Palak Paneer aka Saag Paneer
Mildly spiced and silken spinach with crisp, golden cubes of the fresh Indian cheese known as paneer has made Palak Paneer aka Saag Paneer, one of the most popular Indian dishes in the U.S. The rich flavor and luxurious texture of the spinach makes this Northern India specialty a standout. Perfect as a meal on its own served with basmati rice, or even quinoa. And a most welcome dish to include as part of a multi-dish Indian feast.
Palak or saag
Here’s the scoop on the two different names for the same dish. Palak is actually the Hindi word for spinach. Saag means greens. And, they could be any greens from mustard, collard, beet greens, purslane, fenugreek to spinach, etc. Though in the U.S., you’ll usually find Saag Paneer made with just spinach. Fortunately, Indian creamed spinach is as delicious with either name.
Purée or finely chop
To get silky-textured spinach, a number of recipes blanch the spinach and then blend it. This all happens before cooking it again with the spices. All that cooking can turn its color a rather drab green.
I believe I’ve found an easier way to get silken-textured spinach. No need for blanching. Finely chop the raw spinach in a food processor, leaving a little texture, before sautéing it. Prepared this way, both the color of the spinach and its flavor remain bright.
Buy paneer or easily make it yourself
The easiest way to go is to purchase paneer already made, which is what I do. Though, it’s rather straight forward to make paneer at home. And freshly made, paneer has a more delicate texture than store-bought. Should you have extra time and the forethought to plan ahead, here’s a recipe to make your own paneer.
Lightly tossing the paneer pieces in rice flour before pan frying
- keeps everything gluten-free
- keeps the paneer from sticking
- lets you use less oil, and
- adds extra richness to the finished dish.
Once I tried substituting tofu for the paneer. Rather bland and tough. My suggestion: unless you choose not to eat milk for dietary reasons, go with paneer. You’ll be glad you did.
Palak Paneer – Indian Creamed Spinach with Fresh Cheese
For the best Palak Paneer, prepare it with fresh, rather than frozen spinach. Although baby spinach works in this recipe, mature spinach has more flavor. If you prefer to make your own paneer, here’s a recipe to do so. Lightly coating the paneer with rice flour means Palak Paneer is gluten-free.
Adapted from recipes by Madhur Jaffrey and Saveur magazine.
Makes 4-8 servings Printer-Friendly Recipe
Active time 25 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
8 ounces paneer, cut into 1/3 by 2/3-inch pieces
½ tablespoon brown rice flour
3 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, i.e. Aleppo Pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds fresh spinach, washed and trimmed of thick stems
1 Serrano chile, or more to taste, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, coarsely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup coconut cream (from a can of full fat coconut milk) or heavy cream
- Coat the paneer in the rice flour. Place the paneer in a strainer and gently shake it to remove excess flour.
- Heat the coconut oil or ghee over medium heat in a large, wide skillet. When hot, put in the paneer pieces. Fry them until golden brown on at least 2 sides. Transfer the paneer to a paper towel to absorb any extra oil.
- Transfer the drained paneer to a plate. Sprinkle the paneer with the salt, garam masala and chili flakes. Toss to coat the paneer. Set aside.
- Finely chop the spinach in a food processor or by hand to equal 6 cups.
- Place the chile, garlic and ginger in a blender along with ¼ cup water. Blend into a smooth paste.
- Heat the oil remaining in the same skillet you used to cook the paneer over medium-high heat. Add the ginger-garlic-pepper paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the finely chopped spinach. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring the spinach with the ginger-garlic paste until the spinach begins to wilt, 1-2 minutes. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the coconut cream. When absorbed, stir in the spiced paneer along with all of the spices remaining on the plate. Partially cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.
- Season to taste. Serve with basmati rice, naan or chapattis. With sides of Cucumber Raita and chutney you have a complete meal.