Indian Cheese in an Herbed Green Sauce

Serves 4


For the paneer

1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
½ to 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the green sauce

1 pound bag fresh spinach, stemmed and washed, or 1 pound frozen spinach, unthawed
1 tablespoon ghee, butter, or canola
3 whole dried red chiles
¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
7 green cardamom pods
7 whole cloves
¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
18 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

For the tempering oil (optional)

1 tablespoon ghee or canola oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 whole dried red chile
18 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
18 teaspoon cayenne pepper


For the paneer, preheat the oven to 450°F. Spread the ricotta evenly in a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned on top and firm but not dry, about 40 minutes. Let cool (the cheese will firm as it cools), then cut into 1 to 1½-inch squares. Reserve half, and refrigerate or freeze the rest for another use.

Heat ½ tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add as many squares of paneer as will comfortably fit, and brown the squares on all sides. Drain the cheese on paper towels. Continue this way to brown all of the paneer, adding ½ tablespoon more oil as needed. Set the paneer aside.

Bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the spinach, cover, and cook, stirring every now and then until fresh spinach is wilted or frozen spinach is thawed, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water, and puree in a blender or food processor, adding a few tablespoons of the cooking water if necessary for pureeing.

Heat the ghee, butter, or oil with the red chiles, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and fennel seeds in a large wok, kadai, or frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a golden brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the asafetida, if using. Then add the ginger, and cook, stirring, 45 seconds. Add the spinach puree and the salt. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, 5 minutes. Gently place the paneer squares on top of the greens. Cover, and cook gently 5 more minutes. Halfway through the cooking, use a large spatula to gently turn the paneer in the spinach. (Careful, the paneer will break easily). Taste the green for salt.

For the tempering oil (if using), heat the ghee or oil with the cumin, fennel seeds, and red chile in a small frying pan or kadai over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the seeds, until the seeds turn a golden brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the asafetida, if using, and cayenne and pour immediately into the spinach mixture. Give it a stir, and serve hot.

© Recipe Property of Suvir Saran