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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Versatile Saag Paneer Recipe with Wild Edible Options, Vegan Options

Vegan saag paneer, with tofu and coconut milk,
made with lambsquarters and sea beet (wild swiss chard)



There are some posts that I think about and write about that very same day, and then there's other posts, like this one, that I've wanted to write about for years, but haven't for a lot of reasons. This recipe is one for saag paneer, a curried greens dish from India, and is so incredibly versatile. If you've heard of palak paneer, its when this dish is made with spinach, and it usually is blended up. Traditionally paneer cheese is added and it is absolutely divine.

However, this dish is not exactly like palak paneer, but rather saag paneer, as it is called when made with different greens. The reason I have wanted to share it for so long is because it is what I make with my students nearly every time I teach a foraging and cooking class out in the wild. It is such a hit every time, and it is versatile enough that I make it with nearly any greens we find, and can make it with things growing wild no matter the season, and the spices are versatile enough too- while garam masala is traditional, I just use what I have on hand to make a spice mix to bring along- I try to stick to the garam masala ingredients but if I'm missing one or two it still tastes good. Also, I use either tomatoes or a little package of tomato paste, depending on what I have available. 

And lastly, as part of the process of making our palak paneer, we make homemade paneer cheese out in the wild (which has everyone oohing and ahhing every time). See here for how to make paneer cheese easily. This recipe as written is made with tofu to keep it dairy free, but feel free to use the traditional paneer cheese if you aren't vegan.

Cooking saag paneer on a portable burner in the middle of the forest.
Also shown, cactus paddles for another dish.

The wild greens that I've successfully used as is in this saag paneer are:
Salsify leaves
Hollyhock leaves

Wild greens that I've successfully used, with caveats:
Milk thistle- with the thorns cut off
Nettles- being careful to not get stung while preparing the leaves
Sow thistle- blanched in water first to remove bitterness
Wild mustard- blanched in water first to remove bitterness
Wood sorrel- in small amounts, only mixed with large quantities of other greens, because this has a sour taste
Dock- in small amounts, only mixed with large quantities of other greens, because this has a sour taste
Erigeron/fleabane- in small amounts, only mixed with large quantities of other greens, because this can be spicy

Wild greens I won't use for saag paneer, because their flavors are too overpowering:
Mint
Sage
Dandelion
Chicory

Basically, any greens that are either mildly flavored and work well cooked are the base (this includes somewhat bitter greens with the bitterness blanched out of them), and then you can add greens that are sour or spicy in small quantities.

Other Wild Additions:
Feel free to add chopped eryngo, ground pink peppercorns, ground chasteberry, wild mustard seeds, to the spices as they are frying.

Saag paneer, prior to cooking, based on amaranth greens,
cooked in the forest on a camping stove.

If you aren't a forager, feel free to use whatever greens you like for this. This can be anything from spinach to kale to swiss chard to beet leaves to romaine lettuce, but if you use mustard greens or somewhat bitter greens, you'll need to blanche them first and squeeze out the bitterness before using.

I never measure with this recipe, just make it by taste, but this last time I made it, the one I photographed for this blog, I used the quantities written here. It came out delicious. However, if I wasn't out of nutmeg and cardamom pods I would have added them and they would have made it even better. Feel free to adjust the heck out of this recipe, it really isn't finicky.

If making this with paneer cheese, feel free to leave out the coconut milk, or add a bit of cream (I never bother).

I serve this over rice but you can eat it with your choice of Indian flatbreads if you desire.

Ready to eat in the forest: amaranth saag paneer (paneer added after some was removed
after the photo, for the vegan), Mexican inspired cactus paddes, rice, oatstraw tea, fennel tea

Versatile Saag Paneer Recipe with Wild Edible Options, Vegan Options

Ingredients:
1/4-1/2 cup oil of choice
1 block tofu or one block of paneer cheese (no need for it to harden, I just crumble it into the dish)
1 onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon 
2 bay leaves
5 cloves or equivalent amount ground
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon nutmeg (recommended)
4-5 cardamom pods (recommended)
2 tomatoes
7 packed cups greens of choice (see above for list of potential greens to use)
1 splash of lemon juice, optional
Salt to taste
2/3 cup coconut milk or cream 

Instructions:
1. Chop your tofu into cubes if using. Fry up in oil until browned if firm enough, otherwise just mix it up and set aside when you're afraid it'll burn onto the bottom of the pan. (Ok, that was what happened when I used the tofu I had at home, that isn't what's supposed to happen, but it's all good.) If you have already firm paneer cheese feel free to do the same, but if yours is freshly made and crumbly, skip this step. Set aside.

2. Chop up your onion and garlic. Heat up oil and add onion, garlic, and all the spices.

3. Once the onion is cooked and the spices are fragrant, chop a tomato and add that. Cook until the tomato is soft.

4. Clean your greens, prepare them, and chop them up small. 

5. Add the greens to the pan, and cook until they fully are wilted and cooked, mixing frequently. If needed, you can add a splash of water.

6. Add the tofu or paneer cheese, then add salt to taste. If necessary, add a drop of lemon juice. 

7. If using tofu or if your paneer cheese is hard, add coconut milk or cream.

8. Add more spices or salt as needed.

Enjoy!


Have you ever had palak paneer or saag paneer? Were you a fan? What was your saag paneer made from? Do you make them at home? Are you a forager? What is your most commonly made food with wild edible plants? Ever make saag paneer with wild greens? Does this look like a recipe you'd try? What greens would you make it with?

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