I’m not even going to pretend this is traditional or proper or in any other sense real Indian food. You see, aside from store-bought naan, I had not tried or eaten anything even resembling Indian food before last month.
I’d considered it. Mr. Blackbird loves Indian buffets to an almost frightening extent, and asked me to join him more than a few times. But two things stopped me. First, I had a misconception that all Indian food was so agonizingly spicy that you couldn’t feel your mouth after eating it. I like mild-to-moderate spice, but I have no interest in ever consuming, for instance, the bhut jolokia that we just transplanted to the outdoor pots with the grown-up plants. Second, buffets carry an ever-present risk of accidental tomato consumption, and while I do carry a shot of epinephrine with me whenever eating out, I do not want to have to use it.
What convinced me was, as usual, the greens. Cooked greens feature in at least a dozen of my favorite recipes, and here I was being confronted with one made almost entirely of greens and cheese. Yes, please! This recipe is adapted heavily from Goat, though I didn’t use goat milk for the paneer or in the final sauce. Goat milk is delightful, light, just a touch sour, and doesn’t make me feel sick after drinking a glass. It also costs more than $4 for a quart compared to cow milk at $1.19/gallon. This makes goat milk a sometimes food.
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)
1 1/2 to 2 cups (1 batch) paneer
1 1/2 to 2 lbs collards, mustard greens, or spinach
4 T butter, divided use
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup milk, cream, or yogurt
2 t garam masala (I used store bought and I can only identify some of the components [cinnamon, cumin, anise]. It’s delicious, though; I’ve been adding it to my matzoh brei all week)
1 t red pepper flakes, or cayenne or paprika if you prefer
1-2 cloves garlic
salt, to taste
Melt 2 T of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. I prefer cast iron. If you are not lazy, skim the solids off to clarify the butter. Milk solids are tasty, and I am lazy, so they stayed. Browned butter is best, but not required.
Cut the central ribs out of the greens (unless you’re using spinach) and tear them into palm-sized pieces before adding to the skillet.
Toss the greens until they are thoroughly wilted and release much of their liquid. This is very brief (<5 minutes) for spinach, 10-12 minutes for collards. Tongs are useful for flipping the greens without making a huge mess.
Add the broth and cook until the liquid reduced by about 1/2, or 5 more minutes.
Put the greens and the remaining liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pat the skillet dry.
Pulse the greens to your desired consistency. I did not want a puree, due to my distrust of liquid foods, so I left off after a few brief pulses.
Leave the greens aside for a moment while you heat the remaining 2 T of butter. Cut the paneer into cubes and add it to the skillet to fry.
Clarifying the butter this time would have been wise; this is insanely tasty but looks kind of gross.
Mix the garam masala, chili flakes, minced garlic, and milk. Add the greens back into the skillet, toss briefly, and pour the milk-and-spice mixture over them.
Salt and stir briefly before serving with naan.
Considering all the cheese and milk in there, this is surprisingly light. The spices are mild–too mild for Mr. B, who added a hefty dose of hot sauce to his plate–but incredibly flavorful. Now that our cilantro is finally thriving, I plan to add a few leaves at the end next time we make this. On its own, it’s delicious. As a side for butter chicken, it’s a meal Mr. B asks me to make about every three days. So, though it’s likely nothing like actual Indian food, it’s still a winner around here!