Friday, 19 October 2012

Saag Paneer using Kale (Puréed greens with Indian cheese)


Saag Paneer using Kale (Puréed greens with Indian cheese)

The snow is coming!  Apparently it  starts tonight and will be deep by tomorrow.  I left my green and red kale plants in the ground as the frosts will sweeten them a bit.  But I had to harvest before they became engulfed in the cold wet stuff. 
I also harvested the last of the tomatoes and chillies from the greenhouse, and turned off the heater.  My favourite chilli plant had hundreds of sweet optimistic blossoms – it broke my heart. 
Kale is a much tougher plant than spinach, and requires slightly different cooking methods.  The end result isn’t exactly like a palak paneer (puréed spinach with Indian cheese).  Instead it’s heavier and grainier, somehow.  This green has suddenly become the darling of all nutritionists, and the red kale is even better for you than the green.  If you can get your hands on the red variety, that would be great, but using all green is fine too.  The red kale discolours the final dish a bit, but it's well worth it for the nutritional value!

My pictures show massive amounts, since I cleared out my garden, but the amounts I'm giving here are for a smaller recipe.  I realize that not everyone has as much kale to cook as I did today!  Because this recipe requires either an immersion blender or a regular blender, don’t worry about finely chopping.  Rough chops will do!

10 – 15 leaves kale

1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon fennel
1 flake mace
1 teaspoon black pepper corns
¼ teaspoon black cumin seed
1 black cardamom, husked
4 green cardamoms, bashed to bits
3 cloves

½ teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 tablespoons mustard oil
1 teaspoon dark mustard seeds|
1 teaspoon cumin seed
10 curry leaves

1 medium red onion, chopped
1 inch ginger, chopped
Just keep piling it in, it will shrink with heat.
2 Thai chillies, or more to taste, chopped
5 fresh garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup water
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
salt to taste

½ cup coconut milk powder

1 tomato, nicely diced
1 cup paneer (plain or butter-fried)

So pretty, and healthy too!
Begin by cleaning the kale.  Wash each leaf carefully, and tear the leaf away from the centre rib.  Discard the centre ribs.  You can leave the pieces fairly large, and know that the pieces don’t have to be uniform size.  Set aside.
Roast the whole spices in the pot you will be cooking the kale in.  Put them on medium high, and watch carefully.  Once they are slightly smoking and very fragrant, use a brush to slide them into a spice grinder, along with the turmeric and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Put the heat on high, and pour the oil into the pot.  After a few moments, drop a few mustard seeds into the oil.  When they sizzle, add all the mustard seeds, then the cumin and curry leaves.  Add the onion and ginger, and turn the heat down to medium.  Stir to help cool the pot and let the onions cook until they become translucent and a bit golden.  While the onion is cooking, grind the spices to a fine powder.
Once the onion is caramelised, add the chillies and garlic.  Stir, and cook for about two minutes.  Add the ground spices, stirring and cook for another two minutes.  Add the first pieces of kale, till the pot seems full.  Pour in the water and salt and tamarind, give it a good stir, and put a lid on the pot.  Check back after about five minutes and add the rest of the kale.  It shrinks a lot, so have faith that it will eventually fit in the pot.

Some kale, marygold, methi and cilantro! 
Kale takes a longer cooking time than spinach.  Put the heat on medium low, keep the pot covered except when you’re giving it the occasional stir.  After about thirty minutes, add the coconut milk powder.  Stir well, and cook for another ten minutes. 
If you have one, use an immersion blender to purée the mixture.  Otherwise, you can let it cool a bit and transfer it to a blender, but that is a sloppy hassle.  Get yourself an immersion blender!  They’re relatively inexpensive, and well worth the cost.  Blend the mixture well.  It will boil like lava, so be sure to turn the heat to low and then put a lid on it.  Let it simmer for another ten minutes or so. 

Meanwhile, dice the tomato into small cubes, and add to the mixture, along with the paneer.  Butter-fried paneer would be lovely, but I’m feeling guilty enough about the paneer itself, so no butter for me!  You can buy paneer plain or butter-fried in the freezer section of Indian grocery stores, or a certain big Canadian supermarket chain, or you can make it yourself, if you have the inclination.  (If you make it yourself, do it in advance of making this kale.)  Simmer till the tomato and paneer is heated through.
Serve over basmati rice, maybe with another dish.  I intend to make a channa recipe tomorrow, and serve all of this then.  Did I mention I spent the morning cutting three gallons of tofu for a celebration for Quan Yin?  Goodness, not to mention 19 huge stalks of broccoli and peeling about a half gallon of water chestnuts?  Don’t worry, I was just volunteering for an organization!  I am not cooking such huge quantities in my own kitchen.

Kale looks beautiful and you can harvest the leaves throughout the growing season!
So please forgive me for not cooking anything else today, and leaving the rest for tomorrow... I need to put my saag paneer into freezer containers now...  



  1. Goodness snowing already! We may see some early next month, I guess. I just love the sweet taste of kale and use it a lot. Can't believe I have not posted my kale recipes!

  2. Yes, kale is fabulous, and yes, snow too. Luckily it's not deep, as was predicted. Where are you in the States? Are you actually close to Idaho? Could you really help with the soan papdi? I would drive down to help make it too! (As long as it's not winter, and the roads aren't too bad.)