Friday, May 13, 2011

work, sleep, repeat

In some ways it feels unfortunate that the words heading this post seem to be my mantra as of late.  The idea of free time is just as distant now as it was two months back, while I was still in the throes of academia, cramming information into my brain for later regurgitation.  Now, though, the focus is on cramming dollar signs into my withered bank account.

Don't get me wrong, there is something uniquely satisfying in the security of a steady paycheck.  Just knowing that every other Thursday the balance of my checking account grows considerably larger makes that alarm clock a little less obnoxious and those long hours I'm putting in worth their weight in gold. Literally.

The downsides are obvious, of course.  Fatigue, limited social life... well, OK, nonexistent social life, and, most tear-inducing of all, far too little time spent tinkering in my favorite room of the house.  I'll leave the meaning of that to your imagination.

The name of the game these days is convenience.  Is it quick?  Is it easy?  Will there be leftovers for lunch?  This is the sort of thought that goes into the planning of dinners at the moment.  Should I even buy groceries, or just subsist from the Whole Foods salad bar?  It's a dilemma.

I realize that many people wouldn't agonize over the decision between hunger and a box of Amy's Brand frozen enchiladas, but I find myself considering the former over a microwaved dish of edible, yet tasteless convenience food (sorry Amy).  I just don't want to sacrifice the fresh, homemade goodness that I've grown accustomed to.  Is that too much to ask?

A couple of days ago, I decided that fresh, homemade goodness would once again be mine.  It being Wednesday (my one and only day of rest) and my calendar being mostly open and the ingredients for an Indian spinach and cheese dish waiting patiently in the fridge, I had no good reason whatsoever not to try my hand at a batch of saag paneer.

If you don't frequent Indian food restaurants or just don't recognize the name, saag paneer is a wonderfully creamy spinach sauce (saag) bursting with spice and filled with cubes of the mild cheese (paneer) used in many Indian dishes.  It's always served with a heaping mound of rice and is rarely shared with friends (not by me anyway) when ordered at The Bengal Tiger, one of Seattle's best Indian restaurants.

It's been on my cooking to-do list for quite some time. 


This being my first time and all, I used a recipe as a guide.  Turns out it's not a difficult dish to make; perfect for a girl with the hard-workin' blues. Unfortunately, the dish declined to be photographed for this article. 

I chose to use frozen spinach for this recipe, but feel free to substitute fresh spinach if you've got it. 

Saag Paneer
serves 6

1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 T. olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. crushed cayenne, plus more to taste
1 1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 C. plain yogurt
1/2 C. whole milk
1/2 lb. paneer, cut into 1/2" cubes
cooked basmati rice, for serving

Place onion, garlic and ginger into the food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Heat olive oil (or ghee) in a large pot over medium.  Add the onion/garlic/ginger mixture and saute for several minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Stir in the cayenne, garam masala, and cumin, and continue cooking several minutes more.  The spices will become very fragrant.

Add the spinach, yogurt and milk, stirring to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically.  Taste, and season with salt and additional cayenne, if more heat is desired.  If mixture seems too dry, stir in an additional 1/4 C. milk.

Stir in the paneer cubes, and simmer on low for another 10-15 minutes until the paneer is soft but not falling apart.  Taste again, season with salt, if necessary, and serve alongside a bowl of steamed rice.

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