Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Greens, They're What's for Dinner: Saag Tofu

Gosh, where do I begin in telling you of my love for Indian cuisine?

It seems almost an injustice to put it into words.  I love the the aromas, the textures, the spices, and widely varied ingredients.  There's an incredible diversity in the food culture of India -- and so much fascinating history behind the cuisine, which has benefited from the influences of numerous peoples and traditions.

On top of everything, Indian food is easily adaptable for strict vegetarians, for the gluten-free crowd, and it is extremely budget-friendly (for all you frugal gourmets out there).  It's also one of the best ways I know to use those couple of pounds of stray greens you have lying around. You know, the ones you bought (even though you didn't know what you were going to do with them) because they looked SO AMAZING at the farmer's market.

Saag paneer (or similarly, palak paneer), is a smooth, spiced Indian dish, the best versions of which are sprinkled liberally with sizable chunks of a cheese called paneer. The dish hails from the northern portion of India, where flat bread (puris, chapatis, or na'an) is generally served in lieu of rice.  The food is typically eaten by hand using the bread to scoop up the accompanying dishes.

The purists are going to hunt me down one of these days for making this dish with tofu, rather than paneer. But, I'm going to stand behind my ways. The fact is, I've been making this substitution for years -- to the extent that it has become the rule, rather than the exception.
I'm also going to stand behind Tina from Choosy Beggars, who does exactly the same thing.  We use different recipes -- but our philosophies are very much the same.  In fact, I'm even going to use a quote from her to explain the difference between tofu and paneer:
Tofu and paneer have a couple of similarities.  They’re both white.  They’re both moderately firm.  They both enjoy getting simmered on a flavorful bed of spiced creamed spinach, and they both willingly take on whatever flavors they are offered.  Where the similarity ends is in terms of texture and flavor.  Paneer is thick, slightly chewy but rich and dense.  The flavor is creamy and just barely sweet, like fresh milk.  Tofu, on the other hand, is a spongy and occasionally slightly bitter vehicle for whatever it happens to run into.  Oddly, I’m okay with that.  -- Tina
Yeah, we're OK with that too.  If you're not, we can respect that. But, please don't be a troll and leave nasty comments about our ignorance.  We KNOW they're not the same.

But, I digress.  The fact of the matter is, paneer isn't all that hard to find, and it's not even terribly difficult to make (or so we hear). In fact, we might even decide to tackle a paneer-making project one of these days.  But, in the meantime, tofu is a lovely substitute.

Saag tofu takes a bit of prep work to get things going, but the dish actually comes together quite quickly -- so this is more than appropriate for a weeknight meal.  You'll even have enough time to whip up a side of red lentil daal to accompany it, if you feel like going the extra mile.  But, it makes a perfectly respectable meal in and of itself.
This dish is wonderful made with all spinach. But, you can also do as we do and make it with a mixture of greens (please note that you may want to pre-cook tougher greens like kale and collards).  I particularly like the subtle bite that mustard greens offer up, and so we almost always use a combination of spinach and mustard greens.

Flavorful, fresh, and beautifully green, this saag is redolent with spices and garlic. The texture is velvety and slightly tangy from the yogurt, and the mustard greens add a little bit of bite. Freshly ground garam masala elevates the spice quotient to new heights.

Just perfect scooped onto a warmed piece of garlicky na'an.

Saag Tofu (or Paneer)

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  1. I do loves me my Indian food. I had a bad experience at a restaurant when I was in my early teens and assumed I hated it. I was finally straightened out on that point sometime in my early 20s. Thank goodness! Now the local Indian place is my second favorite restaurant.

    I'm more of a paneer girl than a tofu girl, but I'd definitely give this a whirl.

  2. I TOTALLY feel ya on the Indian food. Love it. My sister and I frequent this place in Sacramento that has the best food. When I moved away, I missed it so much. When I moved back, a week hadn't passed before we ate there again. No joke. Hell, I'd go there just for the fresh Naan.

  3. I'm SO glad i saw this post! I was going to make a different recipe with paneer in it...then I went to Whole Foods and saw that it was 9 dollars for half a pound. A price that I was unwilling to pay. Now I can just substitute tofu!

    Love Indian food. Intensely. This looks delicious.

  4. I'm so glad I read this today. I'm not a big fan of paneer, but I really like tofu. I always end up with a good amount of greens from my csa too. This sounds perfect!

  5. Mmmm, yes! I wholly agree with using tofu in place of paneer (though I loves me some paneer). It works interchangeably.

  6. Lo, I just love the way you write. I also am a huge fan of Indian food and am forwarding this to my husband Mike, the cook at our house. And for you reading
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  7. Paneer is pretty easy to make but I can totally see tofu being a good substitute

  8. Hey Lo, I love Indian food too, and I agree with that statement about being easily adaptable to vegetarian and gluten free diets. Ooh, and I love the idea of tofu or paneer running through that green deliciousness (smile)...

  9. What a great way to make this vegan. I only like Saag Paneer when the paneer is freshly made, so using tofu sounds like a brilliant alternative.

  10. I agree with all tofu comments...I love it, but it's not for everyone (my Pop, for instance :) )! I've just been craving some Indian food, so on the list this goes. I was actually going to make Panang Curry with tofu later this week, but since Jeff likes greens, I may try this one instead! Off to salivate all over the recipe , now...


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