My elder daughter is a recent convert. I mean she is almost a convert from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian. She refuses to eat most fish except salmon. She doesn't want to eat meat on two consecutive days.She eats her eggs with no enthusiasm.
In a family like ours, this creates a difficult scenario. All the more because she has gone from a "no-fuss" eater to a somewhat "finicky" eater these days. She doesn't like to have just Dal & Rice or just veggies and rice either. In our family "finicky" eaters are assuaged with an omlette on the side and will eat anything with that option. This doesn't work with S though. She eats her broccoli and carrots with a dip but when served with rice all she wants is Paneer.
Her Didun(my Mom) is party responsible for this. When she was visiting last year and Big Sis S refused to eat fish or meat, my Mom in a mode of panic that the child is not getting any protein took to feeding her Paneer. And not any store bought Paneer either. Every other day my Ma would make a little chhana or chhena(home made paneer) just for her and then she would shape them in small flat discs, fry them to a golden brown and make delicious gravy with them. This is a Bengali favorite and is called "Chhanar Dalna".The homemade paneer is super soft and soaks up the delicious slightly sweet gravy in which it sits, making it anyone's delight.
With Didun back in India, such delicacies are a luxury and though my Ma insists that I could take time out and make some "home made chhana" and chhana'r dalna for Big Sis S, I pretend not to listen and go buy Paneer instead.
Big Sis S has complied and eats this store bought paneer. She has Paneer on most week days and then she takes a Paneer Pualo for lunch almost one day every week. At school when her teacher asked her what she was having for lunch, she figured she didn't know English of Panner and so said it was chicken instead. With Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese) and a bowl of plain yogurt as the incentive, she pretty much eats all other veggies on her plate.
Everyone has a Palak Paneer recipe and I myself have tried and tweaked several. This tweaked version of the old favorite is the the one I love most. It is nice and creamy and comes with all the goodness of green spinach and white paneer. S too eats it up without a murmur about the greenery.
Prep: Cut almost 12 oz of Paneer in small cubes. There were about 28-30 paneer cubes.
The Nanak brand of Paneer I usually buy is pretty soft by my standard and I don't fry them. If your paneer is hard sitting in the refrigerator microwave for a few seconds to make it soft or if your paneer is the tough variety, fry lightly and dunk in salted warm water
In a deep bottomed frying pan heat Oil
Add 1 clove of garlic chopped, 4 slit green chillies, 1/2 cup chopped red onion and saute
When the onion is translucent add 1 tomato coarsely chopped
Fry for a couple of minutes till tomato softens
Add 4 cups of blanched baby spinach(I used baby spinach you can also use regular spinach)
Add salt and saute til the spinach wilts and softens
Cool the above mix and make a paste in the blender. Do not add water while doing this. This is referred to as the spinach puree and used in a later step
Heat a little Oil in the pan
Add 1 tsp of Whole Cumin Seeds/Jeera
When the spice pops add 1/4 cup of chopped red onion
Fry with 1/4 tsp of sugar. Sugar helps to caramelize and the onions turn a reddish brown in color
Add the spinach puree that you made
Saute for a couple of minutes
Add 1 tsp of Ginger paste, 1 tsp of Cumin Powder/Jeera Powder, 2 tsp of Corriander Powder/Dhania Powder, 1/4 tsp of Red Chilli Powder and salt
Mix the masala and saute for some more minutes (about 3-4 minutes)
Add 1-2 tsp of Kasoori Methi and mix well
Add 1/2 cup of 2% Milk + 1 cup of water, mix well with all the masala and let it simmer
When the gravy comes to a boil add the Paneer pieces and let the gravy simmer at low heat for 10-15 minutes (approx. timing). By this time the gravy should be thick and creamy and there should not be any raw smell
I sometimes add very little sugar at this point as it suits my taste. You can also add 1/2 - 1 tbsp cream to this dish at this point which I don't
Just before taking it off the heat sprinkle 1/4 tsp of Garam masala powder and add 1/4 tsp of Ghee. Mix well and delicious creamy palak paneer is ready to serve
This goes very well with Roti or Naan and even with a Rice dish
Trivia:The ruling aristocracy in India from 1500 until the mid 19th Century was of Turkic, (Central Asian), and Persian origin, and it was they who introduced paneer to India.
In Bangladesh and eastern India, two kinds of cheese are commonly found: ponir (a hard paneer) and chhana or chhena (a soft paneer). Ponir is a salty semi-hard cheese made in villages across Bangladesh, and Orissa and West Bengal in India. Its sharp flavor and high salt content contrasts with the softer, milder chhana/chhena. (And I always thought Bong way of saying Paneer was Ponir !!!)