Yield: 3-4 servings
Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes, mostly inactive
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
For the paneer (adapted from Veg Recipes of India):
6 cups whole milk
2-3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons ghee
1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1 red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-inch piece of ginger, chopped
2 and 1/2 teaspoons garam masala, or more to taste (available on Amazon, or make your own), divided
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch or two of cayenne, optional, for a spicier dish
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1 and 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt.
1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream, to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
To make the paneer, line a strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a large heatproof bowl. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil and starts to rise up in the pan. Add the lemon juice, starting with two tablespoons, and stir. If the milk does not separate into curds and whey, add the remaining lemon juice. Once the mixture has curdled, carefully pour it into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow to drain for 15 minutes or so.
Pick up the edges of the cheesecloth and bring them together, forming a bundle with the cheese inside. This should help squeeze some more liquid out. I discarded the whey, although some people use it for cooking other things. Place the cheese bundle on a large plate, and weight it with something nice and heavy (as you can see, I used a cast-iron skillet with two cans inside). Let the paneer sit for an hour or two.
Unwrap the paneer carefully, and slice into one-inch cubes. When you are ready to fry the paneer, heat the ghee in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the paneer and cook until golden brown on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden on the other side, then transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
To make the saag, return the skillet to the heat and add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes, or until the onion is starting to brown.
Meanwhile, place the spinach in a large glass bowl, and microwave for about 5 minutes, until defrosted. Squeeze excess moisture from the spinach and set aside.
Once the onions are lightly browned, turn the heat off and stir in the turmeric and two teaspoons of the garam masala. Transfer to a blender and add the tomato paste and water, or use an immersion blender. Process until the mixture forms a paste, then return to the skillet.
Turn the heat to medium and add the spinach, mixing well. Cover and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is darker green. Meanwhile, in a small, dry skillet, toast the remaining half teaspoon of garam masala over low heat until fragrant, about one minute. Mix the cream, salt, and toasted garam masala into the spinach, then carefully stir in the fried paneer. You may want to start with 1/2 cup of cream and add more if it looks too dry. Cover and cook for about ten more minutes, until the cheese is heated through.
Top with cilantro if desired. Serve hot with rice or cauliflower rice.