New Casserole Recipe! Baked Spinach & Cheese, Indian-Style

Thursday March 31, 2011

Not Your Mother’s Casseroles maybe be done, printed, and on the shelves, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve quit making casseroles! Here’s a new one that I baked up last week. I was making an Indian-inspired dinner, with rice, cucumber salad, spiced meatballs, and a coconut-banana pudding for dessert. I was craving spicy greens and a bit of that squeaky Indian cheese known as paneer. But I also was craving a casserole, and so this delicious Indian-inspired gratin was born.

I tossed frozen greens (so inexpensive and convenient!) with the basic staples of Indian flavor: Onion, garlic, ginger, and a few spices. You don’t need a whole spice cupboard for this recipe – just a handful of mustard seeds and the Indian spice mixture called garam masala.

The result was a spiced (but not too spicy!) dish, full of the warm, toasty flavor of these spices, and the rich toothsome greens. There were bits of gooey, delicious cheese scattered throughout the dish, and a topping of crunchy almonds. This may not be traditional Indian cooking, but it has all the flavors I love there in the generous, convenient format of a casserole.

The book itself has plenty of other casseroles inspired by Indian cooking. I love the baked rice biryani dishes, and my own interpretation of tomato and chicken curry, which bakes up tender and fragrant in the oven.

Buy the book! Not Your Mother’s Casseroles, $11.05 at Amazon

Baked Spinach & Paneer with Ginger & Spices
serves 6

2 pounds frozen chopped turnip greens or kale
2 pounds frozen chopped spinach
12 ounces paneer or queso fresco, well-drained
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds

Heat the oven to 375°F. Put the frozen chopped greens in a large colander in the sink, and run water over them for a few minutes, or until they are partially defrosted. Leave them in the sink to drain.

Heat a large, wide skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is getting quite hot, add the oil. While waiting for the pan to heat up, cut the paneer or queso fresco into 1-inch cubes. Pat them as dry as possible with a paper towel. When the oil is hot, add the cheese cubes and fry them, without stirring, for about 4 minutes. Then flip and fry for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until a golden color begins to appear on the other side. Remove the cheese from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook over medium to medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Do not let the onion or garlic scorch. When the onion is quite tender, add the mustard seeds. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until the seeds begin to pop out of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the garam masala and salt.

Wring as much moisture as possible out of the chopped, defrosted greens. Use a paper towel to blot them, or spin them in a salad spinner, and then put them in a large bowl. Stir in the cooked onions and spices. Stir in the salt, yogurt, and beaten eggs.

Spread this mix in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the chopped almonds and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes or until the spinach and cheese are getting hot and bubbly. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes to brown the top. Serve with Spiced Lamb Meatballs and basmati rice.

(Images: Faith Durand)

Your Comments

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  1. Lydia 05/04/2011 at 6:00 pm

    Faith, you never mention when the paneer/queso fresco should be reintroduced to the casserole. Is it pulled apart and sprinkled on top? I made this dish this weekend and did just that, but after frying the cheese it all stuck together in a clump and I had to break it up into pieces.

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