Indian Mom Magic: Palak Paneer
Mom: Take a little more. You need to eat.
My sister: Are you a witch? Are you trying to fatten us up so you can eat us?
(Mom cackles maniacally and walks away from her appreciably terrified adult children)
Indian moms are magic.
Mine makes fiery chutneys (and literally everything else) from scratch, has run a successful business for over twenty years, raised two kids and fed dozens more, often refers to me as Kalika Mata and once mocked my sister for not knowing that Lynx-O was a Thundercat.
People like her more than they like me.
For Indian women, cooking is as much oral storytelling as it is culinary skill. Women in my family don’t write down recipes - they just seem to know what to do.
Or not being a complete idiot.
One of the three.
Unfortunately, I don’t seem to possess these skills and since we live in an era where recording information is super easy - I've decided that I need to learn how to cook the way Mom does.
Ergo, Indian Mom Magic.
Today, I'm making an Indian Restaurant menu staple - palak paneer. It's an Indian take on creamed spinach and you might also know as saag paneer.
This is not a dish I ate while growing up. Mom's take on spinach curry is a little more dry and I refused to eat because I am a huge pain in the ass.
Then, I grew up, discovered palak paneer at my local Indian joint, told Mom how much I liked it and she told me she thinks I was switched at the hospital with some Punjabi woman's child (palak paneer is a traditionally Punjabi dish).
Questions about my true maternity aside, here is what you'll need:
2 bags spinach
Half a yellow onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup half-and-half
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp turmeric powder
2tsp ginger-chili paste
Red chili powder, salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil water.
2. Add spinach and cook for exactly three minutes.
3. Remove from heat, drain spinach and dump into an ice bath.
4. Drain spinach and squeeze out as much water as you can.
5. Now, you're going to blitz the hell out of this, so dump the spinach in a food processor with ginger-chili paste, garlic and salt until it turns into a puree. Set aside.
5. Chop paneer into 1" cubes.
6. Add a tablespoon of butter to a hot pan. Let it melt and get all foamy.
7. Add paneer and cook until golden. Salt and set aside.
8. Throw another tablespoon of butter into the pan and wait until the foamy thing happens.
9. Add cumin and stand back because these little bastards are going to fizzle and pop.
10. Add chopped onions. Cook until translucent.
11. Add spinach puree and stir.
12. Stir in chili powder, salt, pepper and turmeric.
13. Add chopped tomatoes.
14. Simmer for five minutes.
15. Add a little more chili powder. What? Spicy food is good for your metabolism.
16. Add paneer and simmer for five minutes.
17. Add half-and-half. Simmer again.
18. Best served over a fluffy mound of Basmati rice or with garlic naan. Best eaten while you're sitting on the couch, sans pants, watching Super Troopers.
- Paneer can be bought at any Indian grocery store. Ask the nice woman who runs the place. Her name is Aunty. Calling her anything else will result in your immediate removal from the premises.
- Ginger-Chili Paste is equal parts ginger and jalapenos/serranos/Thai bird chilis blitzed together. Leave the seeds in. You've survived heartbreak, illness, bad haircuts and shitty roommates. You can handle some heat.
- Now, there are people who will tell you that you can use firm tofu instead of paneer.
They are wrong.
Sidebar: Look, you can use tofu in the same way that you can make cheese out of cashews. You can...but lactose intolerance aside, why would you?
Go to the Indian Store and grab some paneer. If you don't live in proximity to an Indian store - Oh God. Why is your life so terrible? Move! Move to a better place! Or failing that - make your own and lord it over every single person you know that you made cheese.
Eat well, feed someone you love and remember - people didn't die in the spice trade for you to underseason your food.