Saag Paneer With Goat Cheese

A melding of Jewish traditions.

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saag paneer

Goats have always played in important role in Jewish life. In Leviticus 16, the Torah reading chanted on Yom Kippur morning tells of the ritual where the High Priest would confess all the sins of the Israelites over one goat, and then send that goat off into the wilderness (it's where the term scapegoat comes from). A goat also has the starring role in the popular Passover song Had Gadya.

At Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, the kitchen staff has developed a dish that combines the goat cheese made on-premises at Adamah Dairy with traditional Indian fare to create a tasty saag paneer. Indian food isn't foreign to the Jewish world; Jewish food historian Gil Marks has documented a curry-loving Jewish community in Mumbai called Bene Israel. Others have found lingering signs of a Jewish enclave that thrived in earlier generations in the city of Kochi.

You don't have to be able to name every goat cameo in the Torah--nor know all of the many places that Jewish cuisine has picked up flavors--to appreciate the recipes that result from our rich culinary history. Jump right in with this recipe, which uses fresh chevre, greens, onions, and Indian spices.

Based on recipes from the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, with special thanks to Isabella Freedman cook Timothy Hemenway.

Ingredients



3 Tablespoons olive oil or ghee
1 large onion, diced
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon garam masala or other curry spice mix
2 lbs spinach, rinsed well and coarsely chopped, or kale, shredded
1/2 cup water or dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
back pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons butter or heavy cream (optional)
4 oz chevre goat cheese, or homemade goat milk farmer's cheese
Basmati rice, cooked

Yield:

serves 6-8

Categories: Side Dish, Cheesy, Indian, Vegetarian, Shabbat

Directions

In a large pot with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil or ghee on medium-high. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow to caramelize for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high again and add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Sautee for 5 minutes. Add the curry and toast for another 30 seconds.

Add the water or white wine and swish the liquid to deglaze the pot. Add the salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced by about half. Add half of the spinach or kale, cover, simmer for 2-3 minutes. The greens will cook down considerably. Add the other half and fold in the raw greens so that they com in contact with the hot liquid.

Cover again and simmer until tender, another 5-10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To serve, spoon rice onto individual dishes and top with the onion and greens mixture. Use a tablespoon to scoop out a portion of goat cheese, then use a smaller spoon to scrape small pieces onto each serving. Eat with a flatbread such as roti, naan, or chapati, if desired, and accompany with raita made with goat or cow yogurt.

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Rhea Yablon Kennedy

Rhea Yablon Kennedy's work has appeared in The Washington Post,The Jewish Daily Forward, Washington Jewish Week, Grist, and the travel anthology Whereabouts: Stepping Out of Place (2Leaf Press). Rhea has long been a cook by hobby and sometimes by profession. She currently teaches English and writing at Gallaudet University.