What I love most about my job, apart from the obvious- saving animals lives, alleviating pain in cute furry creatures and all that other WFF (warm fuzzy feeling) inducing stuff- are my weekdays off. In my line of work, at least on the clinical side of things, there is no Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 schedule.
Instead, we are required to work some weekends, meaning we get weekdays off in lieu. And while it is truly painful to drag yourself out of bed at 6.30 am on a Sunday morning, leaving behind warm sheets and a snoring spouse to tend to sick animals (who annoyingly don’t always plan their medical needs to occur during the week), having a weekday to myself really does soften the blow.
My day off feels like an indulgence, even though I’ve well and truly worked my backside off for it. It is something that is all mine……a whole day before me which I can fill with whatever my heart desires. Of course, much of it is spent on mundane tasks such as a workout session, housework and paying bills, but strangely just the idea of having the choice makes a day off seem like a guilty pleasure. And even those chores are less painful during the week- lines at post offices and banks are shorter, Sydney’s normally congested roads are a little easier to navigate and appointments with dentists and such are more available.
And on the occasion that the day off coalesces with the weekend- well, what more can you ask for than a long weekend? Of course, these occasions are met with much jealous muttering and head shaking from the husband, who seems to conveniently forget that I would’ve worked the entire previous weekend!
This dish is definitely one for a day off. There are a few processes which take a little time when you first give it a go. But it’s so very worth it at the end.
Palak Paneer is an Indian classic. I have been disappointed with some of the versions I’ve had at restaurants; many are bland with a layer of oil floating over the top of barely recognisable spinach puree and lumps of paneer (cottage cheese) that you need to fish for.
You can make the paneer yourself using this technique from this lovely blog, or use store-bought paneer. If using store-bought paneer, I prefer the frozen cubes to the blocks you find in the fridge. Also, despite being more fiddly, I highly recommend you use fresh spinach rather than frozen.
Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese Curry)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/8 tsp fenugreek
8-10 black peppercorns
Insides of 2 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 bay leaves
3 hot green chillies split down the middle
1 small clove garlic, grated or minced (you will need 2 in total)
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated (you will need 1 1/2 tbsp in total)
1/2 large onion chopped finely (you will need the other half too, also chopped)
1 quantity spice mix
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated
1/2 large onion chopped finely
1/4 cup passata or 1 soft tomato chopped roughly
2 bunches English spinach
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
2 tsp salt
3 tsp oil
280-300g paneer in cubes (packaged or fresh)
Handful coriander, chopped roughly
If using frozen paneer, defrost.
Chop bottom part of the spinach stalks off and discard. The more tender part of the stalks can be left on. Chop each bunch of spinach into thirds. Place in a colander and wash thoroughly to get rid of the grittiness (and trust me, I’ve never met a bunch of spinach that wasn’t gritty!). Wash in batches if easier. Place aside.
To make the spice mix, dry roast all the spices in a small pan over low heat until fragrant. Use an electric grinder or mortar and pestle to grind to a powder.
Heat 1 tsp oil in a large saucepan or wok. When oil is hot, add spice mix, 1/2 tbsp ginger, 1 clove garlic and half a chopped onion. Fry on low-medium heat until onion is tender. Add spinach and simmer, covered until spinach is mostly cooked. Add tomato or passata, stir through and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt and stir through. Transfer to the bowl of your food processer and leave to cool. Once cooled, blitz to a puree.
In the saucepan or wok, heat 2 tsp oil. When oil is hot, reduce heat to low and add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds. Allow seeds to pop, stirring gently. Add garam masala, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for a minute. Add bay leaves, cloves, chillies, ginger and garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the other half of the chopped onion and stir until coated in oil and tender.
Add spinach puree to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Add sugar, amchur and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir through and taste- add more salt in 1/4 tsp increments according to taste. Simmer on a medum heat for 5 minutes.
Add paneer and stir through, covering the cubes with the gravy. If using home-made paneer, be extra gentle! Cover and simmer on low heat for 3-5 minutes. If using frozen paneer, you may need to simmer a little longer.
Sprinkle coriander over the top and serve with rice, naan or chapatis.
You can so totally simplify this by:
Using more garam masala instead of the spice mix- about a tsp should do it. However freshly ground spices are something else!
If you can’t find amchur, a good squeeze of lemon or a dollop of sour cream right at the end may provide the sourness required.
For a touch of luxury, feel free to stir through about a 1/4 cup of cream or sour cream.