I’ll never forget about that evening in November 2014 when one of my best buddies took me for dinner for my very first time to an Indian restaurant. Back then I had just arrived in Singapore since a couple of weeks, and I had no clue what to expect from that award-winning restaurant located in that very charming corner of Pasir Panjang road.
I knew about Indian temples, their Bollywood movies and colourful clothing, but what about their Cuisine? Honestly, I had absolutely no idea and his dinner plan was giving me mixed feelings.
I was definitely excited to try something new, but at the same time worried to end up chewing some awkward food. Come on, empathise with me. I grew up in a 2,000 people town in the Southern part of Italy, where all I had for my entire life was my mom’s homemade food. How would you feel?
Before walking into the restaurant, I took my phone, put “Indian Cuisine” into Google, et voilà, here’s what I got:
Indian food, for many, is a very confusing mix of spices, but it is this magical fusion and its intoxicating aroma that makes the food so unique.
Well... I must say that I was feeling way more convinced now. My eyes focused on those 2 keywords “Magical” - “Fusion” and I was so excited to try that new food out that I literally could no longer wait for the long queue to be gone.
Once inside, everything on the menu looked so yummy, so much so that I ended up relying on my pal’s recommendations to decide on what to order: Palak Paneer, Dal and some Naan.
Coming to the food itself, and trust me when I say so, I was absolutely blown away by the taste and texture of it. That Palak Paneer was just...extraordinary! Flavourful, tasty, and balanced...like nothing I ever had before and something that took my taste buds to the next level!
I believe that with Indian Cuisine it was love at first sight, so much so that after 5 years, I still consider Palak Paneer the real Deal. Of course I tried many more dishes, but Palak Paneer is still my first choice whenever I come to think of it.
However, while I simply love the taste experience of it, I am also a very healthy conscious individual when it comes to food. That’s why I have been scratching my head for the past weeks to crack this burning question:
Is there a way to make Palak Paneer Healthier?
I asked this question to Bonani Hazarika, a professional food stylist and recipe creator from India. She is an extremely passionate and driven individual, and her main interest is about giving healthy twists to traditional Indian recipes without diminishing the authentic taste and flavour of dishes. Here’s her thoughts.
First and Foremost, What is Palak Paneer?
Ask any Indian about their most favorite dishes and Palak Paneer will definitely be at least among the Top 5.
Palak Paneer is one of the most beloved dishes in my Country. Redolent with freshly ground spices and featuring fresh palak leaves - spinach in English - coating chunks of Paneer speaks delight for Indians. Not only in India, Palak Paneer is a dish that has been well received in international platforms as well. The Paneer used in Palak Paneer is a freshly prepared cheese commonly made in the Indian subcontinent.
Indians love fried food and they consume more oil as compared to others, and probably even more than Western people.
However, with healthy cooking and eating being the current social norm, there has been a sudden spike in the use of healthy cooking oils, with extra virgin olive oil leading the way.
Can extra virgin olive oil be used for Indian cooking?
General population believe that extra virgin olive oil is unfit for Indian cooking as it is believed that it does not perform well under high temperatures. Many believe that this cooking fat breaks down when heated up and loses its health benefits.
But how true are these anecdotes? Mainstream engines of science have done a marvellous job in this field, and plenty of scientific evidence were found. This new knowledge allows us today to differentiate - with a fairly high degree of confidence - the Truth from popular believes.
There are a couple of key points worth mentioning here:
The fact that extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point is a myth! Really good quality extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than other cooking fats. It ranges roughly between 190 to 220°C (375 to 430°F) - which is well above the standard temperatures required for cooking.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil increases the beneficial value of food as also found by this recent peer-reviewed study.
Extra virgin olive oil retains its health benefits when heated at high temperatures.
Basically there is no scientific evidence suggesting that extra virgin olive oil is not safe when heated at standard cooking temperatures. Contrary, all body of research seems to point toward a common direction:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is safe during heating and should actually be the desirable cooking oil when compared with others.
This is confirmed by a very recent study published in the journal Acta Scientific Nutritional Health which highlights that
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Safest, Most Stable for Cooking
Due to the low level of free fatty acids in it, extra virgin olive oil performs extremely well in high temperature cooking and thus there is absolutely no issue to use it in Indian cooking.
High smoke point is not the only advantage of using extra virgin olive oil when it comes to cooking Indian food.
Nutritionally, extra virgin olive oil has a high proportion of good unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats contain monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, and extra virgin olive oil is rich in both. From medical perspective, unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated fats leads to a reduction in cardiovascular diseases along with other numerous health benefits.
The Art of Homemaking: How to Make a Delicious yet Healthy Palak Paneer?
Cooking Time: 30-45 minutes
Serves: 2 people
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 3 tablespoon of Timperio Gentile
Fresh spinach leaves - 300 grams
Paneer - 200 grams
Onions - 2 medium
Garlic - 10-12 cloves
Ginger - 1 small piece
Green Chilli - 2
Tomatoes - 2 medium
Cumin Seeds - 1 teaspoon
Kasoori Methi - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric Powder - 1 teaspoon
Salt - 2 teaspoons or as per taste
Coriander Powder - 2.5 teaspoon
Cumin Powder - 1.5 teaspoon
Red Chilli Powder - 1 teaspoon
Garam Masala - 1 teaspoon
Fresh cow cream - 2 tablespoon
Coriander leaves - 1 tablespoon
Clean the spinach leaves properly. Make sure they do not carry any soil particles or mud.
Once cleaned, blanch the spinach. For blanching, boil the spinach for 2-3 minutes. They do not need to be completely cooked. Put the boiled spinach directly on ice cold water.
Make a puree of spinach leaves and keep it aside for later use.
Heat 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds and kasoori methi. Let the cumin seeds crackle.
Next, add roughly chopped ginger, garlic, green chilies, and onion to the oil. Saute until the onions start turning brown.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes or until they are half-cooked.
Turn the heat off and let the sauteed mixture cool down.
Once cold, make a puree of the sauteed mixture.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the same pan. Once the oil gets heated, add turmeric powder and red chilli powder to the oil. Saute for a few seconds.
Add the spinach puree and the sauteed mixture puree to the pan. Keep sauting until you see a change in the green color of the mixture. Taste it to see if the mixture has cooked.
Next add the coriander powder, cumin powder, and garam masala powder and saute for 3-4 minutes.
At last, add salt as per personal preference.
Serve hot with a slight garnish of fresh cream and chopped coriander leaves.
In case you want the dish to be completely vegan, replace fresh cow cream with coconut cream, and Paneer with vegan paneer (tofu based).
If you want to have a meal richer in natural antioxidant, replace Timperio Gentile with Timperio Organic bio/olio.