I seem to get into habits with food. There was a solid four month period when all I wanted to eat was crepes. Dinner crepes with spinach, pear, blue cheese, walnuts + honey. I had just discovered a love of blue cheese, and my pear commitment was unwavering, so this combination hit just the right note. I proceeded to make this dish at least once a week, sometimes two. Yes, crepes for dinner twice a week. I never got bored with them.
Then there was the tacos kick. This was at least more flexible: I could have beans and guacamole, or fish tacos with jicama. The shells could be soft or hard. The flavors could even have a distinctly asian bent. It didn't really matter as long as the essence was taco. During this phase, I discovered a fact that seemed blatantly obvious in hindsight but filled my mind with deep wonder upon discovery: hard shell tacos were hard because their were fried. Whoa. These are the kinds of discoveries that only come through sheer dedication to a food genre.
The saag paneer obsession hit when I was living in Ottawa, in a neighborhood I affectionately named "Little Ethnica." Compared to Toronto, New York or DC -- all places I'd lived before -- Ottawa was small. In Toronto, there are massive city blocks full of delicious ethnic food: Chinatown, Koreatown, Little India and Little Portugal. The same is true in New York and DC. But for some reason, Ottawa jams all this goodness into one small neighborhood. A mashup of Italian, Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese. And we lived smack-dab in the middle of all that deliciousness.
At the end of our short street, there was an Indian grocer. My husband, who was working from home at the time, would often pop by for lunch and buy two samosas in a small, brown paper bag. Lunch for a dollar. Who could beat that?
But me, I loved the chapati. I don't know what they put in that flatbread but somehow it was darker, thicker, and more delicious than normal chapati. Half the time they were sold out: too much demand for that glutinous fare. So if I could get it, I was bringing it the 20 feet back to my apartment. Everytime. And we were making saag, even if it was the second time that week.
At least my saag paneer kick was healthy. This dish basically involves taking as much spinach and/or mustard greens as you can find and then pureeing them into a 1/100th of their original size. I am sure you get 10 vegetable servings in one dish. Well, at least two. And the fried cheese? Much like those hard shell tacos, paneer elevates the whole dish. If not healthy, then delicious.
When I headed to the farmers market two weeks ago, I discovered some early spring kale. Less strong tasting and bitter than it's grown up, fall variety, I knew exactly what to do with it. Although the Indian store is now half a mile away, I picked up some chapati and paneer, added some spinach and headed home. Chapati could only mean one thing: it was saag time.