Wild greens simmered with coconut milk, garlic, tumeric, ginger, spices and hot chilis topped with fried paneer cheese? Please, and thank you.
A traditional recipe
This is a pretty simple recipe, and one that there are a lot of versions for online. The reason it was on my short list of things to make is that I see a lot of versions of saag paneer, and various other saags, using common amaranth. From what I've read, you could put amaranth in any recipe that starts with the word "saag", which is basically a catch-all term for greens.
In the U.S., it seems to me like we rarely have dishes that specifically call for a particular plant besides the occasional discussions of what type of lettuce goes into a wedge.
So, anytime I find traces of what could be a dish that evolved around, or traditionally calls for a particular green, especially a maligned and/or foraged one like amaranth, I take notice.
If you haven't had it (I hadn't until I worked through a couple variations) Saag Paneer is basically curried greens, with some sauteed or stewed cheese nuggets.
It sounds good, and it is, which is why you can find it everywhere in the ready-to-reheat frozen aisle at pretty much every grocery store. The only problem is that it's, well, kinda ugly.
Whenever I make something out of my wheelhouse I take a look at a lot of different recipes, identify similarities, ditch what I don't like and go from there.
Versions with pureed greens
With saag paneer, there was one thing I saw a lot of recipes call for that I knew I would not do: puree the greens and cook them again. It may be traditional in some places but, for me, part of the interest of eating greens I forage is the unique texture of each one.
For example, common amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) has delicious, thick & tender stems (when picked at the right time) that give it some good weight compared to other greens, most notably it's cousin lamb's quarter.
A recipe for all the foraged greens
Whatever you make it with, the recipe I've developed here is a great one to hang onto for whenever you get a craving for greens. Try it sometime you're in the mood for some mildly spicy curry.
If you want another great amaranth greens recipe try Jamaican Calalloo with Amaranth Greens.
Traditional Amaranth Saag Paneer
- 1 lb fresh or blanched and frozen amaranth
- 1 16 oz can coconut milk high fat
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ½ tablespoon minced fresh tumeric optional
- 1 small onion finely chopped to yield 1 cup
- 1 teaspoon garum masala I buy mine in bulk from a coop
- 1-2 whole serrano chilis with seeds (1 for a mild dish, 2 for hot)
- ⅛ teaspoon wild caraway or conventional caraway or cumin seeds toasted
- 8 oz paneer cheese cut into small rectangles or cubes (optional, and halloumi can be substituted)
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup ghee coconut oil, or lard
- If your amaranth greens are raw, blanch it in salted water for a few seconds until wilted, then shock in an ice bath to chill. Remove the amaranth greens, squeeze out the water, and coarsely chop. You want the greens to hold some texture, but they should be able to fit on a spoon-just look out for long stems.
- In a food processor, or in a mortar and pestle, coarsely pulse or pound 1 teaspoon of salt with the serrano, garlic, ginger, onion and tumeric until coarse-fine.
- Add the ground aromatics with the oil to a large cast iron skillet and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the caraway and garum masala and cook 5 minutes more.
- Add the coconut milk, and amaranth and simmer until the mixture is thickened slightly, about 10 minutes, it should be spoonable, but not soupy. Meanwhile, quickly pan fry the cheese on one side only, as overcooking can make them tough. You can also just warm them up in the greens when you add the coconut milk, but it isn't as pretty.
- Double check the seasoning for salt, adjust as needed, then serve immediately with rice or flatbread.
Nettles also make a wonderful saag.
I've been on a wild greens kick lately and this is inspiring, thanks! I wonder if cow parsnip seed would be too delicate to substitute for caraway. What do you think?
Hey Ellen. Personally, I think cow parnsip seeds are too tough to eat after drying, and part of why the seeds are good in this is that they're whole, and give a pop here and there, so I would use cumin.
I use mature, dried European hogweed seeds (the equivalent of your cow parsnip) a lot in curries and soups. They are pretty fibrous, indeed, but I don't find this a problem... But this summer I froze a jar of green hogweed seeds (in case I needed to put them in vodka later in the year :-))). The flavour is different from the mature dried seeds with a sort of menthol punch (a bit like caraway). The flavour really compliments green tomatoes (I put them in chutney) and I think it would work for this recipe. Seriously, try the green seeds next season ... and they freeze well.
Hey Jacqui. Nice work playing around with the green hogweed seeds, I started talking with a chef friend of mine this year and we were sharing our experiences working with green seeds, cow parsnip was one of them, along with angelica and wild caraway. Freezing is one option I didn't think of, I, of course made it more complicated than it needed to be and assumed I needed to brine them, which I've found only works with some green seeds (coriander not being one). The cow parsnip seeds had a great flavor green, less soapy IMO, but I still found myself trying to tame it a little by blanching. I'll have to try freezing green ones this year. I would agree their green seeds might be good in curries, another thing to try. Thanks again.
My friend with the restaurant pickled some green seeds that she uses in small quantities sort of the way one would use capers. They pack a punch,