Saag Paneer

I don’t know why but I had never tried Saag Paneer. Whenever I go out for an Indian meal,  I guess I have always opted for Saag Aloo and so it never got a look in. Well that is a thing of the past. It is sublime. An Indian spiced, creamed spinach – what a great combination.

Neither did I know that you can make your own Paneer. I have to admit though that I didn’t. I got mine from Waitrose!

Saag Paneer

Coconut oil

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons garam masala

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 ripe tomatoes

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

100 ml double cream

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the paneer: OR 1 block of ready made Paneer (226g)

1.5 litres whole milk

1 lemon

To make the paneer, line a sieve with a large piece of muslin and place over a bowl. Heat the milk in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Gently bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.  Gradually add 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, stirring continuously so the curds and whey separate. Carefully pour the mixture into the sieve so the curds collect in the muslin. Place under cold running water to get rid of any whey, then gather up the muslin and squeeze out the excess moisture. Keeping the muslin bundle in the sieve, cover it with a plate and top with a few heavy weights (a couple of tins work well). Place in the fridge for 1 hour 30 minutes to set.  cut the

Cut the paneer into 2cm chunks. Heat some coconut oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, add the paneer and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a double layer of kitchen paper to drain.

Peel and finely chop the onion and finely grate the garlic and ginger. Return the pan to a medium-low heat, adding a splash more oil, if needed. Add the cumin seeds, fry for 1 minute, then add the onion and cook for around 8 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the garlic, ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Halve, deseed and very finely chop the tomato, add to the pan and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile blanch the spinach in a pan of salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a dry tea towel to cool. When cool enough to handle, use the tea towel to squeeze the excess water from the spinach. Roughly chop.

Stir in the spinach, cover and cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the cream, paneer and a splash of boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and cook for a further minute or two with the lid off, or until reduced to a deliciously creamy consistency. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Usually I have a glut of vegetables of one sort of another, but at the moment I appear to have a glut of lentils. I must have read some article proclaiming the virtues of lentils and how super good they are for you and then subconsciously I must have picked up a bag every time I went shopping for the next month. Subsequently, this week, I have not one, but two lentil dishes for you. The first is a classic combination of lentils, crème fraiche and mustard served up with spinach and sausages. It is not exactly a stew, but it is nice to keep it a bit soupy. You can use any sort of spinach or some other greens, such as chard, kale or cavalo would work too, but you might like to blanch them first.

Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Serves 4

8 good quality pork sausages

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1 large leek, shredded, washed and drained

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

Small bunch of fresh thyme, tied into a bundle

2 cloves garlic, grated

250g lentils

Couple of large handfuls of fresh spinach, striped from stems and washed

250ml crème fraîche

1-2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cook the sausages for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are evenly browned and cooked through.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Fry the bacon until crispy and then stir in the chopped vegetables and the thyme bundle. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown. Add the lentils and the garlic. Stir well and add 1 ½ pints of water. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add water if necessary but by the time the lentils are cooked, you want most of the water to have cooked away. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the thyme bundle, squeezing out the remaining juices. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard and then the spinach. Return to the heat and cook the spinach until just wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning and add the sausages. Serve hot.

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

Sad to get back from holiday but lovely to get home to a lovely box of fresh vegetables. It is such a great time of year for produce, it really is a pleasure cooking and not the chore that I have to admit, it sometimes does feel.  First up, I knocked up a really quick and easy recipe of Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans. You can use any mixture of greens you like from mustard greens to kale to Cavalo Nero, but if you are not only using spinach and your greens are tougher, you will have to blanch them first in boiling water for about three minutes. Then drain and when cool, squeeze out the excess water before adding to the garlic oil. I decided, rather decadently, to add a little cream during cooking, as it goes so well with spinach and cannellini beans alike. You could serve this pilled on to a piece of Bruschetta or equally delicious, alongside a grilled lamb chop or a piece of roast fish. Adapt your herbs, depending on what you are serving it with. An anchovy might be nice too!

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans 1

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 large bunch greens (such as spinach, mustard greens, kale, or Cavalo Nero) thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips and blanched first

1 can cannellini or haricot beans drained

2 teaspoons of very finely chopped rosemary

100mls double cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large heavy bottomed saucepan, over a medium heat. Add the garlic and dried crushed pepper; stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add the spinach by large handfuls and stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more, tossing with tongs to coat with oil. Add a good pinch of salt and any blanched, drained greens you might have. Remove the greens with a slotted spoon and gently squeeze any juices back into the saucepan. Add the beans and the rosemary, the cream and a little salt and pepper. Reduce down until you have a creamy consistency. Add the greens back and stir well. Allow to boil for a minute or two. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm.

Braised Spinach

Swiss Chard, Red Onion and Crème Fraiche Tart with Olives

I am always asked for more recipes for leafy greens. It is not surprising since one type or another is usually available all year long. Starting with spinach around May, joined by Spring Greens and then Summer Greens a little later on, with Savoy cabbage close behind and on through to January. Kale kicks in around September and Cavalo Nero around November and carries on until April when the Spinach starts up again and so on.

Here is one of my favourite recipes for Chard although it would work equally well with perpetual spinach. Would you believe that in my day this tart was actually on the menu as a starter at The River Café. Not quite what you expect from a Michelin stared restaurant but I guess that is why it was such a unique restaurant.  This is one of those recipes which somehow tastes greater than its sum of ingredients. This as usual is to do with the mixture of Umami flavours. Umami is known as the fifth flavour and is found in great quantities in Parmesan Cheese and Chard so when the two are brought together, it becomes something else.

I am a great fan of ready rolled all butter puff pastry which can be easily found now a days in most supermarkets. Make sure it is all-butter; its ingredients should not list much more than butter and flour. It can be kept in the freezer until needed and quickly topped with all sorts of vegetable so it is a great use up lunch or supper.

Use-up is very much on my mind at the moment as I am not only off on holiday soon but when I get back I am moving house. So, as you can imagine our household is overflowing with suitcases and packing boxes – basically chaos!. Due to these rather major events, I shall not be blogging for a few weeks but I will never stop in my pursuit of finding great recipes to help you use up your vegboxes and I am sure that the markets in the South of France will inspire me as always, so I hope to return rejuvenated in a couple of weeks with new ideas.

Chard tart on plate

 Swiss Chard, Red Onion and Crème Fraiche Tart with Olives
1 packet of ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (230g)
3 Red onions, finely sliced
Leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
Olive oil
½ head of wet garlic or 4 garlic cloves
300g Swiss chard
10 stoned black olives, chopped if large
1/2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 tbsp. Crème Fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add the onions and thyme and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lay the pastry out on a baking sheet and put in the oven until puffed up and golden brown on the to and the bottom.
Meanwhile, if the chard has a large stalk (this is not usually the case early in the season) separate the chard stalks from the leaves and chop both leaves and stalks roughly, keeping them separate. Add the stalks to a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 2–3 minutes, until tender. Remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the leaves to the boiling water and blanch briefly. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to cool. When cool use the tea towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut the wet garlic or garlic into very thin slithers. Heat a little more olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until just turning light golden brown. Add the Chard and season with salt and mix well. Fry briefly and remove from the heat. Spread the onions all over the pastry base, just leaving a narrow edge. Top with the chard and then sprinkle with the chopped olives, Parmesan and a few blobs of crème fraîche. Bake in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Chard Tart 1