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.
I’ve been feeling unusually giddy lately. My husband and I are a few weeks away from celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. So last Friday night I kidnapped the man and turned him into my love slave. The next morning I released him so we could share an enjoyable breakfast and a stroll through the Saturday farmer’s market together.
Our hideout for the night was a ninth-floor lookout at The Grove Hotel in downtown Boise. My request for a room with a view was answered with a quiet end unit that, in one direction, looked down Eighth Street toward the foothills. We left the drapes on the plate glass window open throughout the evening, using the downtown skyline as our personal night light.
The next morning, under cloudy springtime skies we could see the farmer’s market vendors setting up their tables and portable canopies along the Eighth Street corridor.
After checking out of the hotel we stowed our bags in our car. Locking them up, we stepped into brisk morning air and opted to bypass the perpetual crowd waiting outside of Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro for a table. Instead we walked two blocks north to an under-the-radar gem, the terrific Le Café De Paris.
A pair of strong cappuccinos and a chocolate-almond croissant were barely touched before our breakfast arrived. Hardly a word was spoken as we savored dishes that were impossibly light yet unquestionably satisfying.
Thick Kurobuta ham slices in the perfectly poached duck eggs Benedict had my husband in throes of food ecstasy. I relished every heavenly bite of pain perdu (French toast) made from the French bistro’s tender, handmade brioche. Eating it was almost dreamlike, its texture so light and delicate that I wondered whether I’d really eaten it at all.
Adequately refueled, we headed west one block to the Capitol City Farmer’s Market, where we met up with my friend and usual farmer’s market companion, Susan. Bunches of bok choy and turnips, a couple of sweet winter carrots and a bag of fresh morel mushrooms were among the locally grown produce that made their way into my shopping bag.
“I feel like I’ve had a mini-vacation,” my husband told other friends we bumped into while strolling past the vendors lined up along the four-block stretch of Eighth Street. As warm spring sunshine gently eased the morning chill my honey and I headed home, looking forward to enjoying our official anniversary getaway.