Longtime readers know that my dad is an avid gardener. I live a bit more than 200 miles from my parents, so I don’t get to take as much advantage of his garden as I’d like, but a few times a summer I head down there or they come up here. And I always get a few bags full of garden-fresh produce. It’s always more than the three of us can eat before it goes bad, but I try to make use of as much as possible.
Saag paneer (or palak paneer) is one of my favorite Indian dishes. Saag paneer is pretty ubiquitous in Indian restaurants, but it can vary widely from one restaurant to the next. What they (almost) all have in common is a base of chopped or pureed greens in a creamy, spice-laden sauce studded with pieces of paneer. There’s considerable variation in what makes the sauce creamy (cream vs butter vs yogurt), what spices are used (anything from “nothing but garlic and ginger” to “garam masala” to “just about every spice in your cabinet”), how much heat it has and even which greens are used (although spinach is by far the most common.)
For some reason, every year when fall rolls around I find myself spending more time in the kitchen and making more elaborate meals. I’m not sure if it’s because the weather is cooler, so being in a hot kitchen for hours is more pleasant or because I just like fall food more, so I’m more motivated or some other reason entirely. (Or maybe it’s just the association of the whole season with Thanksgiving.) Regardless, I’ve come to regard fall as the time to try out involved, multi-step recipes. This one definitely fits the bill, and it’s well worth it.
I signed up for a CSA box this year, and I can’t quite decide if I like it or not. The quality of the produce has been (mostly) very high and I like the concept of supporting small local farmers, but I’ve found myself going to the farmers market less frequently because I have a fridge full of CSA produce at home and more importantly I miss getting to pick out my own produce. The mix in the CSA box just isn’t what I usually eat. There’s a lot of salad greens…and while I like salad, I think I’d have to eat it every day to keep up with the amount in the boxes. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I can support small, local, organic farmers by simply going to the farmers market and buying their produce there. And not paying for things I don’t particularly want.
But there are some pleasant surprises in the box every week. This week I was happy to see a few small heads of fennel. I’m a big fan of fennel and generally prefer to eat it raw, sliced thin and lightly dressed. I love its anise-y crunch, and I love serving it to people who are sure they won’t like it because they don’t like licorice. Fennel has such a wonderful, subtle, fresh flavor. Continue reading