This is a north Indian curry featuring homemade paneer and puréed spinach (palak). You never have to worry about trying to find paneer at the store, as homemade is so much better anyway — and one of the easiest cheeses to make. All it takes is some curdling and straining. Make it the day before starting the curry. If you prefer more spice, add 1 tsp (5 ml) of red chili flakes to the onions, and also 1/2 cup (125 ml) of chopped tomatoes for a slight variation.
- 4 cups (1 L) fresh whole milk
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) water
- muslin or cheesecloth
- 1 lb (450 g) fresh spinach, washed well, stems removed
- 1 small red bird’s eye chili, seeds removed, cut in medium dice
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tsp (5 ml) cumin seeds
- 1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
- 1 cup (250 ml) diced Spanish onion
- 1 tsp (5 ml) finely chopped garlic
- 1 tsp (5 ml) finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream
- 1 recipe paneer
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice, to finish
- Line a medium-size sieve with muslin or several layers of cheesecloth, and set it over a large bowl. Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring slowly to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and immediately add the lemon juice, stirring vigorously until the milk starts to curdle (you’ll see the milk separating into curds and whey). Carefully strain the entire mixture through the lined sieve.
- Let the whey drain off, about 6 hours or overnight, at room temperature.
- The curds left in the sieve are known as chenna. Knead lightly in the sieve by hand until it becomes smooth. (Hang on to the muslin or cheesecloth, as you’ll be using it again.)
- Wrap the cheese using the same muslin or cheesecloth, and shape it into a square or rectangle. Make sure the paneer is wrapped tightly before placing it on a plate and under a cutting board with a heavy weight on top. Leave to drain further, at room temperature for 4 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Unwrap the paneer, and cut into desired shapes.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and have ready a large bowl of ice water. Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then remove using tongs, a slotted spoon, or a spider. Immediately plunge in the ice water (this helps the spinach to retain its bright green colour).
- Squeeze out the water from the spinach. Place in a food processor along with the chili. Blend until smooth, and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, garam masala, and onion, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the reserved spinach purée and the cream, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep warm.
- Cut the finished paneer into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes. Line a plate with paper towels.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the paneer until golden, turning frequently to brown on all sides. Let drain on the paper towels.
- Add the paneer to the spinach and cream mixture, tossing to coat. Add the lemon juice, and salt to taste.