Saturday, April 7, 2007

Saag Panir (Curried Spinach Soup with Cheese and Bell Pepper)

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup oil (peanut, vegetable, or coconut -- not olive oil) or ghee
  • flour, for dredging
  • 2 tablespoons oil (peanut, vegetable, or coconut -- not olive oil) or ghee
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 to 3 jalapeno, serrano, or Thai peppers, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1/2 cup rice, toasted and ground
  • 4 cups whey, saved from cheese-making process
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh spinach
  • 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. To make the cheese, pour the milk into a stockpot. Turn the heat to high and leave uncovered. While waiting for the milk to reach a boil (about 30 minutes), place 3 layers of cheesecloth in a wire-mesh strainer and tape the cheesecloth around the edges so the hot cheese cannot pull it away from the mesh. Place the strainer over a storage container in order to save the whey for the stock.

2. When the milk begins to boil, add 1/4 cup lemon juice and stir. In a few seconds the milk should begin to separate. The color will change from opaque white to a cloudy greenish-yellowish color. You should begin to find clumps of thick white stuff floating around in the pot. This is good! Take the pot off the burner and slowly pour the liquid through the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Once the soup pot is empty, wash it. Allow the whey to drip through the mech until most of it has dripped. Pull up the cheesecloth around the cheese. Keep the strainer over the storage container. Carefully squeeze the cheesecloth-wrapped curds to get the rest of the water out. This will be very hot! Keep a bowl of ice water nearby to cool your fingers. Continue squeezing the curds until you have removed most of the exess water.

3. Place a large, heavy, flat object on top of the cheesecloth-wrapped cheese and let it sit for at least 6 hours, overnight if possible. If you have room in your refrigerator, place the cheese with its weight there to cool down. (I like to turn a pie tin upside down, place the cheesecloth-wrapped cheese on top of it, place another pie tin right-side-up on top of it, and then place the weight in the top pie tin.)

4. When the cheese is very firm remove it from the pie tins. Pull off the cheesecloth and discard.

5. Cut the cheese into 1/2-inch cubes. Dredge the cubes in flour so they will not stick together. Heat the oil in a small pot until hot enough for frying. In batches, carefully place the cubes in the oil and fry until golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to soak up any excess grease. Set aside.

6. To make the soup, heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the garlic and saute until golden. Add the onion and stir well. Add 1 tablespoon salt and stir again. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the ginger and the peppers and mix well. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes.

7. Add the garam masala and ground rie and mix well. Add 1 cup of the reserved whey or water. Mix well, cover, and let cook for 10 minutes.

8. Add the spinach in four batches. After each batch stir to mix well, cover, and let the spinach reduce.

9. Once all the spinach has decreased in size, add 3 more cups of whey and stir well. Cover and let reach a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 20 minutes.

10. Puree the soup in batches. Press through a strainer into a storage container. Discard any lumps left in the strainer.

11. Wash out the soup pot. Place the soup back in the pot. Add the coconut milk, red bell peppers, and the fried cheese. Place back on the stove, cover, and let simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.

12. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Serve immediately.

Serve with naan or chapati. You may substitute tofu for fresh cheese -- just fry half a pound of it as you would the cheese.

from S.O.U.P.S.: Seattle's Own Undeniably Perfect Soups 10 servings 3 hours prep time + overnight

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