Kale Curry with Homemade Paneer
Spinach or kale? That’s often the question. This web comic ode to kale says it all, although don’t get me wrong, I love spinach, too. But when a friend visited me recently and taught me how to MAKE PANEER (!?!!), I just had to cook up some saag/palak paneer (mustard leaf or spinach curry) right away, but I didn’t have enough spinach in the house. I did, however, have a brand new curly leafy bundle of kale in the fridge…
So I postponed my plans to make kale chips, and commenced the largest revision to my tried-and-true saag paneer recipe since 2007 (mainly because I like to give kale about 10 minutes of cooking in liquid, whereas spinach seems to take only seconds, especially if you use frozen chopped spinach that’s already been cooked). And my kale saag paneer curry turned out Wonderfully.
The homemade paneer was not only inspirational for this dish (which I’ve now made twice already!), it was also inspirationally easy… Ok, slightly tricky, but not nearly as intimidating as I’d once believed it to be, considering it requires 24 hours and a cheese cloth.
The most mind-blowingly easy part (which I suppose is only mind blowing if you’ve never made your own cheese before, like I hadn’t) is that it only requires two basic ingredients: whole milk and lemon juice. And my friend who taught me how to make it recommended this very nice how-to-make-paneer video, which can demonstrate the whole thing for you in a much clearer way than I could just with photos.
I think my substitution of kale, vs. spinach, was made doubly delicious by using the separated-out whey (leftover from the curds that formed the paneer) as the liquid for softening the kale. The milky, lemony liquid gave the kale more tenderness– and an almost subtly cheesy flavor– than other kale I’ve prepared using either water or chicken stock. The kale was so tasty, it would have been good enough to eat on its own, even before currifying it.
(Makes several ounces of paneer, enough for about 2 servings if adding to a curry)
~ 1 quart whole milk
~ ⅓ cup lemon juice (or more, from about 1 ½ or 2 lemons)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
~ a cheesecloth or thin kitchen towel
~ one pinch cumin seeds
~ ¼ tsp. turmeric
~ pinch of salt
Whole milk with cumin seeds; Curds and whey separating once lemon juice is added
How to make it:
1. First arrange your cheesecloth in a colander, and place it over a bowl. Then juice the lemon, and set the lemon juice aside.
2. Heat the whole milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring gently and continuously. (Add optional flavorings if desired.)
3. Once the milk has just come to a boil, begin to slowly pour in the lemon juice. Then continue to gently stir as the milk curdles and separates into curds and whey.
4. Turn off the heat, but continue stirring just a bit as the curds thicken for another few minutes. Then pour the contents into the colander, catching the curds in the cheesecloth, and saving the whey in the bowl below.
Rinsing the paneer with water; Paneer flavored with turmeric, ready to remove from the cheesecloth
5. Set the whey aside, and move the colander into the sink. Gently rinse the curds in cold water (to rinse out the lemon flavor and to cool it down enough to touch), then bundle up the edges of the cheesecloth and gently squeeze remaining liquid out of the curds. Then transfer the drained curds to a plate.
6. Shape the curds into a block of paneer (it should have a crumbly but slightly playdough-like consistency), then set a heavy dish on top of it for 1-2 hours (as when pressing liquid out of tofu).
7. Cover with plastic wrap, and transfer to the fridge. Chill for 8 hours or overnight; then either freeze or use in a curry within 2 days.
Kale Curry with Paneer
(like Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer, but with Kale)
(Makes 2-3 servings)
~ 1 Tbsp. butter or ghee
~ ½ onion, roughly chopped
~ 4 cloves garlic, chopped
~ 1 large bunch kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
~ 1 tsp. cumin seeds
~ a pinch of ground black pepper
~ 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped
~ 1 medium/large tomato, roughly chopped
~ ½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
~ 1 tsp. ground cumin
~ 1 tsp. ground coriander
~ ½ tsp. turmeric
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. garam masala
~ 1 cup paneer (cheese), cubed (optionally pan-fried in butter or ghee)
~ ¾ cup vegetable/chicken stock or reserved whey from the paneer (or use water)
~ 2-3 cups spinach, to stretch the servings a bit
~ ¼ tsp. ground cloves
~ ¼ tsp. chili powder
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ 2-3 Tbsp. plain yogurt or cream
~ ¼ cup cashews, chopped
How to make it:
1. Heat the butter or ghee over medium heat in a large stockpot, then add the onions and stir occasionally for 5-10 minutes until they are soft. Then add the garlic and cumin seeds, and stir, for about 20 more seconds; then add the kale.
2. Stir the kale a bit to coat it with the butter, onions, and garlic, then pour in about ¾ cup liquid: this could be water, vegetable/chicken stock, or the reserved whey from making paneer. Then lower the heat, cover the stockpot, and leave for about 10 minutes, or until the kale has fully cooked down.
3. Once the kale has cooked down, add ground black pepper, ginger, tomato, and cilantro, then transfer everything to a food processor, and blend until smooth.
4. Transfer the mixture back to a small saucepan over low heat, and add remaining spices (ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, garam masala, and optionally cloves, chili powder, bay leaves, and a cinnamon stick).
5. Keep over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes. Then optionally add cashews and stir.
6. If it seems like it needs more liquid, add a bit more (water, stock, or whey); if it seems like it needs to be creamier, first remove from the heat and let cool before adding a bit of plain yogurt and gently incorporating it. Finally, gently add the paneer. Serve warm with basmati rice and/or naan or roti.