I was curious to try a mustard green-based version of saag paneer after reading about Pondicheri's version in Pete Wells' recent NYT review. I wasn't able to find mustard greens at the Whole Foods, so I decided to try broccoli rabe instead. I added the florets of a broccoli crown and some spinach to smooth the rougher edges of the rapini. —Chris Hagan
4-6 as a main, 6-8 as a side
fresh spinach (not baby), well-washed and chopped
ghee, divided (or sub unsalted butter, clarified butter, or cooking oil)
(each) black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds
dried red chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into pieces
medium-large yellow onion, diced
fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
fresh turmeric root, peeled and grated
thai or serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water at the ready. Blanch the broccoli rabe and the broccoli crown for 2 minutes, then shock in ice water. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, trim off the tough ends of the rabe and chop the leaves and florets roughly. Separate the broccoli crown into florets. Set aside til ready to use.
While the broccoli is cooling, toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, fenugreek, coriander, cumin, and dried chiles in a dry skillet until fragrant and just starting to smoke, being careful not to let anything burn. Transfer to a clean coffee or spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp ghee or other fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent and starting to brown, 8-10 mins. Lower heat and add a pinch of salt and the ground spice mixture, stirring constantly to prevent burning, about a minute, then add the ginger, turmeric, garlic, and fresh chiles and continue sauteing until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and let it take on some color, stirring to prevent scorching. Add the water and stir to scrape up any browned bits, and let simmer about a minute. Add the broccoli rabe and the broccoli florets and a pinch of salt and cook, covered, over low heat, about 10 minutes.
Uncover and add the spinach. Continue cooking 5 minutes, then stir in the cream and cook a few minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer contents of skillet to a blender or food processor. Pulse to the desired consistency. Alternatively, you can do this directly in the pan using an immersion blender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tbsp ghee (or other fat) in a skillet and brown the paneer in batches. Return the greens to heat and fold in the browned paneer and a little water if the consistency is too thick. Season to taste with salt, lemon juice, and cilantro. Finish with garam masala, and serve immediately with basmati rice, or cool to temperature and refrigerate til ready to use. (As an aside, the flavors in this dish definitely improve with time, so if you can make this a day ahead, I'd recommend doing so.)