Beet greens and turnip tops are among the most underrated edible foliage in the garden. Susan recently forwarded an email to me from Saveur magazine that contained a mouthwatering recipe for saag paneer. The savory Indian spinach dish is seasoned with fragrant garam masala and uses cubes of homemade cheese that are pan fried before serving. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. I salivate just thinking about the dish.
One week later, strolling through the Capitol City Farmer’s Market I spotted beautiful spring beets with their big leaves still attached. Susan and I included them, along with bunches of young bok choy, in our weekly market basket and I immediately thought of making saag paneer with the beet tops. Then I sang my turnip happy song when I spotted young white turnips with their tops still on, too. Roasted turnips make me swoon, but I’ll write poetry about them another time.
Ha! Who needs spinach? Although the traditional recipe for saag paneer is based on spinach, I am not afraid to modify. In place of the one leafy green I used two others: beet tops and turnip greens, plus sliced bok choy and chopped asparagus, to form my fresh green base.
Also, being short on time, I did not spend three hours making cheese from scratch but substituted halloumi style Golden Greek cheese from Ballard Family Dairy in Gooding. I bought it at Boise Co-op.
The heady, exotic fragrance of the ginger, garlic and garam masala that season this dish turns the simple act of cooking into mouthwatering kitchen therapy. Be prepared to drool.
Modified Saag Paneer
Adapted from recipe at Saveur.com
½ pound halloumi style Golden Greek cheese
6 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed and chopped
1 bunch beet greens, washed, trimmed and chopped
1 bunch turnip tops, washed, trimmed and chopped
1 bunch baby bok choy, washed and chopped
½ bunch asparagus, washed, snapped and chopped
½ tsp garam masala
1-2 pinches cayenne
6 TBL heavy cream
Cut the cheese into 1-inch by ½ -inch pieces. Heat ghee in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add cheese and fry until golden brown all over, 4-6 minutes. Transfer cheese with a slotted spatula to a plate and set aside. Set aside skillet with ghee.
Put ginger, garlic, jalapeno and ¼ cup water into a blender and puree to a smooth paste. Return skillet with ghee to stove and heat over medium-high heat. Add ginger-garlic paste and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 30 seconds. Add beet greens, turnip tops, bok choy and asparagus; season lightly with salt and cook, stirring often, until greens wilt, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring often, until greens are very soft, 10-15 minutes. Stir in garam masala, cayenne to taste, and cream.
Add fried cheese to skillet, cover, and continue cooking until liquid thickens and greens are silky soft, about 15 minutes more.
Last Saturday was the 2011 season opener at the Capital City Farmer’s Market in downtown Boise. It was good to see several familiar vendors, like the man from the Almond Tree, whose reliable presence and stoic stance make him a familiar fixture. Susan and I always swing past his table for a sample, and he often greets us by wryly commenting, “These aren’t very good, you know.” His crunchy, candied almonds top my first salad of spring.
This year Susan and I have a mission. We’ll shop the farmer’s market on Saturday, purchase the same foods, then compare what each of us does with the ingredients. This week we selected fresh beet greens, candied almonds, organic leeks, wedges of Petite Basque (an aged sheep’s milk cheese), and the “Southern” dried seasoning blend from Molly’s Mills.
I opted to create the obvious: Soothing bowls of leek-miso soup to counteract chilly springtime breezes, and a tender beet green salad with a simple dressing made using freshly squeezed orange juice and tangy orange zest. The following recipes will make two salads and two small bowls of soup. Add a loaf of crusty bread (fresh from the market, of course) to round out the meal.
2 small leeks, split lengthwise, rinsed and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 TBL butter
1 ½ cups water
2 TBL white miso
Dash of salt
Melt butter in medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Pour water into pan. Add miso. Heat until almost simmering. Do not boil. Maintain gentle heat and allow to steep while preparing the salad. Before serving, season to taste with a dash or two of salt.
Beet green salad:
1 bunch beet greens
1 Fuji apple, cored and diced
1 small wedge Petite Basque cheese, cut into small dice.
A handful or two of candied almonds
Wash and tear beet greens. Divide between two salad bowls. Top each with half the diced apple, half the cheese, and a handful of almonds.
1 large orange
About ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp Molly’s Mills “Southern” seasoning (smoked garlic, dried lime, sea salt, rainbow pepper)
Using a microplane grater, zest half the orange. Place zest in a glass one-cup measure. Juice the orange; pour into one-cup measure with zest. Measure juice, then add half the amount of olive oil (you should have 2 parts orange juice, 1 part olive oil). Add Southern seasoning. Adjust taste. Pour over salad.