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Saag paneer is an Indian dish made with spinach and cheese. It is traditionally eaten with Indian flatbreads such as naan and roti, and it is a very common offering on the menus of Indian restaurants and in Indian homes. Saag paneer is also very easy to make at home no matter where in the world one is, and it can be prepared in a variety of ways, ranging from a very simple version to a complex saag paneer with a range of spices.
Traditionally, this dish is made with a specific type of cheese known as paneer. Paneer is a soft cheese which is curdled with lemon juice, rather than rennet, making it a vegetarian dish. For saag paneer, the cheese is cut into cubes and fried so that it has a crispy exterior and a soft, slightly melted inside. The paneer may also be blended into the dish to create a more creamy version, depending on the taste of the cook.
In addition to the spinach and cheese, saag paneer also commonly includes onions and salt. Other spices like fenugreek, cayenne, ginger, garlic, and chilies may be added to the dish, and it is typically finished with lemon juice to add a tart flavor. Some cooks also like to drizzle yogurt onto the dish before serving to enhance the creamy texture.
Some cooks like to use mixed greens, instead of just spinach. Mustard greens are commonly used to replace part of the spinach, and other leafy greens such as kale, chard, or collards may be used as well. Depending on the taste of the cook, the greens may be left in their finely chopped form when the dish is served, or the greens may be pureed into a thick cream. Creamy saag paneer is usually easier to eat and handle.
To make saag paneer, cooks start by frying the cheese, turning it to ensure that it is fried on all sides. Then, the cheese is set aside to drain while onions are allowed to brown in the pan, along with garlic and ginger, if desired. Once the onions have started to soften, any desired spices can be added and tossed before chopped fresh or frozen spinach is added. The mixture is cooked until the spinach softens, and then tasted. If the dish tastes right, the cheese can be added back in so that the saag paneer can be served, or the seasoning can be adjusted in the case of a saag paneer that does not meet taste requirements. In the case of a pureed version, the cheese can be added before or after the pureeing takes place, depending on personal taste.
Saag paneer is one of my favorite vegetarian Indian dishes. It's one of the few ways that will entice me to eat cooked spinach.
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