Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I order this dish as I enjoy it. The best version in London that I have had is the one from the Punjab in Neal street. The vagar (sauce it is cooked in) is similar to many of my shaks but hey, it works so why not stick with it!
It is possible to make paneer at home which has a nicer consistency in my view than the shop bought ones. However, I have had some luck with versions bought in Sainsbury and Tesco. It is normally found in the cheese section. Indian groceries will often sell paneer in their chiller sections too.
If you have time, dry roast the cinnamon, cloves and cardamon in a flat pan. Dry roasting means you don’t put in any oil you just add the stuff and let it cook. Cook until you see vapour coming off the ingredients then take off heat. This helps release the flavours.
A general note about the spices – the quantities are not set in stone. You should amend them to fit your taste. The only thing I would watch is the salt as spinach tends to become quite salty. But if you are not a fan of a particular ingredient then leave it out!
2 tbs groundnut oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 large dried bayleaf
1 large white onion – diced very finely
3 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger grated
1 – 2 chillies chopped finely
2 sticks cinnamon (about 5 cm long each)
5 green cardamon
1tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1tsp coriander cumin powder (dhana jeeru)
2 tomatoes chopped into very small dice. Get very red tomatoes that are fresh.
5 curry leaves
1 pack paneer – open and chop into 2 cm cubes
1 pack baby spinach – wash out all grit
Squeeze of lemon juice
- Heat oil in a pan and add bayleaf. Heat should be set to medium – you don’t want to burn anything!
- Add cumin seeds and wait for them to start to sizzle.
- Add the onion and let them cook until they start to caramelise/brown
- Add garlic, ginger and chilis and allow to cook for a few seconds
- Add cinamon, cloves and cardamon – again let cook for a few seconds
- Keep stirring all these ingredients as you add spices
- When spices have had time to cook out (shouldn’t take long), add tomatoes and curry leaves
- Up to this stage, you are making what is known as vagar. It’s the sauce you will put your main ingredients into. The intention is to let the tomatoes reduce.
- Now add the paneer and ensure it is well coated with the vagar
- Then add the spinach and let it wilt down.
- Add water and turn down the heat to a simmer. Let this cook for about 20 minutes. The paneer should be soft and have absorbed much of the vagar. The spinach should be completely wilted
- Squeeze in the lemon juice, stir, cook for another 2 mins then turn off
- Garnish with coriander and serve with rice.
I personally think this should be cooked at least 1 hour before it is needed to allow the ingredients to combine. When you are ready to eat it, then you can heat it through gently then serve with rice.