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Cook It Light

Take Calories Out of Indian Dish

May 19, 1988|JEANNE JONES | Jones is a consultant on menu planning, recipes and new-product development for major hotels and spas. She is also the author of 18 cookbooks. and

A few years ago I spent several weeks in India and developed a real love for their cuisine. I am delighted to see so many more authentic Indian restaurants opening up all throughout this country. The only problem with Indian cooking from a calorie standpoint is the amount of oil used in cooking so many of the traditional dishes.

My own favorite vegetarian Indian dish is called palak paneer. It is a combination of spicy pureed spinach and milk curd cheese.

The classic recipe calls for a lot of oil in which to cook the spices before combining them with the pureed spinach. It also uses whole milk to make the curd cheese. I like my version even better than the original--and feel I can have it more often.

It is also the only recipe I have ever created in which I feel chopped, frozen spinach works as well as fresh spinach. It is so heavily spiced that the flavor and color of the spinach is masked anyway and since it is pureed, the texture is not important.

Surrounded by Tomatoes

Even though the classical Indian version doesn't call for serving this dish with tomatoes, I happen to love the combination of flavor, texture and color the tomatoes provide. Try serving palak paneer with peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes or half slices of tomato surrounding the bed of spinach.

It is typically served as a side dish, but with the tomato and spinach combination it makes a wonderful appetizer course, served at room temperature, hot or cold. For a truly impressive dish, try serving it in hollowed-out tomato cups.

A word of caution: Turmeric may turn your food processor's plastic parts yellow, so if this is a problem, mix it into the spinach mixture in a glass bowl after pureeing the spinach with the rest of the spices.


2 (10-ounce) packages chopped frozen spinach

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon oil

1 quart non-fat milk

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or in halved slices, optional

Place frozen spinach and water in 3-quart saucepan and bring to boil. Cover and simmer until spinach is completely thawed.

Combine coriander, chili powder, turmeric, cumin, ginger, salt and pepper with oil and cook over low heat 1 minute, being careful spices do not burn. Place spinach and cooked spices in food processor and blend until very smooth. Set aside.

Pour non-fat milk into 3-quart saucepan and slowly bring to boil. Add buttermilk and gently stir until curds (lumps) appear and liquid becomes clear.

Pour mixture into cheesecloth-lined bowl. Gather ends of cheesecloth together and gently twist so liquid drains from cheese. Place cheese (still in cloth) on flat surface. Place saucepan filled with water on top of cheese and let stand 20 minutes.

Unwrap cheese and cut in small cubes. Divide cubed cheese among 4 au gratin dishes and top with spinach mixture. Surround with tomatoes. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 (3/4 cup) servings.

Each serving contains approximately:

Calories: 200

Cholesterol: 7 mg.

Fat: 5 gm.

Sodium: 628 mg.

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