I had cooked in undergrad, but many of the meals included "Helper" in their title, involved grilled cheese, or came out of a blue box. When I moved to Philadelphia for grad school, I was old (mature?) enough to start trying new things. It was here that I was introduced to Indian, Thai, African and Burmese to name a few. Since then I've also fallen in love with the Ethiopian and Afghan meals I've had. Maybe it was coincidence, but just as I started to experience new cuisines, I also had the desire to create new things in my kitchen.
For the second challenge of Project Food Blog, we were to recreate a classic dish from a cuisine. I decided there was no time like the present to tackle my favorite Indian dish-- saag paneer. I was won over as soon as I tasted this dish, although I've never tried to make it at home. I haven't done too much Indian cooking, but I'm always a little intimidated by long lists of spices, and paneer isn't normally found in any grocery store.
|Bin bhuna hua garam masala (untoasted)|
Now, which recipe to use?? I turned to a cookbook I've heard good things about recently, 660 Curries. You can find the recipe here. After a trip to the Indian grocery store in Coolidge Corner, I was armed with the paneer and spices required to execute. A trip to Whole Foods for mustard greens came up short, so I picked up a small bunch of dandelion greens to use instead (both are slightly bitter).
|Punjabi garam masala (toasted)|
One thing I found unique was that Iyer calls for two kinds of garam masala. One is untoasted, used early on in the cooking process. The other is toasted prior to grinding and then used to finish the dish. I prepared these the night before, as they can be kept in an airtight container in the dark for a couple months. My kitchen smelled pretty amazing after toasting the one with cinnamon! I also pan-fried the paneer cubes ahead of time so they were ready to go, but there's some down time when cooking down the spinach during which you could do this.
I have to say, the flavors of the saag paneer I've had made me think that this would take awhile to cook. However the tender spinach and well-executed spice blends proved me wrong :) I also didn't need to stand right over it the entire time, which I liked. The one sub I made was to use 1/2c milk mixed with ~2T cornstarch instead of heavy cream. I probably cut back on the oil inadvertantly, too, as I eye-balled the amounts.
I served it with some naan, and thoroughly enjoyed every bite!! For this dish, I cooked with no less than three things I had never used before: paneer, cardamom pods and dandelion greens :)
What's your favorite Indian dish?? Or favorite ethnic cuisine??