Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Squash and Bok Choy Paneer

I love palak/saag paneer. I've gotten various answers from a few Indian friends as to the difference between saag and palak. Both tend to mean spinach in the restaurants I've frequented, but one friend said that one was actually mustard greens (I forget which). Another said that one is creamy (think creamed spinach) and the other isn't, but restaurants don't seem to keep consistent to that distinction, either. I prefer non-creamy, whatever the vegetable.

This version doesn't contain either spinach or mustard greens, but it's somewhat of a tribute. Much like the samosas I made for the same meal, this is also an excellent opportunity to use whatever vegetables you may have that sound good, ending with a wonderfully tasty vegetable dish. Case in point-- I was planning on just using kale, but when I went to dig it out of the veggie drawer, I found it had gone south on me. In a 3-second re-think, I grabbed the bok choy and summer squash instead. Oh, and it's an excuse to make cheese. That's hardly a negative in this house. I loved the silkier mouth feel of the freshly-pressed paneer, for a perfect mixture of textures. Don't panic when the cheese doesn't melt. It's not supposed to.

I have no idea how to say "bok choy" or "summer squash" in Hindi, but however it's translated, it's also yummy and light. The fresh cheese brings an indulgent feeling to the table, without actually being overly decadent.

  • 1 Tbl. olive oil
  • 2 summer squash, sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 3 leaves/stalks of mature bok choy (or one head of baby bok choy), roughly chopped, white stalk and greens separated.
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • salt, to taste
  • cayenne, to taste (optional)
  • *garam masala 
  • **paneer from 1 half gallon milk, cubed (If buying this, approx 6-8 oz.)
1. Heat the oil in a hot skillet
2. Toast oil for just a few seconds (3-5), until just starting to turn golden (careful, if it burns, you'll be starting over) and remove from the pan.
3. Add squash, the whites of the bok choy & a pinch of salt and sautee until you start to see their moisture escaping into the pan, stirring frequently
4. Add bok choy greens & paneer and stir every few seconds to ensure everything cooks evenly and the greens are just soft, but not overcooked
5. Adjust seasonings, as needed

* Garam Masala: (Which essentially just means a blend of dry spices. There is no, single garam masala mixture. This is approx. what I used, but you could substitute/adjust as you see fit or add a curry powder you particularly like)

  • 5 cloves, milled in a spice grinder or crushed w/ a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, milled or crushed
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, milled or crushed
  • 1 bay leaf (removed before filling)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Note: Where using whole spices, lightly toast in a hot skillet before grinding, to release their oils.


The method for paneer is very similar to making goat cheese, going one step further. Once the cheese is made, it's pressed, like you would press tofu.
  • 1/2 gallon milk (I used 1%, but you could use anything from full fat to nonfat)
  • 1 tsp. citric acid powder (you could use approx. 1/4c lemon or lime juice, adding more if necessary to break the curds from whey)
  • 3 quart sauce pan/pot (nonreactive)
  • Candy thermometer or probe thermometer with clip
  • a clean tea towel or butter muslin
  • strainer
  • something to use as a weight to press cheese (I used a small canister, similar in size to the strainer)
1. Pour milk into the pot and slowly bring up to 190 F, stirring occasionally to ensure the milk isn't scalding on the bottom of the pot.

2. Add citric acid (or lemon/lime) and wait a few seconds to curdle. This will be fine curds (like goat cheese). If you don't see curds after a minute, add a small amount more of acid (1/8 tsp. powder or 1 tsp. juice).

3. Strain in strainer or colander lined with tea towel or butter muslin, gather the muslin and tie to a wooden spoon to drain for approx. 30 minutes.

4. Cover with the other half of the towel and place a weight on top and press for 30-60 minutes.
5. Remove the weight, place in a covered container and refrigerate until use.


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