(In which in-laws are successfully duped into thinking that tofu tastes as good as paneer)
Talking to my American friends, Palak paneer is the most ordered dish in the local Indian restaurant, next only to chicken tikka masala. It is also one of the easier restaurant dishes to recreate at home.
1 lb spinach ( I used frozen)
1 block firm tofu, pressed and cubed, or 16 oz diced paneer, fresh Indian cottage cheese, or Mexican queso fresco
* taste-wise, paneer or fresh Mexican cottage cheese are the best bets. For vegans and those of us who always have spare blocks of tofu sprouting to life in the fridge, tofu is a fine substitute. To help the tofu absorb maximum flavor from the gravy, press it under a couple of cans up to an hour ahead or freeze overnight and thaw.
1 onion, chopped (optional)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped (optional, but good)
1 cup tomatoes, chopped (canned are fine)
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp green chilli-ginger paste
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala (optional)
salt to taste
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and saute for a good while until well browned, almost caramelized. Add the garlic towards the end and let it soften. Now push the onion and garlic towards the edges of the pan and add the other tbsp of oil in the center. Let it heat up, and add the cumin, coriander, red chilli powder and turmeric.
Let them sizzle for a bit and then add the ginger-green chili paste and the tomatoes. Salt and cook the masala for five-seven minutes, until the tomatoes break down and the whole thing turns into a sauce. Then add the spinach and a cupful or two of water, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer.
While the gravy simmers, get the tofu ready. I like to have it as dry as possible so that it can absorb the spicy goodness. Other than pressing/freezing, microwaving the cubes for a couple of minutes also seems to work.
If you like your gravy creamy, take a hand blender to the spinach after it has simmered for ten minutes. Or you can leave it as is. Add the tofu, simmer for another ten minutes, sprinkle on the garam masala and serve.
Everybody likes palak paneer with flatbreads, but it also tastes great with plain boiled rice and an onion-y salad. Enjoy!