This recipe is part of my May 2022 Times Union story. You can read the whole thing here.
Salad and exercise just go together. It’s perfectly acceptable to forget your manners and stuff in bite after bite of salad—any kind of salad—after exercise. And, cheese and nuts, meat and anything else that’s salty and is good on its own, is even better on crunchy, fresh greens and tossed with dressing. The salad here is based on one of my all-time favorite dishes: saag paneer. That’s the Indian takeout favorite, where chunks of cheese are covered in a spiced and bright green sauce. I shook up the idea a bit, took the cheese and traditional spices and made a fresh salad. It’s got all the flavors of the original, with the tooth of whole, rather than pureed, leafy greens. Saag paneer is traditionally made with greens, such as collards, chard and kale. In this riff, baby kale leaves are wilted in the warm, spiced dressing (though you can riff on this yourself and make it more like palak paneer, traditionally made from spinach). Paneer is an Indian-style fresh cheese that doesn’t melt, but crisps, when fried – crispy fried cheese, eaten where and anyhow, is so good. Use any sturdy greens you have on hand.
Saag Paneer Salad
12 oz paneer (see note)
1 white onion, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 mild green chile, seeded and chopped fine
1 teaspoon each garam masala and cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
⅓ cup water
Juice of ½ lemon
5 ounces baby kale (or any sturdy, tender green)
1 c. plain greek yogurt, mixed with a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon water, if desired
- Cut the cheese into 1-inch pieces. Toss with a sprinkle of salt. Heat a swirl of oil in a pan set over medium heat. Cook the cheese until browned and crisp. Remove from pan and set aside to drain on paper towels.
- Turn the heat to medium low and add a little more oil. Cook the onions until very soft, then add the garlic, ginger and chile. Cook for another minute, then add the spices and stir, cooking for 2 minutes and very fragrant. Add a bit more oil if it’s dry so the spices don’t burn. Add the water and lemon juice and stir well, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. When it’s steamy-hot, remove from the heat.
- In a large serving bowl, toss together the greens with the hot onion mixture until thoroughly coated and slightly wilted. Top with the browned cheese, drizzle with the yogurt, and serve.
- Note: Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese made from cow’s milk and does not melt when heated. It is available at any Indian market. If you can’t find it, halloumi is an acceptable substitute. Halloumi is a cheese with Mediterranean origins and similarly does not melt when fried. It can be found in the cheese section of most well-stocked supermarkets. It’s a bit saltier than paneer, so fry it without adding any salt.