As a disclaimer this recipe is a nod to Saag Paneer. Everything I know about cooking food I learned as best I could from people in my life. I usually end up giving it a Puerto Rican flair, as my cooking is heavily influenced by my family and the food they make in Puerto Rico. However I love to try recipes and do my best to execute them in a way that would make my friends or fellow cooks proud…or at the very least feeling full and happy.
I never really ordered Saag Paneer from a restaurant. Growing up I had a love for lamb & eggplants so I tended to gravitate towards dishes featuring those two ingredients. Plus rice…I mean what person whether they are part or completely Puerto Rican doesn’t love rice….anywho…
Saag Paneer from what I remember some restaurants serving, as my mom was a fan, was ‘greezy’/oily/bland/and cheesy. Basically something to dip naan in and sop it up. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking the dish but instead the execution. Not to mention when a lot of westerners go to eat ‘Indian Food’ they are looking for creamy, heavy, buttery dishes. Historically these dishes were created to satisfy the palate of the various Europeans who colonized India. However Indian food has amazing spicy, sour, and bitter flavors as well that are worth exploring if you haven’t already done so.
Here’s what makes my Saag Tofu a lil different than the traditional version & a lil different from the type you may have ordered from a westernized Indian restaurant:
-Less grease: my version is a lil less greasy as I am not keeping this on a hot buffet or simmering it over a stove to keep it hot until someone orders it. Therefore I use a lil less oil than most restaurants do:
-More protein: baby on board = more protein than I normally eat. I get my protein in early so the only thing getting me up in the night is the constant drinking of water and peeing…not the washing and burning of undigested dinner. I also used tofu instead of paneer as this is what I had laying around in my fridge.
-Greens: I didn’t just stick to spinach. Yep. I used a blend of greens that, depending on where you are in India, might be more popular than the spinach only dish we find in most western restaurants. I also used fresh greens instead of frozen. I would recommend trying the fresh greens out if you can get your hands on them. If you are trying to budget a bit grab some good ‘ol frozen spinach – will save you money and time.
Finally if you want really really excellent Indian food in Washington, D.C. I would recommend checking out Heritage India. Their weekend brunch is amazing and I would recommend trying anything you haven’t heard of before. The owner is from Southern India and her food ‘n’ recipes are amazing. Also, this is one of the few places where I’ve gotten actually spicy food when I asked for ‘very very spicy please’. Can’t say enough great stuff about this place.
Since moving to Brisbane we have been on the hunt for great Indian food -although Saag Paneer is found in some neighboring countries as well- but haven’t yet found our spot. If you have any great local Indian spots let me know. Really craving some spicy goodness lately. Especially anything with tamarind in it.
~2 tablespoon sunflower or rice bran oil
~1 medium onion, diced
~1 tablespoon ginger, minced
~1 tablespoon chopped green chili (optional)*
~1 teaspoon salt
~1/4 teaspoon turmeric
~1/8 cup corn flour** (optional)
~3 cups chopped mustard leaves
~4 cups chopped spinach leaves
~500 grams silken tofu
~2 lemons juiced
~1 tablespoon buttery spread
~1/2 teaspoon cumin
~1/8 teaspoon hing or dried ginger
~1 pinch cayenne
~Sea salt to taste
*Note: this will make the dish very spicy. Start with 1/4 to 1/2 of what I listed above if you are unsure of the amount of heat you can take. In my local market I have access to Thai Chilies. But you can substitute any chili you have access to.
**Note: This is not the same as corn starch that many people use for gravy or stir fry thickening. This is more like maize or finely ground polenta. If you don’t have access to this skip it – it’ll just mean your dish is slightly more watery. No problem. Also this ingredient is not added in all types of Saag Paneer. This is just based off a recipe I got from a friend.
1) Grab a large pot and turn heat on to medium. Add oil and onion. Cook on medium/high heat, stirring regularly, until they take on a caramel brown color. If the onions get dry add a little water to deglaze the pan and keep stirring and cooking until you reach that dark caramel color. Then add ginger, chilies, salt, and turmeric. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Once ingredients are fragrant add mustard leaves and spinach leaves and 1 cup of water. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover the pan and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2) Grab two small mixing bowls. Into the first bowl add 1/2 cup of water and your corn flour. Mix with a fork and set to the side. In the other bowl add the juice from two lemons, a hearty pinch of salt, and set to the side.
3) Take your silken tofu and rinse it gently under cold water. Place the tofu inside of a dish cloth. Wring out the tofu to get rid of all the extra moisture it has. Then place the tofu into the bowl with the lemon juice. Allow to marinade while the greens cook.*
4) Remove top from your pot after the greens have cooked for 30 minutes. Add corn flour/water slurry. Mix well. Allow to simmer for another 15 minutes more stirring occasionally. Add tofu, without the extra lemon juice, and simmer for another 5-10 minutes – adding more water if Saag Tofu becomes too thick.
5) Turn heat off on greens and allow them to cool. Give them a taste and add more salt if desired. In another small pot heat up buttery spread, cumin, hing or dried ginger, cayenne, and a pinch of salt. Cook on medium/high heat until flavorful. Once you can smell the seasoning pour it over the greens and tofu. Fold into the dish just before serving. Serve this dish hot with either roti, naan or rice to soak up the flavorful sauce.
*Note: If you don’t really like the taste of tofu I would recommend simmering the tofu in a pot with the lemon juice and salt until the lemon juice evaporates completely. This will give the tofu an excellent zippy flavor and mask any unpleasantness you might otherwise find with it.
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