Unless I’m throwing a handful in my smoothie, baby spinach has to be one of my least favourite greens to eat raw. Cooked, it’s another story. Stirring spinach into a soup last-minute and folding a handful into cooked pasta are two ways I enjoy it. But as the star of the show, even as a side dish, spinach has never been my go-to green. Give me garlicky kale, roasted brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli with olive oil and lemon, or hoisin-shellacked bok choy, instead, I would tell you.
Even curious eaters can fall into ingredient ruts.
It wasn’t until I saw this recipe on Serious Eats that I was tempted to try making saag paneer (curried spinach with Indian cheese) myself; not the vegan recipe presented in the article, but the classic, dairy-full version.
A saag paneer primer, from cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey:
Saag paneer, a combination of greens and paneer, is eaten all over north India with slight variations in the spices. In India, the spinach, which turns into a sauce for the paneer, is sometimes creamed. At other times, it is left in its chopped state, thus allowing it to stand in equal partnership with the paneer.
Before I could make saag paneer at home, I would need to taste it, exploring the flavours I needed to lock down. When I finally did try the dish, from a choice restaurant in our old city, it changed my relationship with spinach. To me, it’s very exciting to find a way to love a vegetable you were so-so on in the past.
There’s a fresh take on saag paneer in my next cookbook, Modern Lunch (Appetite by Random House, Spring 2019), infusing the spinach in that recipe are creamy cashew milk, sharp preserved lemon, and warming ginger, with eggs standing in for paneer.
But I know you need something wonderful to cook today.
The recipe I am sharing today is different than both traditional saag paneer and the variation in my cookbook. It’s a touch less creamy yet still feels rich, and is entirely wintertime appropriate with naturally buttery new potatoes and big dollops of salty, fresh cheese. This version is a hybrid between a saag aloo recipe (spinach and potatoes) and a saag paneer recipe (spinach and cheese), pushing both buttons for when you need a bit of extra-comfy carbs with your greens–with a lightened up twist, of course.
You’ll need a lot of spinach, about 350g, or most of a very large bagful, which makes this such a brilliant way to get your iron.
Don’t be afraid of the spices–the more the merrier. I use garam masala and mild curry powder for ease, along with half of a green serrano chili for a buzzy warmth. Fresh ginger is essential, likewise garlic and onion, but the raisins can be replaced with dried currants or chopped dates. Boil or steam the potatoes ahead of time, if you can, as I find they slice better after a bit of time chilling. And be sure to finely chop, almost mince, the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili as large pieces disrupt the enjoyment of this dish.
I’d cook up a pot of fragrant basmati rice to tuck this next to, maybe with a little cucumber salad or simple poached egg, just to round things out. This recipe keeps well for days, so don’t be shy about making the entire portion, even if you don’t have the mouths to feed. Although, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly this disappears.
Saag Aloo Paneer (Curried Spinach, Potato, and Cottage Cheese Recipe)
Try this lighter, homemade version of ultra-luscious saag aloo crossed with decadent saag paneer. It’s one of my favourite vegetarian (or vegan, if you hold the cheese) greens recipes. This dish is quick and easy to make, too, so it’s weeknight-friendly.
350g yellow-fleshed new potatoes, boiled or steamed until tender
1 Tbsp salted or unsalted butter or ghee or coconut oil
½ onion, very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp very finely minced or grated fresh ginger
½ green serrano chili pepper, seeded and finely minced
2 tsp mild curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp salt
ground black pepper, to taste
juice of ½ lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
1/3 cup coconut milk (light, full-fat, or unsweetened beverage-style will all work fine)
350g prewashed baby spinach
3 Tbsp raisins or chopped dates or dried currants
1½ cups dry-pressed cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
- Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Slice cooked potatoes into medium wedges or chunks and set aside.
- In a large pot or large high-sided skillet, heat butter, ghee, or coconut oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and chili, and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, garam masala, salt, and pepper, and toast for 30 seconds until spices are fragrant and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add lemon juice and coconut milk, and scrape to deglaze the bottom of the pot.
- Add spinach and raisins, increase heat and stir until spinach is dark green and wilted, about 1 minute (put the lid on for 20 seconds or so to encourage wilting, if necessary). Fold in sliced potatoes and transfer mixture to a large round or square ovenproof casserole, spreading evenly into dish. Top evenly with dollops of cottage cheese or ricotta. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is bubbling and cheese has dried on top. Finish with a sprinkling of cilantro. Serve warm.