OK, let me start by saying that I don't have much spinach trauma in my life (well there was that horridly weird bacon-fat dressing on a spinach salad once, but that wasn't the spinach's fault), but we've mostly been nodding acquaintances. A salad here, some frozen chopped spinach used in a pasta dish there, that was about it. And in general I preferred spinach raw or - if cooked - unidentifiable among other ingredients. Because, you know... wilted leaves... are kind of 'ew'.
Until yesterday, that is. When I discovered a cooked spinach dish - in which the spinach is identifiable - that I love.
It's called Sautéed Arugula and Spinach with Paneer and Roasted Cashews, and it's from the Appetizers and Salads section of Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, a cookbook that My Beloved and I bought (along with a masala dabba) after a particularly fine meal at Vij's restaurant. (Well, actually at Vij's Rangoli, next door, which was easier to get into, and which does the retail sales.) It was an excellent investment, as cookbooks go, and an excellent introduction not just to the ingredients in Indian cooking, but to the methods involved, and the importance of those methods (e.g., cooking the spices).
I was going to make this as part of an Indian feast we were planning, for a get-together with our friends Victoria and Mark, whom we hadn't seen in years, before the plans got changed and we ended up eating out rather than in. But I already had the spinach and arugula - and it kept really well, in an insulated grocery bag, outside in our cold store, for a week or more - so I thought I'd give it a whack anyway.
If you've ever done any Indian cooking, you'll know that it takes time. The prep, the mise en place, the grinding of spices, and so on, it can take ages to get a dish ready. But this one only took about an hour. Which is entirely reasonable for a weekday dinner. It would probably take me less time, next time, now that I know what I'm about. And I was cooking for one - My Beloved is in Puerto Rico, with work - so a meatless meal was allowed. :) So without further ado:
Sautéed Arugula and Spinach with Paneer and Roasted Cashews
2 oz. whole raw unsalted cashews
1/2 lb arugula + 1-1/2 lbs spinach (I used the 1:3 ratio, and used far less than 2 lbs total. I also used baby spinach and baby arugula)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp cumin seeds (I used green)
3 cups puréed tomatoes (9 medium)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp ground black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp salt (I used kosher)
1 tsp crushed cayenne pepper (I used ground; maybe it's the same thing?)
3 cups water
1-2/3 cups coconut milk, stirred (one can, essentially)
9 oz paneer, in 12 equal slices (paneer recipe is also in the book; I used store-bought, cubed paneer)
My mise en place:
Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375F. Spread cashews on a baking tray and bake for 3 minutes. Gently stir cashews to roast them evenly. Return to the oven for another 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully, because cashews can burn quickly (as you see below). Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 minutes. (They'll cool nicely while you're doing the rest.)
Cut the tougher, bottom stems of the spinach. Cut all the stems off if you don't like stems, and make up the weight with more leaves. (Or use baby leaves like I did.) Combine spinach and arugula in a large bowl.
Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add cumin seeds, stir and allow to sizzle for 30-45 seconds. Add tomatoes, mustard seeds, turmeric, salt, and cayenne. Stir and reduce the heat to low, then cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir. The top of the masala should glisten with oil; if not, cook uncovered for another 1-2 minutes to make sure the spices are cooked through.
Stir in water and increase the heat to medium. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low boil for 5-8 minutes.
Add coconut milk, increase the heat to medium, and continue cooking until the curry starts to boil.
Add greens and cook them for 2 minutes, stirring regularly.
To serve: Place 2 slices of paneer in each of six large bowls. Pour the curry and green leaves over the paneer. Top the greens with 6 to 7 roasted cashews per bowl.
This was a delicious dinner. The flavours are delicate and wonderfully balanced, with the spices bringing something out of the spinach (or perhaps bringing something to the spinach) that you just don't get with ordinary steamed or wilted spinach. And roasted cashews, well, there's almost nothing that's not improved by the addition of a couple of roasted cashews. :)