We’re coming off our February cookbook club book (The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food by Marcus Samuelsson) and rolling into our March book (Indian-ish by Priya Krishna), so we had collard greens in the fridge and one of our favorite Indian dishes, Saag Paneer (Saag = spinach, Paneer = a non-aged soft Indian cheese made from cow or buffalo milk) on our mind.
We’ve adapted the recipe in Indian-ish for Spinach and Feta Cooked Like Saag Paneer to work with collard greens. We also made some other adjustments based on what we had in our pantry (and our desire not to have to figure out what to do with a half a lime). One thing we’ve learned about Indian cooking is that it’s pretty forgiving as long as you get a few basics right.
The hard thing is deciding what to call it. We’re going with “Saag Paneer-ish” in honor of the cookbook.
In this recipe, everything is cooked and then blended until mostly smooth so don’t worry about chopping everything up nice and pretty. Also, don’t get hung up on the size of your onion or shallot, garlic cloves or ginger—a little more or a little less won’t matter at all.
As to which cheese to use, if you can find paneer, use that. If you can’t, feta and halloumi work great, too. We are thinking mozarella could also work if that’s what you can find/have in your fridge.
Also, it’s worth finding asafetida to make the tadka, but it will be fine without it. One important note: asafetida is meant to be cooked, so don’t get tempted to shake it on as is.
What’s a tadka?
Tadka/tarka = tempering. In Indian (and Bangladeshi, Nepali, Pakistani and Sri Lankan cooking), whole (and sometimes ground) spices are tempered—cooked in oil or ghee—to release their oils and flavor. The resulting goodness is poured over cooked dishes, like Saag Paneer and Dal.
We recommend using a tadka pan or something similar as using a larger pan (especially one with straight sides) means more ends up left in the pan than poured out.
Shopping List & Prep
For vegetables & cheese:
2 lbs collard greens, stems removed and chopped into 2-3" pieces —OR— 1 lb baby spinach (10-12 cups)*
1 large shallot or 1 small yellow or white onion, roughly chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
Juice of 1 small lime
1 small serrano chili, seeds removed, roughly chopped (optional)**
6-8 oz paneer, feta or halloumi cheese, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 C full fat yogurt or heavy cream (optional)
2 TBSP coriander seeds
2 green cardamom pods or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 C ghee or olive oil
For topping (optional):
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafetida (optional)
1/4 tsp red chili powder (we like Kashmiri chili powder since it’s not hot)
2 TBSP ghee or olive oil
3-4 C cooked basmati rice —OR— 4 pieces of naan or roti
*You lose a lot when you remove the stems from the collard greens, that’s why one pound of collard greens isn’t the same as one pound of baby spinach.
**If you want it hotter, leave the seeds in!
Vegetables & cheese:
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm 1/4 C ghee or olive oil. Once ghee is melted (or oil is shimmering), add the coriander and cardamom and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the seeds start to brown.
Add the onion or shallot and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute.
Add the collard greens or spinach.
If using collard greens, add 1/2 C water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes
If using spinach, cook until just wilted, 3-5 minutes
Remove pan from heat and stir in lime juice, chopped green chili and salt. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
Add mixture to blender and blend into a chunky paste.†
Pour mixture back into pan. Stir in 1/2 C yogurt, heavy cream or water, then fold in the cheese (feta tends to break apart easily, so if using, stir gently).
Cook for 5-7 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through.
†We used an immersion blender in the pan. It worked, but it was a little messy.
To serve, transfer Saag Paneer-ish into a serving bowl.
In a small pan or tadka, warm 2 TBSP ghee for 1 minute over medium-high heat.
Add the cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, removing pan from heat as soon as they start to sizzle and brown. (Be careful here—they will go from perfect to burnt in seconds.)
Stir in asafetida and chili powder.
Pour ghee mixture over Saag Paneer-ish and serve with naan or basmati rice.