Weekly Winner: Sumptuous Saag (say what?)

IMG_0433I seem to be entering a “green” period with my cooking, and I’m not talking about eco-friendly, organic or anything like that. I’m talking color.  Everything I’ve been making is green!  This started a few entries back with my Broccoli Bolognese. Maybe it’s my yearning for a sign of green (aka spring) outside, but whatever the reason, I’m just warning you – you’ll be seeing a lot more green here in the coming weeks.

This week’s “greenery” comes in the form of a Saag.  Chicken Saag to be exact.  Prior to making this, the only saag I was familiar with was Saag Paneer which is a spinach-cheese curry dish from India.  So apparently “saag” is the spinach-curry part of the dish.  Call it what you want, but I’ll just call it dang tasty.  This recipe for Chicken Saag comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is about as warm and cozy a dish as you could possibly ask for.  The green helps remind us that spring has to get here eventually.  But in the meantime, a nice warm bowl of this will help me survive.  My apologies to Kermit, but apparently it really is easy being green.

Chicken Saag

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Kosher salt

1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 2-inch piece ginger, minced

1/2 jalapeno, minced (about 1 Tbsp)

20 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and lightly squeezed of excess liquid

2 Tbsp finely chopped scallions

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Procedure:

  • In a medium bowl, combine the garam masala, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and 2 tsp salt.  Add the thighs and rub all over with the spice mixture.  Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  • Put the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the thighs and cook, flipping once or twice, until just cooked through, 6-8 minutes (its okay if they stick a bit and tear because you’ll be cutting them into pieces). Transfer to a plate; they will cook more later.
  • If the pan looks dry, add a little more oil.  Then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any bits, until the onion becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.  Add the spinach, scallions, and cream, and cook until the spinach is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut the thighs into 2-inch pieces.  Add them and any accumulated juice to the pot and stir.  Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the chicken is fully cooked, about 3 minutes.  After that, the dish can sit on a low simmer for up to a half-hour and will only taste better for it.  Season to taste with salt. Add the cilantro, toss well.  Serve.

 

 

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Weekly Winner: Entering the Weird and Wonderful World of Dal

The more Indian food I try, the more I learn about it which makes me realize that I love Indian food, which makes me want to try more Indian food which puts me in this exhausting, never-ending, delicious cycle of discovery. Which brings me to this week’s entry Spiced Dal with Fluffy Rice and Salted Yogurt.

I have heard of dal but honestly was not entirely sure what it was. Come to find out it is both the dish itself and the ingredients that go into it. Dal refers to any pulses (lentils, beans, etc) that are simmered with spices and other goodies into luscious goodness. That final dish is also called Dal. I found this recipe in Bon Appetit and the look and the sound of the dish immediately intrigued me.  But then I became confused because it was featured in an article entitled “Healthy-ish”. Really? This is about as healthy as I eat — no “ish” about it. There is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about in this recipe and its filling enough you really can’t eat too much of it.

But its weird. Make no mistake, this is not your usual Tuesday lunch. The flavors shouldn’t go together but they do. You have the earthy, spiced (but not spicy) dal itself (in this case yellow split-peas) with the sweet, pickly red onions and topped with salted plain yogurt. Seriously weird. Seriously wonderful. This, darling, was a darn delicious dal.

Spiced Dal with Fluffy Rice and Salted Yogurt

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp ghee, virgin coconut oil, or vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 2″ piece ginger, peeled, finely grated

2 garlic cloves, finely grated

1-1/2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 lime

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced into rounds, rinsed

Pinch of sugar

1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

Cooked Jasmine or basmati rice (for serving)

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

  • Heat Ghee in a medium pot over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often, just to take the edge off the garlic, about 30 seconds. Add 1/3 cup water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates, about 1 minute.
  • Add split peas, coriander, turmeric, cardamom and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, tunic split peas are very tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 12-14 minutes. Season with salt. Cover with a lid and keep dal warm over low heat while you make the toppings.
  • Finely grate zest from lime into a small bowl. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice into bowl (you’ll have about 2 Tbsp). Add red onion, sugar, and a large pinch of salt and toss, squeezing onion with your hands to help it soften quickly.
  • Mix yogurt with 2 Tbsp water in a small bowl; season with salt.
  • Serve dal over rice drizzled with salty yogurt and topped with onion and pepper.

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.