Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Little Indian...

How often have I mentioned here that I love Indian food?  I don't think I have at all.  That is an oversight that we can clear up right now.  I love Indian food.  Before my friends, Cathy and Mike, moved to Austin, there was a great place in Pasadena we used to go to.  Please don't ask me what the name of the restaurant is.  For someone who prides herself on always remembering names and other pertinent bits of information, for the life of me, I don't know what it's called.  I can tell you where it is.  I can tell you that it's on the second floor in the little group of shops it's with.  I can tell you that everyone who works there that I've encountered has been lovely and helpful.  And I can tell you that all the food I've eaten there is delicious.  But the name?  A blank.

I have an Indian grocers a 10 minute drive away.  I love going there.  Spices, sweets, snacks, and so many other things you can't find just anywhere.  They have a cafeteria next door where I had the most amazing pumpkin curry a few years ago.  I've been there right before Diwali when they have tables laden with dozens of sweets in bright pinks and pistachio greens and I've wanted to try every single one. But I have not really attempted cooking Indian food at home.  I bought a curry mix from them and made it once, but to me, that's like the American equivalent of buying a box of Shake n' Bake and saying you made fried chicken.

I was cruising Pinterest  a week or so ago, and someone pinned a recipe for palak paneer.  Damn, that sounded good!  I hadn't had it in a couple of years.  The recipe seemed pretty easy and I always have spinach in the fridge.  Hmmm...I should also tell you that I discovered this wonderful blog called Crave Cook Click by Anita Mokashi.  She posted a recipe for Ukadiche Modak that really got my attention.  Little sweet dumplings.  Little parcels filled with coconut and jaggery.  What??  Exactly!  I needed jaggery and paneer.  Life would not be complete until I had both.  You see, when I get an idea (or two) in my head, it swerves into obsession where I cannot let it go.  So I went.  I bought paneer.  I bought a 2.2 lb hunk of jaggery.  I also came home with black sesame seeds and caraway seeds (yes, plans for the near future).

Palak Paneer has a lot of spices in it, but my results weren't too spicy.  I probably could have taken it up a notch and next time I will, but I was happy with my first attempt.  I made a few substitutions in the recipe I was following, but if you listen to anything I say, listen to this:  Don't leave out the garam masala!  I truly believe this is what takes this recipe from good to beyond!  This recipe also has tomato in it, which if I'm not mistaken, isn't typical.  But I like it here a lot.

More Indian food is on the horizon.  You know I'll share the Ukadiche Modak experience and plenty more.

Palak Paneer (Saag Paneer)
(Adapted from a recipe by US Masala)

4 cups spinach, packed
1 1/2 cups paneer, cubed
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp fennel, ground
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, grated
1 clove garlic, smashed 
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup milk

Cook spinach in a pan with a cup of water and the sugar for 6-7 minutes.  Drain water, and pulse spinach in food processor once or twice.  You want it really finely chopped, but not pureed.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the ground fennel, one teaspoon of cumin and the onion.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until onions are translucent.  Add the ginger and garlic, mix and cook for another 4-5 minutes.  Add the tomato with 1/4 cup of water, the other teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and the chili power.  Mix and add the spinach and milk and let cook for 5-6 minutes.  Stir frequently.

In another pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil and the paneer cubes.  Turn the paneer frequently to brown evenly on all sides.  Remove from pan and let drain on a papertowel-lined plate.    

Add paneer and garam masala to skillet.  Lower heat and let everything simmer for another 6-7 minutes.

Serve with naan, or as I did, with pita on the side.

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