Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines. I developed a taste for it (more like an obsession) in my early 20s living in London where there is a large Indian population and oodles of amazing family-run restaurants. One of my favorite dishes is saag – a flavorful, creamy dish made of leafy greens and spices often served with paneer. Since we have zero Indian restaurants within a two-hour drive of us, I’ve had to figure out how to make saag on my own (thank you interwebs!). And since I don’t have easy access to all the necessary ingredients (e.g. paneer, ghee, coriander, or garam masala), I’ve had to improvise a bit. Here’s my version of saag with a Mexican twist using panela instead of paneer, and instead of spinach, I used kale and collards from Ikú Granja – an organic farm just outside Chacala that grows the most incredible leafy greens (and is co-run by an amazing woman who was Maya’s kindergarten teacher!) I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do! Please let me know if you have suggestions for improvements in the comments below.
2 bunches chopped kale, stems removed (curly or dinosaur)
1 bunch chopped collard greens, stems removed
1-inch thick thumb-sized chunk of peeled ginger root
3 garlic cloves
1 cup chopped red onion
1/2 – 1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil (1 to start and then 2 to fry the panela)
1-inch thick finger-sized chunk of turmeric root
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more if you like it spicier)
1/4 cup heavy cream or plain yogurt
6 oz fresh panela
For the panela rub:
1 teaspoon each: ground black pepper, garlic salt, ground cumin, paprika, and flour
Brown rice or jasmine rice to serve
1. Steam chopped kale and collards for 5-10 min or until soft. You may have to do this in bunches since there are so many greens to cook down!
2. In a blender, combine steamed greens with two of the garlic cloves, ginger root, and red onion and add 1/2 cup water and blend until smooth and there are no more large chunks of garlic or ginger. You may have to do this in bunches and add a bit more water each time to get everything blended.
3. In a large frying pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry until aromatic and starting to pop, about 2-3 min. Grate the turmeric root into the pan and cook another minute. Then add the chili powder, sea salt, and remaining garlic clove (chopped up/pressed) to the pan and cook another minute. Then add the blended greens and stir until all the spices and greens are combined. Add butter (or ghee if you have it) and stir until fully melted/combined. Let this cook for about 15-20 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. In the last few minutes of cooking, add cream or yogurt and stir to combine. Cook longer if you think the mixture is still too watery. I like mine a nice creamed spinach-like consistency that sticks to the spoon.
4. For the panela, slice the cheese into about 1/2-inch thick slices or cubes. (I found that the slices I made were a bit difficult to handle in the pan, so next time I would cut into cubes.) Pat dry with a paper towel.
5. In a bowl, combine all the panela rub spices and flour. Dredge pieces of panela in the coating on all sides and set aside.
6. In another frying pan, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and fry the pieces of panela, about 2 min on each side or until browned, but not so melty you can’t pick them up with tongs and flip them over. Drain on paper towels.
7. Serve up your saag over a bowl of rice and place a few panela chunks on top and enjoy!