As a country that’s between 20% and 40% vegetarian, it’s unsurprising that India has a wide selection of vegetarian food to choose from. Paneer cheese is a particularly widespread alternative to meat, actively used across South Asian cuisine. Saag Paneer is a classic North Indian dish, which like mutter paneer has made its way firmly onto our plates in the West.
It’s not difficult to see why saag paneer is so universally popular. Though not graced with masses of flavour, paneer is a rich and creamy cheese. As a result it carries flavour beautifully, adding an aspect of luxury to its culinary host.
In Britain ‘saag’ is synonymous with spinach. They are inseparable terms. This isn’t the case in India. If you can lay your hands on some mustard or beetroot greens, for instance, get them in there. Doing so will give your saag paneer a different, unique flavour you’ll not forget in a hurry.
Of course, if a vegetarian curry isn’t quite what you’re looking for, my recipe for Lamb Badam Pasanda is a delicious and simple alternative and it could even be served alongside your saag paneer.
220g paneer cheese, cubed
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 whole dried chillies, slit
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin seeds, ground
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
Heat the oil in a large, thick-based frying pan. Cook the paneer until golden brown and set aside, saving the oil in the pan
To prepare the spinach simply place it in a large pan or bowl, cover with boiling water and quickly blanch. Transfer the softened leaves to a food processor and blend until smooth.
In the remaining oil gently saute the slit chillies, ginger and garlic, followed after a minute or so by the cumin.
Tip in the chopped fresh tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until they have broken down. Incorporate the salt and prepared spinach.
After a further 5 minutes add in the fried cheese, allow it to heat through. Finish the dish with 2 tbsp of natural yoghurt and serve alongside rice and flatbread.
Cost: Paneer is a delicious, creamy ingredient, which makes a frugal alternative to chicken or beef. Spinach is available fresh and cheap year round. As such, this recipe for saag paneer should set you back no more than £3.50. Less than £1 per portion.
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