Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saag paneer enchiladas

saag paneer enchiladas

When I first moved to New York City and discovered that the Tex-Mex was seriously lacking in this town, I embraced Indian food. Now, if you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine that may seem bizarre. But Indian cuisine is rich with ingredients familiar to Texans, such as cumin, chiles and cilantro. And while Indian food doesn’t taste much like Mexican food, its base note flavors satisfied my needs.

I first fell in love with Indian food when I lived in Austin. On Sundays my friends and I would frequent an Indian buffet and load up on tandoori chicken, stewed vegetable dishes filled with okra, potatoes and cauliflower, puffy naan bread and my favorite Indian offering of all—saag paneer, a creamy spinach dish spiced with cumin, cinnamon and ginger, with cubes of paneer cheese dotted throughout.

This past weekend I was at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s (SFA) annual symposium held in Oxford, Mississippi. If you're not familiar with the SFA, it's mission is to document, study and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. This year’s theme was the Global South and there were presentations on topics such as “Cajuns, Croats, Vietnamese: On Land and Sea in Biloxi,” “Havana to Alabama: Cuba through a Southern Lens" and “Houston: The South’s New Creole City.”

saag paneer

Robb Walsh delivered the Houston talk and he discussed how in Houston he sees a glorious evolution of Texan cuisine as new immigrants arrive and merge their native foods with what we already eat. So you’ll see, for instance, Lebanese-Mex fajitas, spicy beef wrapped in pitas or Armenian bean soups that taste like chili.

The largest Asian population in Houston, according to the 2000 census, is Indian. And this got me thinking: why not make saag paneer enchiladas? There used to be a wonderful restaurant in Houston called Jalapeños and they had a spinach enchilada plate that was outstanding. It was pure Tex-Mex in that it was a rich spinach filling wrapped in flour tortillas and topped with a cilantro cream sauce—it certainly bore little resemblance to anything you’d find in Mexico. But I loved it and fortunately the Houston Chronicle published the recipe so you could recreate it in your home kitchen.

For my saag paneer enchiladas, I decided to use Jalapeños’ recipe as a starting point, but instead I made saag paneer the filling and then topped the enchiladas with a cilantro-mint raita, which is simply cilantro, mint, green chiles and yogurt. Paneer cheese is made much the same way as queso blanco, so including it in the enchiladas also seemed like a natural fit. And I used flour tortillas as they are very similar to the Indian flat bread called roti.



I think it’s an exciting time for Texas as people from different cultures arrive and blend their indigenous cuisines with the foods we already love. Sure, I will always cherish the dishes I grew up with and those that have been in my family for generations. But it’s also fun to try hybrid creations, such as these saag paneer enchiladas, and learn more about the cuisines of the world.

Saag paneer enchiladas (adapted from Jalapeños and Smita Chandra’s From Bengal to Punjab)

Saag paneer filling ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 pound paneer cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Cilantro-mint sauce ingredients:
2 cups cilantro, leaves and stems
1/4 cup mint leaves
1 jalapeño, seeds and stems removed, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt or sour cream
Salt to taste

For the enchiladas:
8-10 flour tortillas or roti
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Method:
In a blender or food processor, grind the onion, garlic and ginger. In a skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on medium-low heat and add the onion mixture and cook while stirring for 5 minutes. Add to the skillet the spinach, cumin, cinnamon, clove, cayenne, yogurt and buttermilk. Turn the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the half and half and paneer cheese and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings and add salt.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, in a blender, puree the cilantro, mint, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, cumin, lemon juice and buttermilk until smooth (you will probably have to press down the sides of the blender with a spoon a couple of times to make sure all the herbs are pureed.). Stir the cilantro puree into the yogurt. Add salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven for 10 minutes while the oven is preheating.

Grease a baking dish. Remove the tortillas from the oven and open the foil (be careful as there may be hot steam). Take a tortilla and spoon 1/4 cup of the filling down the center. Roll the tortilla and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Cover the tortillas with cilantro-mint sauce and bake uncovered for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: I recommend using whole-milk yogurt. And you can usually find paneer cheese at Whole Foods or Asian grocery stores such as Kalustyan in New York City.

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58 comments:

Jessie Bea said...

This just blew my mind. Of *course* Indian food and Tex Mex--2 of my favorite cuisines--use the same seasonings! Cumin seeds and cilantro are also two of my favorite flavors. Why I never made this connection before is beyond me.

Anyway, this sounds like an awesome recipe and I can't wait to make it! Thanks!

masdevallia said...

This is awesome. I just moved to Oregon from California. Last week I realized that I haven't seen a single Indian restaurant in the two months I've been here. That's a big deal for someone who used to eat curry once a week! With the first snow yesterday, this sounds like a warm and homey solution to my Indian/Pakistani food shortage here. On a side note, I was just listening to a podcast about Multiculturalism via podcast from the CBC. What a perfect follow-up to the food for thought I took in yesterday.

Anna said...

YUM! And, Go Rangers!

DessertForTwo said...

I never noticed how Mexican and Indian food use the same spices. All I know is that I love both!

How do you get to attend Southern Foodways Alliance? I'd love to join!

Katryn@rampantcuisine said...

This is brilliant! And I never would have made that connection between Indian food and Tex-Mex...but it makes sense! Food provides such limitless opportunities for creativity and fusion!

Akila said...

Brilliant. My family is Indian and they love Mexican food because the flavors are so similar --- lots of chiles, tomatoes, and sauces. I am going to make this soon and I might try fiddling around with a couple of different versions, too (maybe even one that is a saag tofu enchiladas). Can't wait! You are amazing, as always.

By the way, when are you going to post an update on your book? I am eagerly awaiting both yours and Deb's at Smitten Kitchen.

sarah said...

Yes! This is such a good idea. Palak paneer is my favorite Indian dish and Enchiladas, my favorite tex-mex. What a great combo!

Anna/Quilted Giraffe said...

Yum yum! Where in NYC do you buy your paneer?

Little Black Car said...

I'm with Jessie Bea: Mind officially blown.

I love saag paneer, and I love enchiladas . . . how good can it get?

Rachel said...

These look delicious! I love creative takes on enchiladas - the same old cheese just doesn't do it for me.
Indian/Mexican fusion takes some guts but you pulled it off!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Jessie Bea--You're very welcome! And it blew my mind when I figured it out as well.

Masdevallia--Indian food will definitely keep you warm!

Anna--Yes! Go Rangers!

DessertForTwo--Go to their website, sfa.org, and you can learn more!

Katryn--I know! That's what I love about learning about new cuisines.

Akila--I think it would be great with tofu! And I'll try to post an update soon. I'm plugging along towards my Dec. 31 deadline. Thanks for asking!

Sarah--I was surprised at how well they go together.

Anna--I buy mine at Kalustyan on Lexington. (If you've never been there it's a fantastic resource for all sorts of ingredients, not just Indian foods.) Whole Foods sells it, too.

Little Black Car--It gets very good!

Rachel--Yep, sometimes it's fun to change things up a bit.

the country cook said...

Oh my goodness, those look absolutely amazing. I like Indian food, and I've always loved spinach enchiladas! What a perfect combination of the two! - www.delightfulcountrycookin.com

burkie said...

lisa, another great ingredient that texas & india have in common is black-eyed peas!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

The Country Cook--I know--such a pleasant surprise!

Burkie--Oh, yum! I love black-eyed peas!

Jessica said...

Brilliant! I grew up in Texas and never had Indian food until I moved to Baltimore for college. It instantly became a favorite, and I think for the same reasons why you latched onto it. Naan served as my fix for fluffy, homemade tortillas! I know I'd love this dish...two of my favorite cuisines in one!

Celeste said...

This is one of the prettiest dishes I've seen here; the photo is just excellent.

I love Indian food; we have a huge Indian population in central Ohio; we've got Indian groceries and even an Indian spice shop and they're all easy to get to. This dish is beyond doable for me once I free up some cooking time again!

Koci said...

What a cool idea! I love the mixture of Indian and Mexican cuisines. That cilantro-mint sauce sounds amazing!

Theresa said...

Brilliant!

aless02 said...

I'm a displaced Texan living in the UK where Indian food is number one. This sounds DIVINE and I cannot wait to fuse 2 of my favorite things together.

To anyone who cannot get ahold of paneer: it is dead simple to make. Boil a litre or 2 of whole milk, stirring to stop it from catching on bottom. IMMEDIATELY after it starts boiling take off heat, add 2-3 tbsp of lemon juice and stir briefly just until you see lumps starting to form. Let sit for 10 min, after which you will see the curds seperated completely. Drain the mix into a muslin or teacloth, squeeze out all excess water. Voila - paneer!

Olivia said...

It's been a long time since I visited my fave old blogs, so nice to be commenting again.

You said: "... its base note flavors satisfied my needs."

Exactly! Cumin, chiles, cilantro! I love Tex Mex by default, but there are certain times when I actually yearn for those seasonings, and only Indian food will satisfy my palate, which is when Tex Mex becomes a last resort.

When we eat out, my husband claims not to like Indian food, so we skip those restaurants. But any time I've made something resembling it at home, he likes it, so he doesn't know what he's talking about!

Mark said...

What would you suggest if you just can't get paneer?

Theresa! said...

I cannot wait to make this recipe! Great job and wonderful blog, Lisa!

Lesley said...

I love this idea! The raita sauce seems especially clever. This morning after reading your post I was thinking about curried-potato tacos al vapor... doesn't that sound amazing? Too bad the potatoes in Mexico aren't any good. I've also always wanted to do coconut chutney on tacos here -- I'll let you know if I ever do it. :-)

Miss Meat and Potatoes said...

Well you pegged it on the head. That explains my love of Indian food! I can't wait to try these enchiladas. And not only are they filled with incredible flavors, they're gorgeous to boot. Thanks for sharing! Oh and by the way - where did you like going for Indian in Austin? I hear the Clay Pot is tasty.

Julie said...

Great idea! Can't wait to try it. I love all the diverse cuisines that Houston has to offer. I had no idea until I lived there for 2 years as a Jesuit Volunteer. (I'm from a suburb of Philadelphia.) We Philly folk have an image of Texas as cowboys and Tex-Mex so I was sure surprised. I ate my way around the city, everything from Vietnamese to Salvadoran to Ethiopian to Indian, etc (and Mexican and Tex-Mex too). I love that almost all the cuisines are united by chiles and cilantro! :-)

Debs said...

I´m Indian and agree with both you and Akhila! Mexican food is definitely the closest thing to Indian food, I´ve heard this from both Mexican and Indian friends. The fresh sharp, tangy cilantro and tomato flavours tempered by cumin and a general love of braising remind me so much more of the Indian food we eat at home than what is available in Indian restaurants. Also my Mum makes me buy her tortillas from my local Mexican to use as roti substitutes, she says they´re so much closer to the real deal than store bought rotis.

Kristen Tucker said...

As if I thought I couldn't love you any more than I already did, you go and combine my two FAVORITE cuisines: Mexi and Indian??? I am making this STAT. Thanks for making an awesome recipe collection even awesomer! :)

Kristen

SeattleDee said...

Thanks for the virtual head smack - two cuisines that share some major seasonings make for interesting fusion dishes. As our menusgrow more diverse, just don't forget to enjoy the "originals" too.

Cara said...

GENIUS!! For real!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Jessica--Naan is a perfect fix when you're craving fluffy flour tortillas!

Celeste--Thank you, ma'am!

Koci--The cilantro-mint sauce is pretty refreshing, I must admit.

Theresa--Gracias!

Aless02--Thanks for the paneer recipe!

Olivia--Great to see you again! And that's funny about your husband. I wonder why he doesn't think he likes it?

Mark--You can either make it (there's a recipe up above in the comments) or you could use tofu or another high-melting point cheese such as haloumi.

Theresa--Thank you. Hope you like it!

Lesley--I love the idea of curried-potatoes tacos al vapor! I wonder why the potatoes are so bad in Mexico.

Miss Meat and Potatoes--This was a looooong time ago, but I think it was called Taj Palace. Haven't tried the Clay Pot, yet.

Julie--With all its diversity, Houston's one of the best eating towns in the world.

Debs--I love that y'all substitute flour tortillas for roti!

Kristen--Thank you! And this could just be the beginning--so many Indian and Mexican dishes could be combined, I bet.

Seattle Dee--Nope, I'd never forget the originals!

Cara--Thank you!

Katie@Cozydelicious said...

Lisa, you are amazing! And so right... I mean, Indian and Tex-Mex ARE similar, but i would never have thought of it. Beyond some of the spices there are so many fun dishes to play with I guess a dosa is kind of like a burrito, so a cross would be really fun!

Celeste said...

Agreeing with Katie on the crossover; samosas have some common ground with empanadas.

wubbahed said...

These are like kati rolls but with green sauce... brilliant.

The Katanicks said...

I seriously think we must have been seperated at birth! I'm a native houstionian stuck in MI (for now) and LOVE (and miss) all foods mexican. I have subbed in Indian to fill this craving and Saag Paneer/Paneer Palak are my favs. I'm trying this recipe STAT! Love your recipes, they bring back such happy, yummy memories!

Soma said...

That is one creative fusion!! Amazing.They sound a lot like the vegetarian "Kati Rolls".

I am in Dallas and enjoy the Indian Buffet in Clay Pit.

JT in Houston said...

the chef at jalapenos, Seco has his own place behind the Ben and Jerry's on kirby. You can find the spinach enchiladas there as well as his heavenly corn enchiladas.
The sunday brunch is a must next time you our to our neck o the woods.

Dara said...

My husband and I moved to London from Texas last year and immediately replaced our Tex-Mex cravings with Indian food. You are so right about how similiar the ingredients are in these foods. I can't wait to try out your new recipe! From one homesick Texan to another, I really enjoy your blog and appreciate all the great recipes you put out there for us to try.

{Clockwork Lemon} said...

This is genus! I can't wait to try it!

I have made my own paneer on occasion because it's fairly hard to find where I live, i'll have to dig up my recipe for it again.

Jodi said...

These sound great, and I can't wait to try them! One question (I may be blind), how much buttermilk are you supposed to use in the sauce? I couldn't find that on the ingredients list. Thanks for all of the awesome recipes!

Gretchen said...

When I moved to London from the US nine years ago, I missed Mexican food more than anything. Once I discovered Indian food, though, my withdrawal pains for burritos, tacos and enchiladas disappeared.

What a great idea to combine the two foods. You will certainly introduce Indian food to a wider audience with this recipe. Well done!

Chitra said...

Love this and your photos. I host an Indian mexican supper club in brooklyn if you'd like to come contact me! Here is a link to one of the suppers:
http://abcdsofcooking.blogspot.com/2010/03/my-first-supper-club.html

Anonymous said...

Jalapenos in Houston has reemerged as Seco's off Kirby towards Rice Village behind Ben and Jerry's. They still make the spinach enchiladas!

Cute Banana said...

oh. my. gawd. YES.

Bliss Doubt said...

Brilliant! I have often considered the idea of somehow combining Indian food and Mexican food, even to the point of putting a teaspoon of chile powder in my veggie curry once, but couldn't think of a way to take it further. Can't wait to try these enchiladas.

Mama Holli said...

SEnding you some good old Link Love today!

BA said...

Ah I loved Jalapeno's! Buffalo Grille has surprisingly good spinach enchiladas (and you can add chicken) with a cream sauche.

Marie said...

Love the thought of this mashup. Made me smile.

Denise Michaels - Adventurous Foodie said...

My husband Ernie is originally from India - and he enjoys Indian food but he really loves Mexican food, too. Having spent the last 30-something years in the SouthWest he's a big fan of enchiladas, burritos and fajitas. (Not too keen on guacamole unfortunately.)

This is actually a very smart idea. Indian ingredients in sort of a Mexican kind of presentation.

will said...

Ah, very nice. I've been planning these very enchilads for ages now, since I landed in SF and had good Indian food. (Austin didn't cut it.) I dub it Tex-MIndian food. Also try out making Chicken Tikka Enchiladas. Soo good.

Kitty (My Husband Hates Veggies) said...

I think paneer cheese may be a great way to add a "meaty" addition to dishes on those very rare occasions when I try to get my husband to go vegetarian for the night. Gotta try this one!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Katie--I agree, I plan on pursuing this further!

Celeste--They are!

Wubbahed--They are like kati rolls!

The Katanicks--So happy to hear I'm not the only one!

Soma--I hadn't thought of that, but yes! And another vote for Clay Pit, I must try that place!

JT--Oh, good to know!

Dara--Thank you! And London has great Indian food!

Clockwork Lemon--If you look up in the comments you'll see a recipe, though it's pretty much the same recipe as this one for Mexican <a href="http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2009/10/homemade-cheese-queso-blanco.html> queso blanco</a>.

Jodi--1/4 cup of buttermilk. I fixed the recipe--thanks for the catch!

Gretchen--I figure if someone loves Tex-Mex, they should love Indian food, as well.

Chitra--Sounds great! Thanks for letting me know!

Bliss Doubt--Hope you enjoy them!

Mama Holli--Gracias.

BA--Buffalo Grille is great!

Marie--Happy to make you smile.

Denise--That just leaves more guacamole for you!

Will--That does sound good!

Kitty--It's a wonderful way to add a meaty addition to vegetarian dishes.

glutenfreesc said...

That combination sounds wonderful! I'm another American expat in the UK (Virginia) who has been substituting Indian food for the similar use of spices. I got hooked on it back in the US because the combinations sounded good. :)

Hmm, now I'm plotting some Tex-Mex style burritos wrapped in dosas, which are handily gluten-free anyway...

Tamara said...

Loved 'em, the peeps are raving too. About to go get seconds. Super yum, and a great dish for my annual Thanksgiving potluck at a Texas company with lots of vegetarians who were raised in India. Fab.
(1) My yogurt curdled the moment I put it in the saag (it was ok anyway) (2) Tasted the saag before rolling into tortillas, added a 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala and more cayenne to kick it up (3) put green salsa on half, or the non-cilantro peeps, and it's a tasty addition/replacement (4) smothered in plain grated white cheese, mozzerella but jack would be good, before baking 'cause the peeps just didn't believe enchiladas wouldn't be covered in cheesy goodness.
Wow, what a great response, even from doubters in my culinary audience. THANKS.

chai chica said...

What a wonderful idea! I can't wait to try it out -- mostly because it combines my two heritages. My father is Indian (Gujarati) and my mother is Mexican-American. I've long noticed the connection between the two cuisines and certainly the cumin and cilantro link. Growing up, my brother and I always knew when Indian people were coming for dinner because that was the rare occasion my mother would roll up her sleeves and cook an enchilada dinner with rice and beans. Incidentally there is a huge Portuguese influence in Goa. One thought would be to make chicken or paneer tikka enchiladas.

N said...

I've always kept a mental list of the many similarities between Indian food & Tex-Mex--grew up eating both, as my parents are from Indian and my dad worked for a Tex-Mex restaurant chain for years! no surprise, really, given the ingredients and flavors in common.

there's a new place here in Houston, Lisa, that you'd probably like--Bombay Pizza Company. they have a saag paneer pizza that's pretty fantastic, as I'm sure these enchiladas also are.

Ann said...

I'm indian and love Tex-mex food, I've never even thought of this combo - you are one smart lady!

Connie said...

Was the Indian buffet you frequented in Austin by any chance Chola Indian Restaurant? It's in Round Rock and has the best lunch buffet. Austin coaxed me to love Indian food too :)

Q in Miami said...

I'm new to reading this blog but am likewise a homesick Texan, in my case now in deep south Florida (where most all the politicos seem like Texan-wannabees). Made these enchiladas last night with farmer's market fresh spinach (a huge bunch => 14.5 oz of leaves) and almost 10 oz. of local goat paneer. And Whole Foods whole wheat tortillas - after de-stemming all that spinach, ran out of time to make fresh ones(next time!) Added one whole Monroe avocado to the sauce, cutting out half the yogurt, along with 1/2 can of Salsa Herdez instead of a jalapeno. It Was Amazingly Great Food!!! Sort of Saag Paneer Enchiladas with minty Ninfa's green sauce, if you can imagine.

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