After several weeks of long days and late work nights, I was eager to spend a relaxing Sunday evening trying out new recipes in a virtual cooking night with my friend. Cooking with friends has always been one of my favourites activities, and as we hit 60 days in quarantine, it’s a wonderful way to stay connected to people I miss seeing in real life. Neither of us had made hardly any Indian food before, and the idea of making both naan bread and paneer cheese from scratch was exciting for both of us. Armed with recipes and ingredients in our respective kitchens, we embarked on our culinary adventure!
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne
3 tbsp vegetable oil
12 oz paneer, cut into 1″ cubes
1 16-oz package frozen chopped spinach
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp peeled and minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large green serrano chile, finely chopped
½ tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ cup plain yogurt, stirred until smooth
In a large bowl, whisk together turmeric, cayenne, 1 tsp salt and 3 tbsp oil. Gently drop in the cubes of paneer and gently toss, taking care not to break the cubes if using homemade paneer. Let the cubes marinate while you prep remaining ingredients.
Thaw the spinach in microwave, 5 minutes on high, then puree in a food processor until smooth or chop finely.
Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the paneer as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes, toss the pan. Each piece of paneer should be browned on one side. Fry another minute and set aside.
Add the remaining 1½ tbsp oil to the pan. Add onions, ginger, garlic and chile. Sauté the mixture until it’s evenly toffee-coloured, which should take about 15 minutes. If the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water.
Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven’t already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and ½ cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat off. Add the yogurt, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the paneer. Turn the heat back on, cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve.
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp instant dry yeast or active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp plain yogurt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 tbsp melted butter
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, and ¾ cup warm water. Add the yogurt mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork. When the dough starts to come together, knead gently into a soft, slightly sticky dough (sprinkle more flour, little by little, if dough is too sticky to work with). As soon as it comes together, stop kneading.
Lightly oil or spray a clean bowl with nonstick cooking spray (the bowl should be large enough to allow the dough to double in size). Transfer dough to prepared bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Let sit in a warm place for 1 to 1.5 hours or until about doubled in size.
Dust a work surface with flour and dump the dough on top. Sprinkle some of the flour on top of the dough. Shape the dough into a long rectangle and cut into 6 equal portions, dusting with more flour as necessary. Warm a large cast iron or heavy nonstick pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Using a rolling pin, roll one of the dough balls into an oval shape about ⅛” thick.
Gently lay the dough in the dry skillet and cook until the top is bursting with air bubbles and the bottom is golden and blackened in spots, a few minutes. Flip the naan and cook a couple minutes more until the bottom is lightly browned. Remove the naan from the skillet and brush with melted butter. Repeat with remaining naan, lowering the heat if necessary as you go. Serve warm.
*If using active dry yeast, first dissolve the yeast and 1 tsp sugar in ¾ cup warm water. Let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Add yogurt and oil and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together other dry ingredients. Combine dry and wet ingredients and proceed with recipe.
A few notes on preparation: Funnily enough, we realized that I didn’t have cayenne but did have turmeric, and my friend didn’t have turmeric but had copious amounts of cayenne. I didn’t have any viable substitutes, but he substituted curry powder for his missing turmeric.
This was so much fun to make! I was giddy that I had made cheese from scratch, which surprisingly given all my love for cheese, I had never done before. And it was absurdly easy to do! The naan bread also turned out to be deliciously fantastic. We both marvelled at how relatively easy it was to turn out what seemed like damn-near restaurant-quality naan bread. Funnily enough, it had been so long since I’d eaten saag paneer that it was difficult for me to evaluate how it compared. The saag paneer was tasty, though we noted it could’ve benefited from being a little bit creamier, perhaps by adding in a touch of heavy cream or a bit more yogurt. All in all, a successful first attempt at two novel Indian recipes!