I love Indian food in all its variations; saag paneer is a favorite. I always thought saag was Hindi for spinach, but it’s actually a more generic word for greens. When I moved to the farm and had to cook for my Indian fix instead of ordering it, I found that the magical combination of garlic, ginger, onion, spices, and dairy that works so wonderfully with spinach works just as well with chard, kale, beet greens, or mustard greens, or in combinations. Here’s an Essex Farm riff on saag paneer. It’s flexible (change up the type of greens, or move around in this family of spices) and scalable (making it for 15 is almost as easy as making it for 4), and it’s a great way to get kids hooked on greens. If you want kick, add 1 or 2 fresh hot peppers, chopped and cooked along with the greens, or add some cayenne pepper as you sauté the spices. An immersion blender makes it easy, but you could finish it in a regular blender too, in batches.
Occasionally I make actual paneer (a super-simple cooked fresh cheese, ping me for directions) but yogurt cheese doesn’t require tending, and saves some time on cleanup. To make the yogurt cheese, pour a quart or two of yogurt into a mesh bag or cheesecloth along with a sprinkle of salt, and hang it over the sink or a bowl for a few hours to overnight, until the whey drains out and it is the consistency of soft cheese.
1 large bunch chard (You’ll be shocked at how much it cooks down and how fast it gets eaten, so use more than you think you should, and adjust other ingredients accordingly.)
3 Tablespoons ghee or oil
1 onion, chopped
1” (or more) fresh ginger root, chopped or grated
2 cloves (or more) garlic, chopped
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fenugreek seed
1 tomato, chopped (Ours aren’t ripe yet – it’s OK to skip it.)
1-2 quarts yogurt, drained in a bag to thicken until it’s a soft-cheese consistency – a few hours to overnight (I usually drain 2 quarts and then have some left for other purposes, like dips.)
Additional undrained yogurt, for thinning
Salt to taste
1) Wash and roughly chop the chard, and place over medium heat in a pot, uncovered. The water from washing should be sufficient to get it cooking, but add a splash if necessary, along with a few pinches of salt.
2) While the chard is cooking, crush the cumin seed and fenugreek with a mortar and pestle. Sauté the onion and ginger in the ghee or oil until lightly colored, then add the garlic, cumin and fenugreek, and sauté (without burning the garlic) for another minute or two. Add the tomato, if using, and cook until some of the water has evaporated from the tomato.
3) When the greens are soft enough to blend, add the garlic/ginger/tomato/spice mixture to the greens, and puree everything together with an immersion blender. When it is smooth, remove from the heat, break up the yogurt cheese and stir it in, then stir in un-drained yogurt to get the desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Warm gently before serving, alongside basmati rice or some homemade chapatis.