- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Serves 2 to 4
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
vegetable oil, divided
fresh spinach, washed
6 to 8 ounces
paneer (Indian grocery stores generally sell paneer in 12- to 14-ounce slabs)
finely chopped red onions
peeled grated ginger
medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Thai chile, finely chopped (optional)
finely chopped tomatoes
cream or ½ cup milk (optional)
Naan, for serving
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Divide the palak paneer among bowls. Serve with the naan alongside.
- 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.