Weekly Winner: The Marriage of Two Recent Obsessions

Saag PaneerLately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Indian food.  I crave it.  It is a fairly new discovery with me as far as home cooking is concerned.  I’ve always enjoyed going to Indian restaurants and I do make a fairly awesome Chicken Tikka Masala (if I do say so myself), but that has pretty much been it.  Until now.  I’m now collecting recipes like mad and experimenting with Indian spices in everyday cooking.

At the same time, hubby has become obsessed with making his own cheese.  I know, I’m a lucky woman.  Mozzarella, ricotta, you name it, he’s been tinkering with it with great success.  Which brings us to a recent, cold, Sunday evening and this week’s Weekly Winner — Saag Paneer.  Indian food and homemade cheese… ding, ding!!  We have a winner!

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and while a bit time-consuming is actually quite easy … and most delicious.

Saag Paneer

Ingredients

For the cheese:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the spinach:

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper (seeded for less heat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

Directions

Make the cheese: Line a colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth; put in the sink. Bring the milk to a simmer in a wide nonreactive pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, lemon juice and 2 teaspoons salt. Continue to stir gently until large curds form and separate from the whey, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain through the cheesecloth-lined colander, discarding the whey. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and twist to squeeze out any excess whey (run the sides of the bundle under cool water if it’s too hot to handle). Tie the ends of the cheesecloth around a wooden spoon handle and lay the spoon over the colander, letting the bundle dangle; let drain, 10 minutes.

Untie the bundle and twist the cheesecloth again, squeezing out any more whey. Lay the bundle on its side on a plate. Top with another plate and weigh it down with a large can. Refrigerate until a firm cake forms, about 1 hour; unwrap and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, or up to 2 days.

Fry the cheese: Cut the cheese into 3/4-inch cubes. Toss in the flour until well coated, shaking off any excess. Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the cheese and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt and set aside.

Make the spinach: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Working in batches, cook the spinach until just tender, about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of salted ice water. Drain and squeeze dry, then chop and set aside.

Pulse the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, coriander, cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Whisk the yogurt, 1/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and the vegetable oil in a wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger mixture and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 5 minutes (add a splash of water if the mixture is sticking). Reduce the heat to medium low; add 1/2 cup water and scrape up any browned bits, then add the cooked spinach and stir until heated through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the yogurt mixture and simmer gently until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the fried cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt.

Weekly Winner – Belated Again, but worth the wait

So another holiday weekend came and went and with it, my deadline for posting my Weekly Winner.  I actually made this dish a week ago yesterday, but it lingers in my memory as a phenomenal Indian chicken dish.

I got the recipe from Saveur (one of my favorite food magazines), and the only alteration I did was to use all boneless chicken thighs because I had them on hand.  The other thing that really made this dish amazing was my hubby’s homemade naan.  Without further ado, the recipe for Butter Chicken, or what is more colorfully known as Murgh Makhanwala.

Murgh Makhanwala

(Butter Chicken)

Serves 4

FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 3–4-lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. canola oil
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 3″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt, to taste

FOR THE RAITA:
1/2 English cucumber (about 6 oz.), seeded and grated
1/2 medium tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 green cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole cloves, crushed
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 3″ piece ginger, washed and grated (skin on)
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 tsp. garam masala
4 fresh or frozen curry leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mango chutney, for serving

1. Marinate the chicken: Combine all marinade ingredients except for chicken in a food processor; purée. Transfer marinade to a large bowl and add chicken, tossing to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Heat oven to 500°. Transfer chicken to an aluminum foil—lined baking sheet and spoon any marinade from bowl over chicken. Bake chicken until light brown but not cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside.

Meanwhile, make raita: Toss cucumbers, tomatoes, and salt in a colander and let sit for 10 minutes. Press cucumbers and tomatoes to drain well and then transfer to a medium bowl along with yogurt, mint, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, and carrots; toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Make the sauce: In a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat, combine chile flakes, garlic, cardamom, cloves, tomatoes, ginger, bay leaf, and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often and crushing tomatoes with a spoon, for 25 minutes. Discard bay leaf and transfer sauce to a food processor; purée. Return sauce to pot and continue cooking over medium-low heat until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Add reserved chicken pieces and any marinade from pan, along with 1/3 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream, butter, garam masala, and curry leaves. Reduce heat to low and cook until flavors meld, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.

4. To serve, transfer chicken and sauce to a serving platter and serve with the raita and mango chutney.