My grandfather was an eccentric man. He wore polished patent shoes, a sharply cut suit and smelled of jasmine behind his ears. The week he retired, he signed up for a three-month round- the-world cruise to celebrate. Before he left, he had a courtesy call from the Kitchen Head of the ship to see whether he had any dietary requirements. ‘I really like Indian vegetable curries,’ he said, and sent over a whole shipping container of Indian greens to travel with him until his return.
Spinach and paneer was one of his favourites. This is a much fresher version of the old curry- house stalwart saag paneer. I like to eat it when the spinach has only just wilted so that it still tastes fresh and keeps its goodness.
Spinach and Paneer
- rapeseed oil
- 500g paneer, cut into 2cm cubes
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 3cm ginger, peeled, then grated or finely chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 fresh green chilli, very finely chopped
- 400g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- 11⁄2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 11⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 500g fresh spinach leaves, washed
Put 3 tablespoons of the oil into a lidded frying pan on a high heat. Lightly season the paneer cubes with salt and fry them in the pan, turning regularly until golden on each side. Watch out, as the paneer might spit; if it does, half cover it with a lid. Remove the paneer cubes using a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel to one side.
Turn the heat down to medium, put a little more oil into the pan if need be and add the onions. Fry for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are golden. Add the ginger, garlic and green chilli, stir well, then add the cherry tomatoes and tomato purée.
Put the lid on the pan and cook the tomatoes for 6 to 8 minutes, until they start to break down and become soft. Then add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and 11⁄4 teaspoons of salt (or to taste). Stir well and taste, adding the extra chilli powder if you’d like to. The mixture should look quite paste- like now and there should be very little (if any) liquid running from it. (If this is not the case, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)
Return the paneer pieces to the pan, stir to coat them with the paste and heat through. Finally, add the spinach in batches, wilting down a large handful before adding another, and coating the leaves carefully with the sauce.
Cook for a further 5 minutes with the lid on, to make sure all the spinach has wilted, then take off the heat.