Saag Paneer

- Merrill

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I’ve been eating a lot of creamed spinach lately (my husband and I are on a mission to rank New York City steakhouses), and thus I've been also been thinking about another, decidedly non-American version of this dish: saag paneer. If you’ve never had saag paneer, you’ve been missing out. It’s the Indian version of creamed spinach, delicately spiced and swimming with chunks of paneer cheese, which is firm and a little squeaky -- kind of like halloumi.

A couple of years ago, I tried my hand at making my saag paneer, and it actually came out pretty well. I unearthed the recipe last week, and voila: here it is!

Saag Paneer

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach or 2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
  • 8 oz paneer cheese (if you cannot find paneer, halloumi is a good substitute)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons spice mixture (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. If you’re using fresh spinach remove the stems, and then rinse and dry the leaves thoroughly. Chop roughly and set aside. If you’re using frozen spinach, squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible and set aside.

2. Put the ghee or vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cut the paneer into ½-inch cubes and add it to the pan. Cook, tossing frequently, until the cheese is lightly browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the paneer with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3. Add the onion to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Turn the heat up to medium and add the spinach to the pan all at once. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach is wilted (or until the frozen spinach is warmed through), 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the buttermilk and cream and simmer until thickened, another 3 to 5 minutes (add more buttermilk and/or cream if the mixture seems dry). Taste and add more salt if necessary, along with the nutmeg and some pepper. Stir in the paneer and serve.

Spice Mixture

Makes about 1/4 cup

  • 2 tablespoons cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 3 whole cloves

Using an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the spices together as finely as possible. This spice mixture can be stored in an airtight container for a few weeks, but its potency will decrease over time.

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34 Comments March 28, 2012
Utterly swooning mad about Saag Paneer. I love the milky, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture, the sweet bite of the nutmeg, the smooth blend of the spices and the green-is-so-good-for-you of the spinach. There are so many ways to make it ~ I can't wait to try yours. Thanks, Merrill!
AntoniaJames January 30, 2011
Made this again, this time with a combination of chard, lacinato kale and mustard greens (but without the paneer). So delicious!! ;o)
AntoniaJames January 17, 2011
I made this last week, without the paneer, and froze half before adding the buttermilk and cream. I defrosted it yesterday and finished the dish (using buttermilk and half-and-half, as I had no cream). It was delicious. It tasted as good as when freshly made. I served it over basmati rice that I'd cooked with two teaspoons of my homemade ghee and a pinch of salt, with aargersi's Spiced Pink Lentils on the side. What a sensational dinner. From now on, I'm making double batches of this saag, and freezing half. I encourage everyone else to do the same! ;o)
Miche January 9, 2011
looks good. I make a similar recipe but just leave out the paneer/
Southern F. January 9, 2011
I just made my own version of this last night, with collard greens! I had to puree the collards to get a nice creamy texture, but left the onions unpureed. It worked really nicely, and was a bit heartier than the spinach version.
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
Great idea! Thanks for sharing.
AntoniaJames January 7, 2011
I made this, without the paneer, as a side dish this evening. I've tried several saag recipes over the years and this one is, hands down, our favorite. (My sons, who are home from college, enthusiastically concur.) I halved the recipe, but used a bit more than half of the spice mixture called for. Also, I toasted the cumin seeds before putting them in the grinder, as much out of habit as anything else. I like the deeper flavor of toasted cumin, even when I know the ground spice will be toasted in the pan as part of the dish. The buttermilk -- I used a 1% milkfat cultured buttermilk, which is all I can get in the stores here -- is terrific in this. I highly recommend this recipe. ;o)
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
Thanks, AJ! I'm so flattered.
wtbryce January 6, 2011
This is great. Other paneer recipes I've seen have been more the puree type, and less appealing.

Do you happen to know where in NYC, short of going to Jackson Hts, one can find Paneer? Closer to Wmsburg Bklyn better for me... Thx!
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
I have gotten paneer at Whole Foods a number of times, actually. They'll also definitely have it at Kalustyan's.
edamame2003 January 6, 2011
thank you for the recipe and the take on creamed spinach. never knew the name of this dish though i've had it several times and have wanted to make it. this looks so good...
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
You're welcome!
fourclankitchen January 5, 2011
Most Indians don't make this dish with cream at home: you would die of hypercholestrolemia (is this a real word?) in about 3 years. People use whole fat yogurt ( a couple tablespoons) and often pan fry the paneer. Check out this version, where I use other vegetables to give body and subdue the metallic taste of spinach.
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
How interesting! I think the yogurt and buttermilk probably impart a similar tang.
onetribegourmet January 5, 2011
Merrill, your saag paneer is probably is the best looking one I have seen so far! I love how you added buttermilk to the recipe. I also make my own paneer & have never used a store bought one. But Haloumi as a substitute is a great idea!
Merrill S. January 9, 2011
Thanks so much!
the P. January 4, 2011
oh, I am SO making this!! Saag Panner is my favorite, although I have never made it at home...I always order it as take out.
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
Hope it goes well!
AntoniaJames January 4, 2011
Pauljoseph posted a recipe here on food52 for paneer, which is excellent:

It's so easy to make (and much easier for me, as I suppose it is for many, to make than to go out and buy it).
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
Fantastic! On my list -- thanks so much for pointing it out.
raspberryeggplant January 4, 2011
I love saag or palak paneer, but it's not terribly healthy what with all the cream and paneer. My mom started making a healthier version when I was in high school and I've never looked back - we use extra-firm tofu instead of paneer and low-fat milk and yogurt in place of the cream. Tastes just as good but is way better for you!
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
This version subs buttermilk for some of the cream -- I like that it tastes a little fresher and not as heavy.
AntoniaJames January 4, 2011
Merrill, do you use "cultured lowfat buttermilk" with 1% milkfat? That's the only buttermilk product easily sourced around here . . .. Many thanks. ;o)
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
MrsWheelbarrow January 4, 2011
I teach Saag Paneer in my Indian Cooking classes and everyone goes wild. Always make my own paneer, as I had no idea you could buy it. Merrill, you are so right - it's a great spin on creamed spinach (a connection I've never made before!)
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
And I had no idea you could make paneer at home! Will have to try that next time.
dymnyno January 4, 2011
I love this! We eat spinach at least twice a week. A couple of years ago, my husband and son and daughter in law and I ate at every steakhouse in the Mclean, VA area...ordered the same items at each steakhouse and rated the creamed spinach. (about 5 steakhouses)
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
I love it! Which won?
dymnyno January 4, 2011
dymnyno January 4, 2011
I mean Flemings.
testkitchenette January 4, 2011
This is one of my favorite dishes...I also usually make my own paneer (great recipe in Nani Power's book~Ginger and Ganesh! Thanks for posting Merrill!
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
Ooh, great tip -- thanks!
lastnightsdinner January 4, 2011
Oh, man. We're making Indian food tonight - Mike's making butter chicken from Jennifer McLagan's FAT, and I'm doing Madhur Jaffrey's Aloo Gobi from World Vegetarian. Now I want to add this to the mix! Yum yum yum.
Merrill S. January 4, 2011
What a great coincidence! Hope you liked it.