How Maneet Chauhan Was Inspired To Make The Saag Paneer Pizza At Disney Spring's EET Restaurant - Exclusive

Saag paneer pizza
Saag paneer pizza - EET by Maneet Chauhan
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When we heard Walt Disney World would be teaming up with renowned celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan, we couldn't wait to dig into the resulting restaurant's menu. EET by Maneet Chauhan is a new Indian restaurant at Disney Springs, Walt Disney World's admission-free vacation hub in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. What's more, it's one of only two Indian-inspired eateries at the park. Unlike Sanaa, an Indian-African fusion lounge located in Disney's Animal Kingdom, EET focuses primarily on tantalizing Indian fare — and with James Beard Award of Excellence winner Chauhan at the helm, it makes for an unforgettable Disney dining experience.

Like Chauhan's cookbook, "Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India," the restaurant's menu is filled with flavorful selections. But, EET is a bit less traditional: tandoori chicken poutine, served with creamy makhani sauce in place of traditional gravy, and walking tacos, comprised of a crunchy bed of Indian puffed snacks topped with savory pork chili, chutney, and cotija cheese, are must-try examples. Perhaps the most interesting is EET's saag paneer pizza, which combines a classic Indian dish with a street food staple loved from Naples to New York.

In exclusive comments to Tasting Table, chef Chauhan filled us in on the story — and flavors — behind her newest restaurant. If you can't drop by Disney Springs for a taste of EET's saag paneer pizza, don't fret. The Food Network star gave us her best tips to make this signature dish at home.

Read more: 19 Popular Pizza Chains, Ranked From Worst To Best

How Chauhan Crafted EET's Approachable Indian Menu

Assorted dishes from eet by Maneet Chauhan
Assorted dishes from eet by Maneet Chauhan - EET by Maneet Chauhan

No matter how many Indian menus you've perused, we're willing to bet you've never encountered one quite like EET's. According to Maneet Chauhan, her eponymous eatery was born out of a shared goal to familiarize diners with traditional Indian flavors. Chauhan referred to the year-long process of developing EET's menu as a labor of love. It came about through collaboration with her husband, Vivek, as well as two of the restaurant's executives.

"We wanted to ensure that everyday visitors enjoy the food," Chauhan told Tasting Table. Its spacious, sunny dining room and colorful decor add to the restaurant's inviting atmosphere. At EET, both seasoned Indian food fans and newbies are welcome with open arms.

Chauhan noted that she anticipated that many visitors to Disney Springs may not be acquainted with the flavors and styles of Indian food. "Our goal is to be able to appeal to a larger audience by introducing approachable, Indian-inspired options like our naan pizzas and build-your-own bowls," said Chauhan.

There's no doubt the restaurant's offerings are approachable — in fact, we noticed that many of our fellow diners couldn't help but order and share multiple plates. Still, Chauhan said she was careful in curating EET's menu: "As chefs, we're inclined to go 'off the deep end,' so we made sure to keep scalability in mind every step of the way. After many iterations and helpful feedback, we finally landed on EET's current offerings."

The Inspiration Behind EET's Saag Paneer Pizza

Saag paneer pizza from eet
Saag paneer pizza from eet - Robyn Song/Tasting Table

There are plenty of exceptional dishes on the menu at EET, and saag paneer pizza is certainly one to write home about. At first glance, it looks a bit like a pesto-based variety — though each irresistible slice is filled with creamy paneer cheese and velvety spinach sauce instead. EET's saag paneer pizza is especially dear to Maneet Chauhan's heart, as it's derived from a recipe with rich family ties.

"Saag paneer has been one of my favorite dishes since I was a little kid," she told Tasting Table. "And our kids love it, too! Our kids are our inspiration." Greens and cheese are always a great team, but there's something extra special about this savory, spicy version of spinach pie.

Most Indian food fans can agree that the only thing better than saag paneer is mopping a plate up with some warm, freshly baked naan bread — and it's this perfect pairing that inspired Chauhan's fusion recipe. "When we dine out, we always order naan and saag paneer," the chef explains. "We thought to ourselves, 'Why not combine the two?'" It's a winning formula — the golden-crusted naan provides a pleasantly chewy base, and the rich spinach sauce blends beautifully with seasoned squares of paneer cheese.

Maneet's Tips For Making Homemade Paneer

Cubed paneer cheese and naan
Cubed paneer cheese and naan - Picture Partners/Shutterstock

For the uninitiated, paneer is a tender Indian cheese made by mixing fresh milk with a single acidic ingredient, such as lemon or vinegar. This mild-tasting cheese is somewhat similar to tofu in its appearance, making it easily substitutable, though paneer has a creamier flavor. It's readily available in Indian markets, but store-bought paneer is often too firm to make proper saag paneer. However, Maneet Chauhan has a quick workaround for this issue. "If you're buying pre-made paneer, cut it into cubes and add it to boiling water," Chauhan said. "You can add a little salt and turmeric for color and flavor. Use that paneer for a softer result."

If you're the type who enjoys going the extra mile in the kitchen, consider making your own paneer from scratch. The two-ingredient cheese only requires milk and an acid, though it will take some time (and cheesecloth) to set. Per Chauhan, it's best to use full-fat dairy in your recipe, as low-fat or alternative milk won't yield satisfactory results. "The key is to start with whole milk — the fat makes the paneer richer. As you're making it, don't add too much pressure when pressing it down," she told Tasting Table. "A little water will also make it really soft."

Cooking Chauhan's Saag Paneer Base

Close-up of saag paneer dish
Close-up of saag paneer dish - Sam Thomas A/Shutterstock

For those of you hoping to create saag paneer just like EET's at home, Maneet Chauhan has a few pointers. "At the restaurant, we cook mustard greens and spinach down with fresh ginger, garlic, onions, and garam masala," she says. "This creates the foundation of flavors."

To achieve the correct consistency for the sauce, the chef notes it's crucial to use limited amounts of water during the cooking process. "Saag is a simple recipe, but you have to be careful by not adding too much water," Chauhan said to Tasting Table. If using frozen spinach, squeeze all of the excess moisture out prior to cooking. Remember, you can always add more as needed.

The chef claims to have tried everything when searching for the ideal naan pizza sauce — experimenting with proteins like shrimp and various curries, including vindaloo, as well as several other potential toppings. Some elements of the dish were harder to nail down than others, with Chauhan noting that: "The biggest challenge we faced was streamlining the sauces for this recipe."

The ability to scale batches of the dish while retaining quality was also a prime concern. The "Chopped" star noted the care taken to preserve the integrity of each ingredient. When discussing the saag paneer recipe, Chauhan alluded to the lengthy process involved. "There was a lot of trial and error to make sure these recipes could be replicated by all of our chefs on a much larger scale," she said.

Assembling The Saag Paneer Pizza

eet's saag paneer pizza, pani puri, and naan
eet's saag paneer pizza, pani puri, and naan - Robyn Song/Tasting Table

Of course, the last item you'll need is your pizza's crust — in this case, naan bread. Once you've gathered your ingredients, putting your saag paneer pizza together is as easy as pie. Take it from Maneet Chauhan, who lays out EET's official assembly process step-by-step. "We make fresh naan in front of guests in our open kitchen. We just add the toppings and go from there to create the pizzas. The base is made the same way as traditional naan," Chauhan told Tasting Table. Similarly, the saag paneer sauce gracing the pizzas is the same one used in the build-your-own-bowls elsewhere on the menu.

You'll be pleased to learn that Maneet Chauhan's saag paneer pizza recipe will be ready to eat in no time at all. Since you're working with pre-made components, like naan bread, your pizza doesn't need long in the oven to brown. "If you're making [saag paneer pizza] at home, put your oven on the highest broil setting — typically 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep a watchful eye and make sure to rotate it," said the chef.

Depending on your preferences, you might want a chewier or crispier crust in your pie — so feel free to adjust its cook time as you see fit. That said, EET's standard recipe only takes a few minutes in the broiler to reach optimal doneness. "The naan pizza should be ready in 3-4 minutes, with the cheese melted and ready to go," Chauhan told us.

Taking Your Naan-Based Pizza To The Next Level

eet's saag paneer pizza
eet's saag paneer pizza - EET by Maneet Chauhan

EET's saag paneer pie is garnished with fresh chopped cilantro, though it's up to you to choose your perfect toppings. Maybe you enjoy a side of ranch with your pizza — or you go all out with the parmesan shaker at your local spot. Either way, it's not unusual to whip out some extras to enhance your slice. So, what are Maneet Chauhan's thoughts on elevating EET's saag paneer pizza? "I'm personally a big fan of Calabrian chilis," she disclosed, "but I also love sliced onions and jalapeños." That said, there's one popular topping she admitted to not quite pleasing her palate: ranch dressing.

Whether you dine at EET in Disney Springs or whip up its saag paneer pizza at home, odds are you'll fall for Chauhan's distinctive style of cooking. But if you're hungry for more flavor-packed recipes from the Food Network star, there's more where that came from. Her cookbook, "Chaat," is a superb resource for those wanting to recreate the influence of the restaurant in their own kitchen. Aside from Chauhan's full saag paneer recipe, you can find other delightful Indian favorites to devour, from aloo chaat to pani puri.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.