I have been cooking a lot of express-Indian these past few months. In fact, my usual cooking is reasonably Express, and predominantly Indian. But this was additionally challenging because I was looking for 6 ingredients or less. I am going to take some creative license and add oil to the list of not-to-be-counted ingredients. There is just a tablespoon of it anyway.
Yes, really. And, no cream. Sorry to have been the harbinger of this disappointing information but it is true that in the ‘real’ palak-panir (pah-luk-pun-nir) there is no cream. The creamed-spinach is likely the contribution of some restaurant-cook to fulfill the expectations of Indian food (quasi-Punjabi-Mughlai in most restaurants abroad) shimmering in that layer of floating fat. You do serve sarson-ka-saag makhan mar ke (splattered-with-butter) but not palak panir. Or, maybe, the name-change that this dish underwent when it was exported to the Western shores might have had something to do with this. Palak-(ka-saag)-panir got mixed up with the aforementioned saag and somewhere along the way became saag panir. Saag is the generic word for ‘greens’ in Punjabi, but when used by itself usually refers to mustard greens. I believe I have come across recipes (on food blogs) for mustard greens cooked with panir. Inspired?
ConFusion? I will keep my counsel. Maybe Punjabi-kudi can shed more light on this subject…
1 bunch spinach, about 400-500gms
200 gms panir, cubed
1 T grated ginger
1 onion chopped fine (about 1/3 C)
1 tomato, chopped fine
1/2 t kashmiri veri masala* (or garam masala + pinch of hing)
1 T oil or butter
1 t red chilli powder (optional)
2 green chillies, slit
1 T oil
Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or karahi. Add grated ginger. Stir till fragrant (a few seconds). Add onion and saute till transparent. Add the chopped tomato and cook till it is mushy and the oil separates. Add red chilli powder and green chillies. Saute for a minute and remove the green chillies. Remove from heat. Mix in the blanched spinach and make a coarse puree using a hand-held blender. Put the spinach back on the stove. Add the panir and its soaking broth. Break off a piece of veri masala, pound, and add to the simmering mix. Season with salt. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved green chillies. Serve with roti or paranthas.
Last week I cooked it for dinner in under 20 minutes, not including blanching spinach, which I had done while fixing my morning tea. This, my friends, is the real palak-panir. Which is not to say that the inspired versions are not worthy. But, you need to meet the original to be inspired.
PS: For what it’s worth, A Mad Tea Party attained another milestone of sorts this month – 1 million hits!
* Veri masala is my inspired addition to the dish, which most likely uses only garam masala. But like all favourite family dishes this too carries the signature of its cook. This recipe has evolved over time and reflects my attempts at recreating the elusive flavours of other good cooks (here, a bit of my friend Prati’s palak-panir). I find that the slightest hint of Kashmiri veri masala rounds off the ‘bitterness’ of spinach rather well, and I always add it to my North-Indian spinach preparations. Veri masala is available at the INA Market in Delhi at stores that stock Kashmiri spices – Durga Stores, near the exotic-veggies market, is one such store.