The first time I had what would probably be classified as “real” Indian food was in middle school in Toronto. My parents’ friend gave a recommendation for a restaurant she particularly liked, and off we went. I think we ordered our food as medium, and it was pretty much too hot for us to eat. We tried again a week or so later and ordered it mild. It was hotter than the time before. And thus authentic Indian food was put on hold for a little while.
A few years later we were living in a small town in British Columbia when an Indian restaurant (and small grocery store) opened. We ate there pretty much weekly, and for every special occasion. I decided I wanted to be able to cook Indian food at home and bought a basic cookbook. The owner of the restaurant and grocery store went through my ingredients and provided further tips. While I doubt my food will ever taste as good as his, this was the beginning of my attempts and enjoyment of cooking Indian meals.
One of my favourite dishes over the years, and a kind of bellwether of whether or not I’ll enjoy the dishes at any given restaurant, is a palak or spinach (saag) paneer. Since I don’t use paneer anymore, I decided to give just the spinach part of the recipe a go. One could add potato, tofu, peas, or even mushrooms. I’m also considering topping it with crispy roasted chickpeas.
I made the curry in four groupings of steps. This involved caramelizing onions, cooking (or thawing) the spinach and rapini, building the flavours by making a curry paste, and finally putting all of the pieces together to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- 3 large onions, chopped finely (I zipped them up in my food processor)
- 500 grams of frozen spinach, thawed
- 1/2 bunch of cooked rapini
- 2 stalks of curry leaves (pull the individual leaves off the stalks)
- 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons garam masala
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- hot pepper of your choice (you’ll see jalapeño in my photos as I was making it mild for the people I’ll share it with)
- 1 tablespoon ginger (I use a paste)
- 1 tablespoon cilantro
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can coconut milk (the 13-ish ounce cans)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (possibly more to taste)
- 1-2 teaspoons agave syrup or other sweetener
- salt to taste
- cooking oil
- Heat cooking oil in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add chopped onions, sprinkle with salt, and cook on medium-low until browned.
- Thaw frozen spinach. I usually put the frozen spinach nuggets in a microwave safe bowl with about 1/4 cup of water and microwave in 2-3 minute increments until the spinach is soft.
- The rapini can also be quickly cooked in the microwave. You will be cooking it more thoroughly later, so this is really just to soften it.
- Once both are ready, dump them, and their cooking water, into a food processor and chop/pulse/puree.
- When the onions are ready, you can add them to the mixture.
- Heat a small amount of oil in the bottom of your saucepan. Add the curry leaves from 2 stalks and sauté.
- Add mustard and coriander seeds and continue sautéing until the mustard seeds start to jump.
- Add garam masala, chopped garlic, hot pepper, ginger and cilantro. Continue sautéing.
- Add tomato sauce and mix well. The acidity in the tomato paste will help deglaze the bottom of the pan if anything is sticking. Once this has taken place add about half of the can of coconut milk.
- Add squeeze of lemon, salt and agave syrup to taste.
- Add the contents of the food processor to the pot and mix well.
- Add remaining coconut milk.
- Add additional salt to taste.
- Simmer for 20-30 minutes, checking the seasoning once or twice along the way.
Serve with rice and/or naan and enjoy! Later this week I’ll share my easy curry rice recipe with you.