I Love Indian Food
Indian food is one of my all time favorite cuisines. The flavors of Indian spices are mind blowing. The amount of chutneys and sauces available within Indian cuisine is enough to make a sauce lover like me drool. And any food that begs to be eaten with a crisp yet fluffy piece of naan is a friend of mine. While there is a massive repertoire of Indian dishes out there, I’d have to say my two favorites are chicken tikka masala and saag paneer.
India has been at the top of my travel list since I first tasted Indian food a few years ago. Because, let’s be honest, I travel to eat. It’s kind of crazy to think I didn’t taste Indian food until my early or mid-twenties. I actually know people in their 30’s who have never tried Indian food, which is nuts because this cuisine is so damn good! I feel like people are turned off by the thought of spices and curries, thinking the food will have to much heat. But really, Indian food is all about powerful flavors. Thanks to my best friend Michelle, Indian food came into my life!
When I lived in San Diego, Michelle and I would frequent Bombay Coast in Clairemont, a fast-casual Indian restaurant. So we would typically get takeout, load up on an embarrassing amount of chutneys and sauces, then head home to an Indian feast and a movie. When I say feast, I’m not exaggerating. Naan, cucumber and cabbage salad, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, navratan korma, and basmati rice with saffron was my typical order. Yum! If we felt like splurging and eating out, we’d head to Royal India in downtown San Diego.
Saag Paneer – An Indian Favorite
Since moving to Paso Robles, I have yet to find a good Indian restaurant in the Central Coast. Actually, I haven’t found a single Indian restaurant at all. That’s probably the biggest thing I miss about city life, incredible food options! Anyways, as one does when you can’t buy something, you make it. Or at least that’s what I do.
So when a craving for saag paneer struck, I decided to whip up this Indian favorite with the help of one of my favorite cookbooks. Near & Far by Heidi Swanson is the perfect cookbook for foodies and travel lovers alike. Heidi showcases recipes from her home base in the buzzing city of San Francisco, as well as recipes developed from her frequent travels to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India. Besides artistic words and delicious recipes, Near & Far also showcases beautiful photography in the kitchen and from Heidi’s travels.
A similar recipe for saag paneer as the recipe in Near & Far can be found on Heidi’s website here. The paneer cheese in itself is SUPER simple to make. I adore this cheese for the fact that you can create whatever flavor profile you’d like by adding spices, citrus zest, herbs, olives, you name it! Whether making plain paneer or spicing it up with added ingredients, this creamy, tangy cheese will definitely be a crowd pleaser.
If I’m making paneer for saag paneer, I tend to leave out extra ingredients. However, last time I made this delicious cheese as an appetizer, I threw in some lemon zest and chopped kalamata olives. So good!
The Wine Pairing
For saag paneer, I would probably go the white wine route looking for a crisp white with a higher acidity that will work well with the creaminess of the paneer and the spice profile of the garam masala used in this dish. I recently had a FEL Pinot Gris that would pair perfectly with saag paneer or even with my lemon zest and salty kalamata olive paneer. A rich, zesty Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps from the Loire Valley, would work well here too!
This recipe comes from Heidi Swanson's beautiful cookbook Near & Far. For a creamier paneer, lean towards more lemon juice. Be adventurous and add citrus zest, aromatics, or olives to your paneer for something new! You'll need cheesecloth too.
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 2-3 lemons
- 3/4 tsp salt
- any aromatics you wish to add to the paneer
First, line a large strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set the strainer on top of a tall bowl. Set aside.
Bring the gallon of milk to a simmer in a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium heat.
Be sure to stir the milk often to avoid scalding the milk on the bottom of the pot.
As the milk begins to come to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and add in lemon juice. I have found the amount of lemon juice needed varies each time I make paneer. I typically use about 1/2 cup of lemon juice to make a creamier paneer
Gently stir in lemon juice until curds start to form, collect, and separate from the whey. Add more lemon juice as needed.
Once a thick layer of curds has formed, use a slotted spoon to move the curds to the strainer.
Stir in salt and any other aromatics or ingredients you wish to add to the paneer. Enjoy the paneer immediately or leave the curds to strain for about 30 minutes or so.
Once the curds have strained, you can transfer them into a mold, shallow plate, or tupperware. Cover the curds with a piece of parchment paper and place a heavy pot or another form of weight over the curds so they can form a sliceable block of paneer.
Reserve the whey to use in place of lemon juice for your next paneer if you'd like. You may opt to rinse the curds when first placed in the strainer to remove the lemon taste. You may also use vinegar in place of lemon juice. I prefer not to rinse the curds, as I love the bright citrus notes of lemon.