O’Connor’s Saag Paneer

When I re-read the subject line of my post — “O’Connor’s Saag Paneer — it reminded me of the title of some Merchant-Ivory feel-good comedy film, where an Indian family moves in next door to the Irish pub, and heartfelt cross-cultural mayhem ensues.

It wasn’t like that, though.

The big cheese

The big cheese

Our friends, the O’Connors, had invited us to dinner. I was sitting out on the deck mingling with some other guests when I saw Sean waving at me from the kitchen.

“I want to show you something,” he said.

In the kitchen, he proudly produced a cloth-wrapped disk from the fridge.

“I made cheese,” he declared matter-of-factly.

Now Sean works in commercial real estate development, he cooks a mean rack of ribs, but I would’ve never guessed cheesemaking to be in his wheelhouse.

“It sounded like something fun to do with Finn,” he elaborated, having spent the morning making the cheese with his 8-year-old son.

Paneer's close up

Paneer’s close up

“Is it Indian?” I asked. His wife Amber had been hand-patting naan with my daughter Imogen and her BFF Kinley when we arrived.

“Paneer,” he confirmed.

Why, just like a Merchant-Ivory film… those crafty O’Connors were blurring cultural lines and busting Indian!

Sean handed me a small cube of the cheese. It tasted fresh and grassy. They’d also made some appropriately floral basmati rice and a large pot of a nice and spicy chicken curry.

The Indian table

The Indian table (with Mexican beer)

And then we all repaired to our Indian table as the southern California sun grew soft and golden through the leaves of the canyon live oaks — two Irish guys named “Sean” and their WASPy blond wives, a dark-skinned guy of unknown heritage and his New York Italian wife, a Russian girl and her white husband named Sam… and our Mexican beer and Spanish wine. And I began to think that maybe life in the 21st century really was just a Merchant-Ivory film.

I didn’t want to bother O’Connor for his paneer recipe — he’s busy dealing with commercial real estate stuff. And anyway, it was sort of what you’d expect — boiling milk, adding an acid to separate curds from whey, straining, etc. There are plenty of “how to” tutorials online, you don’t need a couple o’ Seans adding theirs.

I will, however, share my own super-easy saag paneer recipe so you too can be inspired by Sean’s initiative to step outside your own cozy culinary comfort zone and impress your friends.

Enjoy

*    *    *

Saag paneer
serves 4-6 as part of an Indian dinner

6 oz. paneer, cut into cubes
8 cups chopped spinach
1 white onion, chopped
1 tbsp. ghee
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garam masala
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent. (About 4-5 minutes.) Add the spinach, 2 cups at a time, until wilted. Turn heat to high, add cream and spices and cook until cream has thickened, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, let cool for 5 minutes, then place in a blender on low and blend lightly until chopped and incorporated but not pureed (you don’t want a smoothie).

Return to pan over medium heat. Add paneer, cook for 1-2 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper and  serve with rice or naan.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Sep 11, 2015 @ 01:23:27

    Wow-cool!

    Reply

  2. timoirish34
    Sep 11, 2015 @ 01:37:09

    This is another fine entry into your food oeuvre. It must be twenty years since I have cooked an Indian menu. Los Angeles, So Cal, has much more of an adventurous palate than provincial, rural New York. I live in a place where the word “restaurant” invariably means “steakhouse” and ordering a simple omelette after Ten AM indicates one of a suspicious character.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Sep 11, 2015 @ 03:01:52

      Tim, whereabouts generally are you in upstate New York in relation to where I was (in the Adirondacks via Montreal) this summer?

      Reply

      • timoirish34
        Sep 11, 2015 @ 03:55:21

        I live in the Village of Catskill, along the Hudson River. It too far north (by about a hundred miles) to be a reasonable commute to NYC and too far south to be a suburb of Albany. (Have you ever been to Albany? If not, you haven’t missed anything). Catskill peaked in the early Nineteenth Century; the completed Erie Canal in 1825 did it in as a busy railroad terminus and port. These days, Catskill is a mix of farms, shuttered mid-century resorts and a fearsome number of rural poor (who, by their isolation, have it far worse that the disadvantaged of other places).

        Across the river via the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (no kidding) is the small city of Hudson, which is a de-facto extension of our village. Hudson possesses more high-end shopping, restaurants and (most vital to me) the only hospital in two counties.

        This part of upstate was settled by the Dutch who were too cantankerous to live with the English when they took control of Manhattan and who couldn’t stand each other much either. That tradition persists as most locals are transplants from other places–eccentrics, firearms enthusiasts and the sort of flinty, unwashed right-inclined cheapskates who fill the novels of the late John Gardner.

      • scolgin
        Sep 11, 2015 @ 14:42:50

        That’s a wonderfully rich explanation Tim. Thank you.

  3. Conor Bofin
    Sep 11, 2015 @ 06:17:03

    The sneaky Irish. You would never know what we would be getting up to!
    Lovely cheese. Go Sean O’Connor!
    Best,
    Conor

    Reply

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