Boil

Palak Paneer

February 10, 2022
4.3 Stars
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Author Notes

Made from “palak” (spinach) and “paneer” (Indian cottage cheese), the dish is classified under the generic cluster of Punjabi food. It’s also called “saag paneer,” as “saag” means any cooked greens, and is generally eaten with naan, tandoori roti, or paratha.

With its popularity in mind, I began my mission to develop the "best" palak paneer recipe that I could.

So here was my strategy: Pore over recipe books, speak to two Punjabi women who can make it in their sleep, and then filter this newly gained knowledge through my own experience to come up with a glorious recipe. Give this one a try and see if I accomplished what I set out to do—hopefully you enjoy it as much as I do.

Here are my own learnings from years of making palak paneer:

- Tomatoes are a must. In this dish, I find spinach to be an introverted vegetable that needs tomatoes to break out of its shell. In multiple tests, the absence of tomatoes brought forth a grassiness of spinach that was not appetizing.
- I found sautéing spinach (before puréeing) produced tastier result compared to boiling spinach.
- I didn’t “get” paneer for many years, and my store-bought paneer always, without fail, stuck to the pan when I fried it. Luckily, the solution was simple: The paneer stuck to the pan because my oil was not hot enough.
- Store-bought paneer is absolutely fine. I was told that even in India, where women make their own paneer often, it’s common to use store-bought for this application. —Annada Rathi

  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 4
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, washed
  • 6 to 8 ounces paneer (Indian grocery stores generally sell paneer in 12- to 14-ounce slabs)
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red onions
  • 1 tablespoon peeled grated ginger
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Thai chile, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 4 teaspoons tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 cup cream or ½ cup milk (optional)
  • Naan, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the spinach. Within a few minutes, the spinach will wilt. Cook, stirring to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes, until wilted. Remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend to a purée.
  2. In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the paneer slabs and cook for 5 minutes. Cover the pan and remove from the heat. Let the paneer cool in the water, then cut into 1-by-½-inch pieces; set aside.
  3. In a mortar and pestle, coarsely crush the peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves; discard the cardamom skin. If using a spice grinder, remove the cardamom skin and use only the seeds (save the cardamom skin to make chai).
  4. Wipe out the pan you used for the spinach and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions, stirring, for 7 to 10 minutes, until they get a brownish tinge. Add the ginger, garlic, and chile, if using. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes followed by the sugar. Once the tomatoes break down, add the tomato sauce and peppercorn mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the liquid evaporates and the onion mixture starts to darken.
  5. Add the spinach purée, salt, and ½ cup water; you can add a little bit more if the sauce is getting pasty. Bring to a boil, then gently drop in the paneer pieces. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the paneer soak in the flavors and spices of the spinach purée for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the garam masala and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, until thickened and warmed through. Add the cream, if using—its sole purpose is to enrich the dish.
  7. Divide the palak paneer among bowls. Serve with the naan alongside.
  8. Do Ahead: The palak paneer can be made 2 days ahead. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Thin with water if needed before reheating.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sarah Grimes
    Sarah Grimes
  • Chris Van Houten
    Chris Van Houten
  • Tim Yoder
    Tim Yoder
  • Amy
    Amy
  • enbe
    enbe
To some people's frustration, I like to talk about food before cooking, while cooking, while eating and of course after eating.

22 Reviews

Sarah G. May 10, 2022
This was so delicious. I used ghee to fry the paneer in a non-stick, instead of boiling, before proceeding w the other steps and it worked well. The sauce is so flavorful and beautifully spiced! This will be my go to recipe.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. May 10, 2022
Thank you Sarah for trying this dish and posting about it. Pan-frying in ghee elevates the paneer several notches higher apart from imparting a beautiful, rich aroma.
 
Bradley August 1, 2021
This was so good and very forgiving. We used ground cardamom and accidentally added a lot more than called for. We also discovered at the last minute that we were out of black pepper, and added some Korean pepper instead. We left the spinach in the pan while cooking the other veggies/spices (to save time and dishes), and then pureed all the veg together, and would do that again! We also used the paneer-boiling water to make the sauce. It's going in our recipe book!
 
Author Comment
Annada R. August 2, 2021
Thank you for trying this recipe and posting your comments! Pureeing the onion/tomato sauce with the spinach is superb, especially for those who want the smoothest possible puree. Please continue your streak of tweaking this recipe by substituting other greens for spinach. I have tried chard and it worked beautifully.
 
Chris V. July 9, 2020
Thank you so much for this! I just made it and it turned out beautifully. I wanted a little more acidity so I used buttermilk instead of plain milk/cream and I was very pleased with the result.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. July 10, 2020
Hello Chris, very happy that you tried this recipe and liked it. Buttermilk is a great idea, I had not thought of that. For additional acidity, you can also add some lime juice when you saute onions and tomatoes.
 
Tim Y. August 16, 2017
I made this and we loved it! Quite the forgiving recipe. Very warm and pleasant spices with just the right amount of heat from 1 Thai chile.

I did fry the paneer so it would be firmer in the sauce. That was the only way I modified the recipe to our taste.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. August 16, 2017
Thank you Tim. I'm very happy that you liked the recipe & the dish. Frying the paneer tastes great too, imparts a certain richness to the dish.
 
Kelli July 6, 2017
This recipe did not work for me, but I am glad others enjoyed it. The ginger overpowered all the other flavors, despite using more peppers than called for (I like things spicy!). I also found that I prefer this dish without the tomato. I like the vegetal taste of spinach and once cooked down and concentrated the tomatoes really competed with the spinach flavor. Between the ginger and the tomato all other flavors were lost for me. However, I made my own paneer for this recipe, and I am glad I did because now I know how to do it! I let mine sit overnight in the fridge before making this to firm up and instead of boiling it first I just added it to the pot and let simmer with the purée for about 15 minutes. It did not break up even with stirring.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. July 6, 2017
I understand that you were more interested in pure spinach flavor. And I'm glad that your homemade paneer turned out great. The reason to boil the paneer (irrespective of homemade or store-bought) is to make it soft and spongy in the spinach. Thank you for your helpful tips, Kelli.
 
Amy February 2, 2017
How much is "one cardamom"? I'm not familiar with anything other than dried. Can't wait to try the recipe!

 
Author Comment
Annada R. February 3, 2017
Hi Amy,
Cardamom here means green cardamom, not brown, dry one. My apologies, I should have specified in the recipe. Have fun cooking!

 
enbe November 29, 2016
This was definitely a bit slow going for a weeknight but it's delicious! Will make again.
 
Lisa September 3, 2016
Arrggh! My paneer fell apart. I wish I would have added the garam masala before I cooked the paneer because when I stirred the spice in at the end (very gently) the paneer broke apart. Still tasted good, though.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. September 7, 2016
Sorry that your paneer fell apart, Lisa. By any chance, did you make the paneer at home? I have observed in my attempts over the years that generally paneer falls apart when it is too dry. That is, when it looses excess moisture in the process of tying it up in muslin cloth. Glad you liked the taste at the end though.
 
Robert K. December 22, 2016
Deep fry the paneer. I have been doing it that way for 35 years when making both palak and mattar paneer.
 
food52 June 19, 2016
Made this recipe twice tonight! First time without modification, second time learning from the first. Recipe calls for only 8oz spinach which is about enough for two people. I thought the clove spice was too strong so cut it to a single clove the second time I made it. If using fresh tomatoes, dice them fine - it will help them break down faster. I used three fresh thai chilis for the right amount of heat. Serranos will be much milder - but probably not as tasty. First time boiled the paneer as instructed. Second time boiled then flour and browned in butter. Browned looks nice but doesn't seem to add much for me. Some restaurant versions also have a cinnamon stick and bay leaf - might try that next time.
 
Kelley B. June 16, 2016
I have made this three times now with spinach, radish tops, kale, etc, and it is always so delicious! this recipe launched me full on into a quest for the best indian recipes. grateful for that.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. June 16, 2016
Thank you Kelley. I'm super impressed that you tried this recipe with other greens and thrilled that it works.
 
Alexandra S. June 1, 2016
This looks so good! Can't wait to try it.
 
Rey C. April 16, 2016
Whoa... Just finished gobbling this down, unquestionably a success. Super delicious and super easy.
 
Author Comment
Annada R. June 16, 2016
Thank you Rey! Very happy that you liked it.