Dinner Tonight: Palak Paneer

May 24, 2016

In celebration of my birthday this year, I went to an Indian restaurant with two of my closest girlfriends. I ordered the palak paneer and naan for the table to share. We scooped the creamy spinach (palak), packed with delicate spices and coating the tender paneer (Indian cottage cheese), with the warm naan. I wanted to recreate this moment again and make palak paneer at home, but I was not sure where to start.

But Annada Rathi crafted this recipe after experimenting with several different versions from cookbooks and two veteran palak paneer makers, saving only the tried-and-true tips, so that those new to Indian cooking (or just palak paneer) have the confidence to try the recipe ourselves—and for dinner tonight, no less.

Grocery List

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  • 6 to 8 ounces of paneer, cut into inch-wide slabs
  • 1 bunch of cleaned spinach
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 Thai chile, diced
  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes, diced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 pod cardamom
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 4 teaspoons tomato sauce

We're assuming you already have vegetable oil, black peppercorns, salt, a pinch of sugar, and 2 garlic cloves in your pantry. (If you have a bit of milk or cream, that's great too! But optional.) If not, add those to your grocery list.

The Game Plan

25 minutes before dinner, set a medium pot of water to boil. While waiting, warm a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and coat with vegetable oil. Sauté your spinach for about 10 minutes; once cooked remove from heat and allow it to cool. The water should be rolling at this point, so add the paneer and boil for 5 minutes. Cover the pot and let the paneer cool in the water. Meanwhile, purée the cooled spinach in a food processor.

Grind the cardamom, peppercorns, and cloves together in either a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Clean the pan used for the spinach, coat with oil, set over medium heat, and brown the onions in it. Then add ginger, garlic, and Thai chile pepper, and sauté for a few minutes. Next add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, and spice mix. Continue to cook for 10 more minutes, until the mixture is thick and slightly dry. Add the spinach purée, salt to taste, and about 1/2 cup of water to loosen the mixture. (Add more depending on your preference for thickness.) Remove the paneer from the water and cut into cubes.

Almost done! As the mixture starts to boil, add the paneer cubes. Lastly, mix in the garam masala. If you want more richness, stir in a 1/2 cup milk or 1/4 cup cream—and serve with warmed flatbread or rice (or both!).

See the full recipe here.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Deanna Wells
    Deanna Wells
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
  • Kris
  • Caroline Lange
    Caroline Lange
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Deanna W. May 27, 2016
I adore saag paneer and thus cannot wait to make this (as in it'll be dinner tonight), but I do suspect recipe using cheese as a main ingredient maybe isn't vegan friendly.
Annada R. May 26, 2016
Thank you Caroline for pointing Kris to the post.

Kris, in my experiments I found that sauteing the spinach resulted in a creamy and tasty spinach puree as opposed to blanching the spinach. Blanching produces a grassy taste, which goes away on adding milk or cream at the end. But if you saute spinach, there is no need for cream or milk. The puree is rich in itself.

Also boiling the paneer makes it spongy soft. Now it soaks the spinach puree flavors so much better. No need to pan fry it.

Best Eats!
Kris May 24, 2016
Saute the spinach and boil the paneer ? Are you sure ? Usually the spinach is blanched and cooled. The paneer is sautéed or pan fried
Caroline L. May 24, 2016
hi kris! annanda rathi explains why in this post (it's actually pretty interesting!): https://food52.com/blog/16555-the-quest-for-the-easiest-tastiest-palak-paneer