheese is hot through.
Serve with dal and chutneys. The saag is also wonderful with chapati or poori.