Spinach Saag with Turmeric Halloumi
Do you watch a lot of foodie TV? The Food Network or Travel Channel is basically always on in our house. I love watching food TV to discover different ingredients, pick up new techniques and learn about culinary history in general.
One of our favorite foodie personalities is Aarti Sequeira, fondly referred to as the Spice Queen. Born in India, brought up in Dubai and educated in a British school, Aarti grew up against a varied tapestry of food cultures. I’ve never made one of Aarti’s recipes before, but when we decided to try out a a version of saag paneer—a saucy spinach dish with Indian cheese—I knew I had to “get her opinion” on the matter.
We used her recipe as a jumping-off point and incorporated a few tweaks. Rather than going with the traditional paneer, we opted for halloumi, a similarly squeaky cheese, because we had it on hand. Aarti’s saag also called for yogurt, but ours was expired so I used sour cream instead. Also, we added peas, because everything’s better with peas!
A few notes:
Though the dish ended up being delicious, I don’t think I’ll use sour cream the next time I make it. The flavor was just a bit too overpowering.
To make this recipe vegan, use coconut milk as the creamy component (I think this will be seriously tasty). Leave out the halloumi altogether, or replace it with firm tofu.
It’s very important to let the onions, garlic, ginger and serrano sauté for a full 15 minutes until the mixture becomes “toffee-colored,” as Aarti describes. This is the foundation of the dish.
1 - 8.8 oz. package of halloumi
1 t. turmeric
1/2 t. cayenne
Pinch of kosher salt
2 T. + 1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 - 16 oz. package frozen chopped spinach
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large serrano pepper, minced (leave the seeds in if you want a spicier dish)
1/2 t. garam masala
2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 c. plain yogurt or coconut milk
1 - 12 oz. package frozen peas, cooked according to package directions
Grain of choice (my husband used basmati rice and I used quinoa)
1) Slice the halloumi into cubes. In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons oil. Add the cubes to the bowl and toss well to coat. Allow the halloumi to marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients prepped. This would also be a good time to cook your grains.
2) Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour in the halloumi, along with the spices and oil. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of halloumi should be browned on one side. Fry another minute or so, and then remove the halloumi from the pan onto a plate.
3) Thaw the spinach in the microwave for five minutes on high.
4) Add the skillet back to the stove over medium heat and add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and serrano. Sauté for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you feel like the mixture is getting burned/dried out, add a couple tablespoons of water.
5) Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven't already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes.
6) Add the spinach and stir well to combine. Add another pinch of salt and a 1/2 cup of water. Stir and allow to cook for another five minutes.
7) Turn the heat off. Add the yogurt or coconut milk a little bit at a time. Once the creamy component is mixed in well, add the halloumi and peas.
8) Remove and serve over beds of rice or quinoa.