saag aloo
Last night my roommate and I started talking about our grocery bills. Now, I almost never go out to eat, have a habit of spontaneously feeding random people, and love to cook… so, I would expect that I spend more on groceries, or at least more on groceries per person, than the average American. Still, I couldn’t resist running the numbers to find out just how much I have spent at the grocery store this month.  The actual number, $284, doesn’t bother me too much, but if I break that out per week that is $71, to technically feed one person… and that is only if I don’t go to the grocery store again till May.  I was going to go to the farmer’s market day, but instead I decided, that I would challenge myself to make it until Thursday without buying more groceries.

This shouldn’t be too hard, as my fridge and freezer are still quite full of food. But it is random food, food I bought without a plan or is leftover from a previous meal. Which means, it is the perfect food for some creativity. On taking stock of my fridge this afternoon, I realized I had half an onion, tomatoes, a full bag of spinach, and a jalapeno pepper. Excitedly I thought, I could make palak paneer! But, I was missing the “paneer” part. If I made my favorite palak paneer recipe, I would also need cashews and cilantro-ginger-garlic paste. But, never fear, I did have peanuts, ginger, garlic, and potatoes.

If you want a fabulous Saag Paneer recipe, you can’t go wrong with Mahanandi’s takeon this classic North Indian dish. I like it better than any restaurant version I’ve had, and it is better for me (no heavy gravy to weigh down the sauce). But this rendition is also quite good, and worth repeating as tracking down inexpensive paneer can be challenging.

Saag Aloo (adapated from Mahanandi’s Palak Paneer recipe)

Serves 2-3 as written, I highly recommend doubling.

one big bunch of spinach (fresh green ones)
2 potatoes
1 medium sized ripe tomato
1-2 jalapeño peppers
half an onion~ chopped finely into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
quarter cup peanuts
Half tsp of salt

Prep work:

1. Heat water in a small saucepan (you want enough water to cover your tomato). Once it is boiling, add the tomato and let boil until the skin begins to break down.
2. Meanwhile, in one teaspoon of canola oil (or ghee), saute the minced pepper, until fragrant.
3. Add spinach and heat until wilted. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
3. Toast the peanuts on a cookie sheet until fragrant. Using a mortar and pestle (or a ziplock bag and a rolling pin), crush the peanuts.
4. Once the skin on the tomatoes has begun to peel away, remove the tomatoes from the water and submerge in icy cold water. Then peel off the skins and mash the tomato pulp into a small bowl.
5. Put the spinach mixture into a blender with a pinch of salt and puree.
6. Cook the potatoes by either boiling them, or microwaving them until tender.
7. When potatoes are cooked, chop them up into bite size pieces. Then, salt generously and fry in one teaspoon of oil, just to add a crunch (you could also use the potatoes as is, but I wanted more of a texture contrast).

Now you are ready to actually assemble the curry. If you are serving with rice, you might want to start it at this point.

1. Saute the onions until transluscent.
2. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).
3. Add cumin and coriander and saute for 2-3 minutes more.
4. Now add the spinach puree, the tomatoes, and peanuts.
5. Add water as necessary, and salt to taste (you don’t want to dilute the curry too much).
5. Cook for 5-10 minutes on low flame.
6. Add the potatoes and cook for 2 minutes more.