Tonight we decided to try a new recipe for Saag Paneer with homemade Indian cheese. I realized I hadn’t posted any of the dishes we’ve been trying since one of the pineapple upside down cakes I baked earlier this month, so I made a point to stop and go get a camera. Unfortunately, we had already begun cooking by this point, which means I didn’t actually get the first part – making the homemade cheese. (It’s not difficult so you didn’t miss much; I haven’t checked but I imagine there are tons of videos on YouTube about how to do it.) Anyway, I think the last dish I posted in this family of cuisine was Chicken Tikka Masala a few months ago.
[mainbodyad]The Saag Paneer has a lot in common with the French peasant dish, leek and potato soup; at least in spirit. I haven’t run the exact numbers, yet, but a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows the entire thing can be made for less than $10 to $15 and feed a fairly large family (in our case, the expense was even less since we actually have a negative cost of milk). If one were to live on a farm or have a small garden, it could be cheaper still, almost to the point of being ridiculous. In dire straights, you could cut the cheese content and probably get the serving cost down to $1 to $2 per person. These dishes could be an absolute miracle for someone facing the prospect of extended unemployment or who wanted to get out of debt by saving every penny possible to send into the bank as principal.
I love studying this particular niche of food, peasant dishes, because it gives you a sense of how actual people, ordinary, normal folks through time, have lived in various cultures. Good peasant dishes took decades, if not centuries, to perfect, with regional variations on a common theme resulting in radically different experience. They weren’t cooked up in the palaces of old; they were individual families trying to scratch out the best living they could under conditions that we cannot even imagine. This doesn’t mean I am going to give up toying around with gourmet macaroni and cheese recipes or hosting Thanksgiving feasts anytime soon, but as someone who grew up poor, there is something to be said for good, cheap food like cornbread. It’s always going to have a spot in my culinary heart.
I enjoyed the Saag Paneer, though as far as peasant dishes go, I still have yet to find anything that beats the cream and chicken soubise (this shouldn’t come as a surprise (sauteed onions, butter, heavy cream, and cheese make up the bulk of the ingredient list) or the penne covered in tomato sauce with butter and onion. Still, Saag Paneer is a nice addition to your repertoire if you want actual food, with no artificial ingredients, made entirely from scratch in a very inexpensive way.
I need to go back to work now. I would like to take the evening off but there are some things that really should be done before the end of the month and I’d be happier having them off my desk.