Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meat Saag

Prior to this week, I had only made Saag Paneer, which involves making your own cheese, a laborious and time-consuming task. It's also among the fattiest of Indian dishes, since the cheese is full fat and is fried in oil, and the spinach sauce (saag) is loaded with cream. This is one of those times when going with meat can actually lighten the fat load. Bizarre!

Now, I did not have very much meat available in the freezer that would work in a saag, and I was hesitant to buy more meat, since none was on sale and we're trying to fit into our budget. So, my choices were a very meager amount of chicken (8 oz. to last 2 nights for 3 people), or ground beef. Beef would have never been an Indian's choice, for obvious reasons, but since we do eat beef, I thought this would work out OK. Now, this was ground beef, and not cubed, making it a double-exception to the meat rule. Saag traditionally employs cubed meat (or cheese). I could have made meatballs from the beef to achieve a better resemblance to the original, but as I was sick (and tired), I really couldn't be bothered.

If I had a little more budget room to play with (and this is a matter of timing in the cycle of our budget more than anything else), we might have gone with another meat. Some of the best choices would be: bison, lamb or chicken, but I think pork would also work. Make sure to get tender cuts of any meat (so even if using beef, choose cubed sirloin, not stew beef), because this is not a slow-cooking recipe.

Half of the fat issue is addressed by the meat. Leaner cuts of meat also tend to be more tender. Also, because the meat can be cooked using little fat other than its own, frying oil can be kept to a minimum, or left off entirely. The remaining fat issue is the cream in the saag. I solve that by using low-fat yogurt instead. Nonfat wouldn't give you the creamy consistency you're looking for, but low-fat has enough fat in it to make the sauce a bit creamy (though certainly not as unctuous as cream). It's not authentic, but it does taste quite good. Clearly, I'm not shy about compromising authenticity for the sake of health.

This recipe is fairly loosely based on this one. My version is below:

Meat Saag
2 bunches fresh spinach, washed well and trimmed of stems
1/2 c. water
1 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 lb. cubed meat of your choice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt
salt, to taste

In a large saucepan, cook the spinach and water over medium high heat, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Put the cooked spinach and water into a blender and puree until relatively smooth.

In the same large saucepan (dried), add the oil. Brown the meat over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and onion. Cook until the meat is well coated with the spice mixture, and the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, cooking until they soften and start to fall apart. Add the pureed spinach, cooking about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens a bit. Add the yogurt and season with salt. Serve over brown basmati rice.

Serves 6-8.

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