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.)
Back in culinary school I took an elective in Indian cooking. One of the dishes we made along the way was dal makhani, a stew made of urad dal (also known as Indian black lentils or black gram), kidney beans, ginger, garlic, garam masala, tomato and plenty of butter and cream. (There’s something quite satisfying about being able to unwrap a whole stick of butter and just drop it into a pot of stew.) The recipe was simple, rich and easy to make in bulk. Definitely a keeper.
This recipe was a fortuitous accident. I soaked some beans with the intention of just cooking them with a ham hock or bacon or salt pork: whatever was in the freezer. After they had soaked overnight, I realized my freezer was entirely pork-free. (I really have no idea how that happened, but I’ll do my best to keep it from happening again.) Anyway, I was left with already soaked beans and nothing to do with them.
I saw these in Gourmet a few years back. I was looking for something chocolate for my Christmas party that year. They looked a bit fussy, but also very rich: perfect for the holidays. That first time I made them mostly as shown in the magazine: chocolate and mint. A few hours into the party, people started commenting on the brownies. “What’s in these?” “They’re so good.” “I can’t stop eating them.” and eventually “I know if I eat one more of these brownies, I’m going to die, but yet I can’t stop myself from eating it. They’re like crack.” Ever since, they’ve been known as Eli’s Crack Brownies.
As I said a few days ago, I love winter squash. Really, I love fall cooking in general. I love the deep, rich flavors. I love root vegetables. I love anything roasted. Hell, I love that I can turn on the oven without making the house unbearably hot. I love the hearty, comforting foods. I love soup. I love the Maillard reaction. I love that somehow, when the weather gets cooler, I can add more butter and not feel (as) guilty. I love coming in from a crisp day to a house that smells like cooking. This soup is a great example of why I love fall food. Rich, earthy butternut squash, sweet pears and warm spices, all in one steaming hot bowl (with a chill streak of crème fraîche to make you grateful to be sitting in a warm kitchen.)
I think it’s rather obvious at this point that I’m a big fan of pickles. It’s possible that I like making pickles even more than I like eating them. Possible, but it’s a close call. One of my favorite parts of making pickles is the waiting. You do all the work up front, but you can’t tell how they’ll turn out for weeks. Maybe someone with a bit more experience in pickle-making could taste a pickle that hasn’t been aged and tell immediately what it will be like in a week or a month, but not me. I’m not in a hurry to learn though; that anticipation is great. There’s always some chance that when you crack open the jar, it will turn out to be horrible…and that’s happened to me a few times. But it makes the times it does work that much better.