The Recipe

Indian Spinach and Flatbread
palak paneer and roti

As Shweta Galway from Umreth, Gujarat State, India, taught Lindsay Sterling in Freeport, Maine, 2014

Serves 6
Cooking time: 1 hr

3 cups atta flour*
6 Tbsp olive oil (separated)
8-10 oz. panner, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes*
(or 4 cups whole milk and 1 Tbsp lemon juice and cheese cloth)
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 boxes frozen creamed spinach, thawed
2 tsp garam masala powder*
1/2 tsp chili powder (optional)
2 pounds frozen chopped spinach
1/2 tsp salt

*Find these ingredients (atta flour, paneer and garam masala) at your local Indian supermarket. Click here to find Indian markets in your area. In Maine, I go to Masala Mahal, 798 Main St., South Portland, ME, 207-699-5555. Note: you can make your own paneer out of whole milk and lemon juice very easily. See below for recipe. You can also substitute whole milk ricotta. If you do, don't cook it or mix it in -- you don't want it to disappear. Just add dollups of it in the end.

Mix flour, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and 3/4 cup water with hands and knead for 3-5 minutes until a smooth dough forms, mixing in water slowly to bring the dough together. When dough is smooth and the sides of the bowl are completely clean, then form a ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Fry paneer pieces in 1 Tbsp oil on medium heat in saute pan until golden and dry on paper towels. If using ricotta, do not cook now. Simply add spoonfulls to the final heated spinach dish. The idea is to have chunks of cheese, not cheese mixed in.

Add another Tbsp oil to pan and fry onions and garlic until soft. Mix in creamed and chopped spinach. Mix in garam masala, chili powder, and salt. Add paneer and let sit with the heat off while finishing making the flatbread. (If using whole ricotta just top the spinach with it but don't mix it in. It's nice to have the chunks of cheese stay in tact as opposed to mixed in.)

Heat a dry iron skillet or frying pan on high heat on the stovetop. Pull off a piece of the dough and form into a ball about the diameter of a quarter. Press the ball between the palms of your hands repeatedly so the dough turns into the shape of a smooth, round river stone. (To get the hand position Shweta did, put the four fingers of one hand in between the thumb and pointer finger of the other hand and the dough in between your palms. Wrap fingers around the backs of the hands. Squeeze hands together tightly. Rotate dough in hands and squeeze again, repeating three or four times to get the smoothest, roundest shape possible. (The more circular the shape is that you start with, the better odds you have of rolling it out into a perfect circle).

Roll dough into as perfect a circle shape as you can (it takes practice, but no matter what the shape, it always tastes good!), about 1/8th inch thick. Put roti on hot pan 1 minute on each side until the color gets lighter. Then use tongs to hold it directly over high gas flame (if you have gas, if not, just keep it on the pan). The roti if you're lucky will puff up like a pufferfish. Before it burns, turn to other side. Stack roti on serving platter. Continue making more roti until you've finished all the dough. Cover with a towel to keep warm, (or keep warm in a rice cooker until serving). Eat palak paneer by breaking off pieces of roti and scooping up a bite of spinach and cheese.

Homemade Paneer

makes: 12 oz.
cooking time: 30 min

8 cups whole milk
juice of 1 lemon
cheese cloth

Bring 8 cups of milk to a boil. Mix in lemon juice until curds and whey separate. Put a strainer inside a pot and line strainer with 2 layers of cheese cloth, covering the bottom and sides of the strainer and overlapping its edge. Pour curds and whey into the middle of the cheese cloth. Gather the edges of cheese cloth together around the curds and gather the edges of the cheese cloth above them so that now you have essentially a little sac of curds. Twist the sac round with some tongs (it'll be too hot to touch) forcing liquid out of the cheese cloth. Keep twisting until the curds get squeezed tighter and tighter and no more liquid comes out. You may leave it sit in the strainer for a couple minutes until it cools to the touch so you can use your hands to keep twisting to make sure you get all the liquid out. Then put the cheese still in its sac between two plates, and top the plates with cans of food or any other weight so that the cheese presses into a flat shape instead of a round one.  Put the cheese between plates with the weights on top in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2014