Saag Paneer (Vegan & Vegetarian Versions)


When you live hundreds of miles from a cosmopolitan city center (yes, seriously), it can be hard to find quality ethnic cuisine.  Around here, restaurant fare offers you the choice between fries, mashed potatoes and poutine.  There isn’t even a decent pizza to be had!  This gives you the choice of doing without the food you love or learning to cook it.  I’m not willing to do without.

In the Indian food department, Saag Paneer is a new Mom’s (or any time-tight cook’s) best friend.  It’s easy to prep, quickly made and doesn’t require taking out every pot and pan in the kitchen which can be an issue with more involved recipes such as Vindaloo and Korma.  Although the spicing is deceptively simple, don’t let that fool you, it’s remarkable what so few ingredients can do when they choose to play well together!

Added bonus: it’s a tasty way to serve up cooked greens and lets you use up pretty much any sorry looking leaf left over in the fridge.  Don’t think that only spinach is a candidate either, any leafy green is a possible choice, each one adding its own unique taste and qualities.  Consider:

  • Spinach: the obvious choice, it’s a nice, mild and buttery;
  • Swiss chard: provides more texture than spinach and a bit more pronounced a flavour;
  • Dandelion: a good diuretic herb, it also has loads of potassium and vitamins. Don’t overdo it unless you’re used to eating bitters however, stick to about 10% of the total volume of greens;
  • Radish greens: these are the leaves atop your regular garden radish. As with dandelion, the flavour is quite pungent, use with discretion;
  • Arugula: a spicy mustard green. Same warning as with the dandelion and radish greens;
  • Bok choy/toy choy: crisp and flavourful these greens are a nice choice to add a bit of extra crunch. They work will in a volume up to about 25% of the total;
  • Chickweed: a garden weed with demulcent and mild alterative qualities. It has a very mild flavour and cooks down nicely. 15-20% of the greens volumes can be substituted;
  • Lamb’s quarters: another nutritious common garden weed which tastes remarkably similar to spinach and can be used in its stead.

The finished dish can be served as a side along with a more substantial bean or meat curry.  A larger helping over quinoa or rice can make a great meal on its own.  Any leftovers would also make a unique addition to wraps, sandwiches and omelettes or frittatas.

Saag (Paneer or Tofu optional)

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole nigella seed (optional)
  • 3 dried chilies
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2-1/4 pounds or so of mixed greens chopped into 1/4’’ strips (or whole if your lazy, out of time or like them better that way. You could also food processor everything if you prefer a finer chop and don’t mind the extra dishes.)
  • 1/2 to 1-1/4 tsp salt, to taste
  • 3/4 pound paneer cut into 3/4’’ cubes OR 3/4 pound of pressed, cubed and pan-fried tofu (optional)

1 – Set a dutch oven or thick-bottomed, large wide pan, over medium-high heat.  Add the oil.

2 – Add the cumin seeds, nigella seeds and chilies.  Stir constantly until the seeds start popping.

3 – Add the onions and stir and fry until they begin to be golden with a bit of char in some places.  This usually takes between 6-15 minutes depending on the temperature of your range.

4 – Add the salt and greens and cook down until all the liquid evaporates, 15 minutes give or take.

5 – Add the paneer or tofu if using and toss to combine.  Once that’s done (or not), cover and turn the heat to low for another 5 minutes on the burner.  The paneer or tofu should be warmed through.

6 – Serve.

Variation: Double the amount of onions, cumin and nigella in the recipe above.  A bit of extra oil may be required as well.

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