the world's easiest recipe
If Butter Chicken or Makhani Chicken and Tandoori Chicken rule the world of non-vegetarians who like Indian food, Palak Paneer or Saag Paneer rules the world of vegetarians who love Indian food.
It is an easy dish to love, being rather flavorful. It combines simple flavors of fresh spinach with garlic and a *mystery spice* few admit to adding in, to somehow create a perfect marriage of tastes. It brings together contrasting textures – the soft and succulent spinach with slightly fried paneer, making it a crowd-pleasing entrée.
But, unknown to most people, this popular restaurant favorite, is by far, one of the easiest preparations in the Indian cuisine. It is so ridiculously easy to prepare that those of us who know how easy it is to make, snicker at the sticker shock for a restaurant preparation.
Perhaps the only difficult part of this dish is choosing what kind of paneer you want to use – homemade paneer or store bought. Store bought paneer is good for this dish over homemade paneer because it holds its shape firmly even after one blanches or fries the pieces. Homemade paneer nearly never gives the same ‘firmness’ as store bought paneer. Here is a photo of homemade paneer, most delicious when used as part of a stuffing mixture (right).
Saag is generally a term used to describe a dish made with leafy vegetables. (Shaak - is a Gujarati phrase for a stir-fried dish using any kind of vegetables.)
There are many kinds of leafy vegetables - spinach and mustard greens are easy to find in conventional grocery stores. But if you have access to it, try this recipe with beet greens, radish greens or even white turnip greens (above). Simply trim the mid-rib of the leaves away and use them the same way in the recipe to make Saag Mooli. The result will be a sharper, more pungent dish when compared to Saag Paneer.
Saag Paneer is not particularly 'pretty' to look at in the harsh kitchen lights - after all, a green puree is difficult to photograph (and these are some old photos). So, I apologize in advance for the simple photos. However, if you have tasted this dish before you do not need pictures to tell you what to expect.
Along with the basic recipe for Saag Paneer, I will include two variations: so that you can ‘up your game’, so to speak in the 'Saag' department: Sarsoon ka Saag or Mustard Greens – from the lush region of Punjab, and Nadair Palak Paneer or Spinach with Paneer and Lotus Root, a popular dish from the northern region of Kashmir.
Pair any of these dishes with a freshly made roti or paratha. However, if you are lacking the skills or time to make them, frozen naan is a popular pairing. I prefer the plain ones, over the seasoned ones like Garlic Naan or anything else. We often pair it with a flame-roasted corn tortilla (very easy to find), and everyone is happy alternating between licking their lips, and licking their plate.
Of-course. You are welcome.
Palak Paneer or Saag Paneer
Makes: 8, 3 oz. servings
Diet: Vegetarian, adaptable to gluten-free and vegan diets (see tips & substitutions)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
2 tbsp. cooking oil, plus extra for frying
½ tsp. Brown cumin seeds
1-2 Jalapenos, de-seeded and finely chopped, optional
1 tbsp. Chopped garlic
¼ tsp. Cayenne pepper powder, only if not using jalapenos, adjust to taste
2 lbs. Baby spinach leaves, washed and blanched
1-2 tsp. Whole wheat flour, optional
¼ cup Water, as needed
1 lb. Paneer (Indian cheese), diced, see pre-prep note
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon Lemon juice
1 pinch or less dried Kasoori Methi
4 tablespoons Fresh cream, slightly whisked
Soak the diced paneer in a pot of boiling water and set aside for 15 minutes. This will soften the paneer. If it has not softened, return the water to a boil, and allow the paneer to continue soaking in it for another few minutes. When the paneer chunks are pliable and soft, the consistency of fresh mozzarella, drain away the water, and set the paneer pieces aside to air-dry on a paper towel for another 15 minutes. Dry the paneer thoroughly before proceeding to the next step, using paper towels if needed.
In a wide, shallow sauce pan, heat 2-4 tbsp. Of oil. Fry the dried but softened paneer pieces in small batches to merely crisp all its edges. Use a splatter-guard while the pieces are frying. Drain the pieces on a paper-towel until ready to use.
Puree the blanched spinach and set aside until ready to use.
Warm 1-2 tbsp. oil in a deep saucepan. Add the brown cumin seeds, jalapenos if using, and garlic to the pan and let this cook and season the oil for 1 minute on medium low. Add the cayenne pepper powder if not using jalapenos and stir in well. Slowly add the spinach puree to the seasoned oil taking care to not let it sputter around. Stir the mixture and bring this to a low simmer. Dissolve the wheat flour in a little water and add this to the spinach, this helps thicken the mixture. Eliminate this step for a gluten-free version. Let this cook for 3-5 minutes on medium low until the spinach begins to leave the sides of the pan a little.
Add the drained fried paneer pieces to the pan, stir and season with salt and lemon juice. Crush and add Kasoori Methi to this, let the Palak Paneer cook for 2-4 minutes more until it is bubbly and turn off the heat. If the Palak Paneer thickens too much, add a little water, and stir, bring to a low simmer, and remove from the heat. Drizzle the serving container with fresh cream just before serving.
Best served with fresh naan, roti or paratha.
Tips & Substitutions:
Use fresh spinach leaves for a fresh taste, frozen spinach leaves do not do well. For added convenience, use baby spinach leaves from the boxed salad section in the produce section of your grocery store are best for this preparation.
To create a more complex dish, use a combination of half spinach and half mustard greens for a refreshing take.
For a slightly healthier version, add blanched paneer pieces directly to the spinach puree without frying. They will retain their soft edges.
For a vegan version, try this recipe with firm Tofu, and eliminate the cream at the end.
This recipe is taken from my upcoming ebook: Roti: Easy Indian Breads & Sides, edn. 2. (Turmeric Press, 2017). The first edition of this book is available as an ebook at various ebook retail sites.
Sarsoon-ka-Saag: Mustard Greens with Butter
Try this recipe with mustard greens – trim the midrib of the mustard greens, chop into 4” sections and blanch them before pureeing them. Skip the paneer and serve with a dollop of salted butter.
Nadair Paalak Paneer : Lotus Root with Palak Paneer
Use 1/2 cup or more of sliced lotus root, clean it well and and saute with the paneer to crisp up the edges before adding it to the saag.