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.
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!).
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).