Palak Paneer

I am noticing a green theme amongst the most famous Punjabi dishes.  Saag- creamy and buttery mustard leaves and spinach leaves, Punjabi Hariyali – a medley of green vegetables with green peas, broccoli, green bell peppers, green chills, mustard leaves, spinach leaves, fenugreek leaves.  Hariyali actually means “greenery” in Punjabi so this dish is literally “Punjabi Greenery”. And finally there is Palak Paneer – pure spinach flavored with green chilis, ginger, garlic, onions, butter and topped with fresh Indian cheese. Palak Paneer is a favorite in Indian restaurants.  But you don’t need to go out to have a great dish of palak paneer.

I’ve rated this dish as intermediate only because it’s a bit more time-consuming to prepare.  Dishes that take more time tend to scare away newbies, but this is a simple dish and most of the time the spinach is just simmering away.  Today, I spent the majority of the cooking time sitting on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Paneer is another Punjabi favorite.  It’s a hard cheese that comes in blocks at the Indian store. It can also be made easily at home with milk and vinegar and then hung to drain the moisture out.  It takes some time to hang the cheese so if I am making my own paneer, I like to make the paneer the night before so it hangs over night.  This time however, I didn’t use homemade paneer. This recipe was more spur of the moment.  I had gone to the store this week with the idea of making Punjabi Hariyali or Saag, but they were completely out of mustard and fenugreek leaves.  So instead I bought two huge bags of spinach because Hubby and I have been craving more green food.  I wasn’t sure what I would make with all that spinach but today when I saw some leftover paneer I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to bring out an old favorite.

This is a wonderfully healthy dish, lots of spinach, onion, garlic, ginger and just a hint of dairy make this a well-rounded dish.  It is delicious and healthy, which is always a great combination.  Serve it with chapatis – whole wheat Indian flat breads, or rice, and you’ve got the perfect Punjabi meal.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the oil and ghee/butter and let it get hot.  If using cumin seeds, add them at this point.  Once they splutter and turn light brown add the chopped onion and a tablespoon of salt.  Let the onions brown, stirring occasionally. It should take about 10 minutes. If you are using green chilies instead of red chili powder, you can add them along with the onions.

While the onion mixture is cooking, fill a large pot with water half-way to two-thirds full and bring to a boil.  Rinse the spinach so it is ready.

Once the onions have browned add the chopped garlic and grated ginger (or garlic/ginger paste if using it). I find fresh garlic and ginger will have a better taste but the paste is faster and easier if you prefer. I like to add some roughly chopped fresh garlic at this point as well.  I added about 4 to 5 chopped cloves of garlic.

Let the garlic and ginger simmer in the onions for about 5 minutes.  Chop off the root tops of the tomatoes and puree them in the food processor until smooth (30 seconds) and add to the onions.  Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes or until the oil starts to separate from the mixture.

 

Add  the coriander powder, garam masala, red chili powder, turmeric powder and salt.  Mix and let cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

The water should be boiling at this point.  Add as much spinach as will fit in the pot at one time.  Let the spinach boil for a minute or two until it becomes soft.  Transfer the spinach to the blender using a strainer or a slotted spoon.  Be careful not to get too much water in the blender. This will make the dish too watery and it will take longer to cook.  Let some of the water drain away from the spinach as you are transferring it to the blender.  If later on you need to add water to the blender to get it mix well, you can spoon in a little at a time.   Once the blender is full, blend the spinach until smooth or if you prefer, a little course.  Add water from the pot to the mixture if the mixture is getting stuck in the blender.  Pour the blended spinach into the skillet. Repeat this process until all the spinach is used up.

 

Mix the spinach and tomato/onion mixture.  Turn the heat down to medium or medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  The debate now is to cover the pot or not to cover the pot.  If you leave the pot uncovered, the dish will keep its beautiful green color.  However, this dish splatters a lot so if I cook it uncovered, I turn the heat down lower so it splatters less but it takes about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to cook.  If you cover the pot, the dish will lose some of the color and turn more brownish.  However, your kitchen will not get decorated with green and the dish will be done faster.   If I’m entertaining, I’ll go the extra mile for the color but if it’s just dinner for two, I’ll cover it and save myself the cleanup.

 

Add the cubed paneer after the spinach has cooked for about 20 minutes.

 

The cooking time might be shorter or longer depending on the pan you use, how much liquid is in the mixture. Every time I have made this dish, it takes a different amount of time to cook.  To know it is done, the taste should not have a strong spinach flavor but a warm and round flavor of all the spices, spinach, onion, garlic and ginger.  If it has a strong spinach flavor, the dish is still a bit raw.  To know the paneer is done, take a spoon and try to cut a cube of paneer in half, it should easily come apart.  Add the cream and mix in at this point if you wish to add it.  It lightens the color and adds a touch of richness.  You can also add another teaspoon of garam masala if it tastes a bit bland and salt if needed.  Be careful not to over salt, as I have done this occasionally.  You can also add another tablespoon of butter if you wish. Mix in for final touches and serve hot.

 

This dish can be accompanied with chapatis – whole wheat Indian flat breads, rice or any of your favorite grain accompaniments.  It can also be enjoyed by itself.

If you try the recipe, let me know how it goes.  Write me a comment or send me an email here.

 

Palak Paneer – Creamy Spinach with Cheese

 

Servings: 6

time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

*the majority of the recipe time is letting the spinach simmer for a long time while you enjoy other activities around the house.

 

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of oil (mustard oil adds great flavor to this dish)

*1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter) or regular butter

2 tablespoons cumin seeds (optional)

1 large onion (2 medium onions is okay)

1 tablespoon of ginger/garlic paste – can substitute a 1/2 inch of ginger peeled and grated and 5 cloves of garlic finely chopped.

4 to 5 garlic cloves, largely diced (optional)

3 tomatoes, pureed

2 tablespoons coriander powder

*2 teaspoons garam masala

1 tablespoon red chili powder (or to taste) – can substitute 3 green chilies, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

1 pound of spinach (or 5-7 bunches)

*8 ounces paneer, cubed

 

* ghee, garam masala and paneer can be found any Indian grocery store.  I have seen they are also available at health food stores like Whole Foods.

 

Equipment needed:

Blender

Food processor

 

Directions:

 

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the oil and ghee/butter and let it get hot.  If using cumin seeds, add them at this point.  Once they splutter and turn light brown add the chopped onion and a tablespoon of salt.  Let the onions brown, stirring occasionally. It should take about 10 minutes.  If you are using green chilies instead of red chili powder, you can add them along with the onions.

 

While the onion mixture is cooking, fill a large pot with water half-way to two-thirds full and bring to a boil.  Rinse the spinach so it is ready.

 

Once the onions have browned add the chopped garlic and grated ginger (or garlic/ginger paste if using it).  I find fresh garlic and ginger will have a better taste but the paste is faster and easier if you prefer. Add 4 to 5 diced garlic cloves at this point (optional).
Let the garlic and ginger simmer in the onions for about 5 minutes.  Chop off the root top of the tomatoes and puree them in the food processor until smooth (30 seconds) and add to the onions.  Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes or until the oil starts to separate from the mixture.

 

Add  the coriander powder, garam masala, red chili powder, turmeric powder and salt.  Mix and let cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

The water should be boiling at this point.  Add as much spinach as will fit in the pot at one time.  Let the spinach boil for a minute or two until it becomes soft.  Transfer the spinach to the blender using a strainer or a slotted spoon.  Be careful not to get too much water in the blender. This will make the dish too watery and it will take longer to cook.  Let some of the water drain away from the spinach as you are transferring it to the blender.  If later on you need to add water to the blender to get it mix well, you can spoon in a little at a time.   Once the blender is full, blend the spinach until smooth or if you prefer, a little course.  Add water from the pot to the mixture if the mixture is getting stuck in the blender.  Pour the blended spinach into the skillet.  Repeat this process until all the spinach is used up.

 

Mix the spinach and tomato/onion mixture.  Turn the heat down to medium or medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  The debate now is to cover the pot or not to cover the pot.  If you leave the pot uncovered, the dish will keep its beautiful green color.  However, this dish splatters a lot so if I cook it uncovered, I turn the heat down lower so it splatters less but it takes about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to cook.  If you cover, the dish will lose some of the color and turn more brownish.  However, your kitchen will not get decorated with green and the dish will be done faster.   If I’m entertaining, I’ll go the extra mile for the color but if it’s just dinner for two, I’ll cover it and save myself the cleanup.

 

Add the cubed paneer after the spinach has cooked for about 20 minutes.

 

The cooking time might be shorter or longer depending on the pan you use, how much liquid is in the mixture. Every time I have made this dish, it takes a different amount of time to cook.  To know it is done, the taste should not have a strong spinach flavor but a warm and round flavor of all the spices, spinach, onion, garlic and ginger.  If it has a strong spinach flavor, the dish is still a bit raw.  To know the paneer is done, take a spoon and try to cut a cube of paneer in half, it should easily come apart.  Add the cream and mix in at this point if you wish to add it.  It lightens the color and adds a touch of richness.  You can also add another teaspoon of garam masala if it tastes a bit bland and salt if needed.  Be careful not to over salt, as I have done this occasionally. You can also add another tablespoon of butter if you wish.   Mix in the final touches and serve hot.

 

This dish can be accompanied with chapatis – whole wheat Indian flat breads, rice or any of your favorite grain accompaniments.  It can also be enjoyed by itself.

4 Comments

  1. 7-31-2011

    First of all, this is a great blog and I really enjoyed browsing through your recipes, all of them very tempting!
    Your palak paneer looks delicious and I am going to try it soon :-)

    • 7-31-2011

      Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoy it!

      I just checked out your blog and the photography is beautiful! I love your heart-shaped raspberry cake. I noticed you entered an Indian food blog competition, I would eager to learn more about that and join in on the next one.

  2. 7-31-2011

    I’m bookmarking this! I have tried to make saag paneer before, but your recipe looks much more flavorful than the one I previously used! Do you think folding in a little plain yogurt in place of cream would work? Or coconut milk? I don’t usually have cream handy.

    • 7-31-2011

      I think plain yogurt would be a great substitute for cream. It will add a little tang to the dish. Coconut milk will certainly add a coconut flavor to the dish which is not a traditional flavor in Punjabi food, it’s more South Indian. But if you like coconut, it might be a great variation. I would be curious to hear how it tastes.

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