I wasn’t always considered the cool kid at school. And when I say that, I mean I was never the cool kid at school. While everyone was outside playing with friends, I was reading books in the library and begging my French teacher to let me stay inside and do extra credit. It’s about time that you know (or maybe you knew all along) just how dorky I was/am.
Lunch time at school didn’t help my case much. I was the kid who brought chicken curry and rice to school instead of the PB&J sandwich I wished my mother had packed for me. Unscrewing the lid to my thermos, I prayed that it would be Chef Boyardee or chicken noodle soup. But the unmistakable smell of Indian spices would waft through my nostrils before I even saw what was inside the container. The kids would flare their nostrils, point at my lunch and move two seats away. Nowadays I might have been the coolest kid in the cafeteria, but back then, it was a guarantee that you’d end up eating alone. Indian food wasn’t always on the menu for lunch at my house, but even a simple ham sandwich sitting in a turmeric-stained Tupperware container never looked all that appealing.
If I could, I would tell younger me that it gets better. That all your friends will end up wanting to know how to fry samosas, or what goes into butter chicken to make it taste so freakin’ good!? Those days will come lil Priya! Learning how to cook Indian food and watching my mother in the kitchen would save me in university when I was out on my own with only a vague idea of how to cook for myself.
For the record, I always enjoyed Indian food. I stole bites of chicken curry from the stove when my mom wasn’t looking and fought my brother for the last samosa. I would inhale deeply when my mom fried up onions with ginger and garlic – still one of my favourite smells in the world. I piled my plate high with pakoras and chutney while butter chicken oozed off my plate and my extra hand reached for the last tandoori chicken leg.
But I stayed clear of the saag paneer. And can you blame me? I was 8, and anything green (much less made of spinach) was not getting anywhere near my mouth. What was I thinking?? How could I have been so foolish? Saag paneer has become one of my favourite cozy winter dishes and I regret avoiding it as a kid. But I’ve made up for it since then. Especially on a cold night at home when you need something warm and spicy to dig into, this recipe is absolutely perfect.
I used spinach in this recipe but you can use any type of leafy green, like mustard greens, beet greens or kale. I love frying up the paneer before adding it to the curry, so that it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve it over warm and buttered naan and sprinkle almonds over top for an added crunch.
- ¼ cup methi leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 inch ginger, chopped course
- ¼ cup chopped onions
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 600g chopped frozen spinach (defrosted)
- 1¼ cup water
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 cups paneer cheese (cut into ½ inch cubes)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- almonds for garnish
- naan to serve
- Add methi leaves, garlic, ginger and onions to a food processor and pulse until a paste forms.
- Head the oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add in the paste from the food processor and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add in the cumin, chili and turmeric powder and the tomato paste. Stir until the mixture becomes a deep brown colour. Add in the spinach and water and cook until it slightly thickens (approx.10 mins). Remove from heat and add in cream and garam masala.
- While the spinach curry is cooking, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet over medium high. Add in paneer cheese, careful not to overcrowd it, and cook until it browns on both sides. Remove cheese from skillet then add to spinach curry. Stir it in to incorporate the cheese.
- When you/re ready to serve the curry, warm naan over stove or in microwave and butter both sides. Sprinkle almonds over top of spinach and serve!