Saag Paneer + Dirty Chai Toddy

December 29, 2013

We're celebrating Meatless Mondays with balanced, delicious meal plans. We hope you'll join us -- whether you're vegetarian all the time or just here and there. 

Today: With a little imagination, a trip to your spice cabinet can become a trip to India (well, sort of).


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Your spices are feeling neglected. There they sit, all snuggled up in your spice cabinet (maybe alphabetized if you're ambitious -- or if you really never touch them), just waiting to be used. Well, your spices have been sidelined long enough. Cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, tumeric, and coriander are ready to carry your meal to victory. 

All it takes is a short trip to your spice drawer to take your Monday night dinner from mundane to exotic. Close your eyes as you spear a piece of crispy paneer and sip a milky, spiced chai. Maybe it's not exactly like you're in New Delhi, but it's close enough.

This grocery list looks daunting, but be sure to check your spice collection -- and your neighbor's -- thoroughly before heading to the market. The good news is that once you've amassed a stock of spices, you'll be able to use them to add excitement to your meals for months to come.

The Menu

Take advantage of our handy grocery list and game plan, or click the recipe photos or titles to see (and save and print) the full recipes.

Saag Paneer by Merrill Stubbs

Dirty Chai Toddy by gingerroot

The Grocery List

Serves 4

2 tablespoons cumin seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 whole cloves
3 black cardamom pods
10 to 12 peppercorns (preferably pink)
16 ounces half and half
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
One 4-inch piece of fresh ginger
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach or two 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
4 sachets of black tea, preferably Assam
8 ounces paneer cheese (halloumi is a good substitute)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
4 ounces hot espresso
4 ounces good quality bourbon

Chances are, you have sugar, vegetable oil, garlic, salt, and pepper on hand. If not, add those to the list, too.

The Plan

1. Grind the spices, from the cumin seeds to the cloves, as finely as possible using an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

2. If you’ve got the mortar and pestle out, crush the cardamom pods and the peppercorns. Otherwise, crush them using a plastic bag and a rolling pin.  

3. In a small saucepan, combine the crushed cardamom and peppercorns with 8 ounces of water, 4 tablespoons of sugar, the half and half, and the cinnamon. Peel a 3-inch piece of ginger and flatten it with a knife. Add it to the saucepan, then finely chop the rest and set aside. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the spinach. If you’re using fresh spinach, remove the stems, rinse and dry the leaves, and roughly chop. If you’re using frozen, squeeze as much water out as possible.

5. Return to the chai. Remove the half and half mixture from the heat and add the black tea sachets. Steep for 5 minutes.

6. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cut the paneer into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the pan. Cook, tossing frequently, until browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion, finely chopped, to the sauté pan and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

7. While the onion is cooking, remove the tea sachets from the chai and strain out the spices. Keep the mixture warming on low heat as you finish cooking.

8. Return to the sautéed onion and add 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture you set aside at the beginning. Then, add the turmeric, a teaspoon of the finely chopped ginger you prepared earlier, a clove of minced garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. 

9. It’s about to get exciting. Turn the heat to medium and add the spinach. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fresh spinach is wilted (or the frozen spinach is warmed through), 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the buttermilk and the cream and simmer until thickened, another 3 to 5 minutes. Taste, season with salt, and add the nutmeg and pepper.

10. Divide the chai between four cups and add an ounce of espresso and an ounce of bourbon to each. Stir the paneer into the creamed spinach. Your semi-Indian feast awaits you. 

Photos by Sarah Shatz and Nicole Franzen

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rinchen
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Rinchen December 29, 2013
Would tofu be a sub for the cheese? Or will it become Semi-Chinese?
Sarah J. January 3, 2014
Extra firm tofu would work! You might not be able to cook it exactly the same way you would cook the paneer. I would try coating it in some cornstarch before cooking it or freezing the tofu block.