Adding Buttermilk to the Saag Paneer

Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

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.

Choosing the Spices for Saag Paneer

With the homemade cheese done, it was time to break into the spice cabinet.


Saag Paneer Ingredients

The ingredients included a homemade cheese (the white block you see on the plate – we had to make it by applying heat to whole milk then removing the solids from the liquid with cheesecloth), butter, cinnamon, coriander, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, water, cilantro, onion, jalapeno chile, spinach, tomato, mustard greens, spinach, fresh ginger, etc.


Slicing Homemade Cheese

Slicing the homemade cheese to get it ready for later when it has to be added to the sauce …


Homemade Cheese for Saag Paneer

The cheese had a very, very mild flavor. It was incredibly subtle. It took more than a gallon of milk to make.


Butter for Saag Paneer

The butter that will be used to get the sauce going needed to be cut into smaller pieces …


Butter in Pan for Saag Paneer

Heating the butter …


Adding Spices to Butter for Saag Paneer

Adding the spices to the butter for the Saag Paneer sauce base filled the entire kitchen with the scent of cinnamon. There wasn’t a lot in the recipe, but it definitely had a pleasant noticeable presence.


Adding Other Ingredients to Saag Paneer Base

The other ingredients were slowly added to the base of the Saag Paneer once the butter and spices were ready …


Mixing Saag Paneer Base Before Puree

The final part of the base was done, so now we needed to turn the puree …


Greens for the Puree Base

The puree had a foundation of greens, that had been set aside in the blender …


Getting Ready for Saag Paneer Puree

Half of the spice, cinnamon, onion, tomato, et cetera base needed to be used to create a puree with the reserved greens.


Getting Ready to Blend

Cashews and some other items were added …


Blending Saag Paneer

The color was beautiful … it was this vibrant green that looked like life and summer.  It also smelled delicious …


Reassembling Saag Paneer

Time to reassemble the Saag Paneer in the pan with the other half of the ingredients over low heat.


Adding Buttermilk to the Saag Paneer

Stir in the buttermilk and add a few of the final greens for texture …


Adding the Homemade Cheese

The homemade cheese was added into the nearly finished mix to be slightly melted, add subtle flavor, and a bit of a creamy texture …


Plating Saag Paneer

The Saag Paneer was plated over a bed of rice before we went into the other room. It was good; it tasted very, very fresh, with a lot of ambient spices that filled your mouth. It had the same spirit as the French leek and potato soup peasant dish we made awhile ago, only with a very noticeable spice difference …


Saag Paneer Finished

The color may seem unappealing if you haven’t eaten a lot of Indian dishes – the introduction of the buttermilk and cheese, as well as adding back the other half of the spice, butter, and tomato base, changed the hue of the finished Saag Paneer to a yellowish green, rather than the bright, vibrant green the puree had – but it tasted fresh and light.  It is a quintessential vegetarian dish.

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.