Make Ahead

Saag Paneer

January  5, 2011
7 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

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! —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • Spice Mixture
  • 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
  • Saag Paneer
  • 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. Spice Mixture
  2. 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. Makes about 1/4 cup.
  1. Saag Paneer
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rebecca Cherry
    Rebecca Cherry
  • AntoniaJames
  • NakedBeet
  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
  • MaryMaryCulinary

36 Reviews

Allison October 3, 2022
I made this last night and it was so bland. I made it in the Instant Pot, which didn't save any time but I thought it would really do good things with all the spices, and nothing. If I were to make this again, I would double the spices and ginger. I also added a 1/4 tsp of hing and I would double that as well. Disappointing.
maggiesara January 23, 2016
I have now made this three times, and each time I love it more. I even love it without any dairy at all (and even without the paneer, just greens on their own). As one of the commenters suggested, I do use mixed greens, rather than just spinach -- about two pounds fresh, as a substitute for the two 10-oz. packages of frozen. And to thicken the sauce, rather than cooking everything to death, I add either a cornstarch slurry or a beurre manie. Works great!
maggiesara January 11, 2016
Holy MOLYets. I wanted to use up the buttermilk I bought for holiday baking, and this seemed like a great recipe, but "great" doesn't begin to describe it. It's simmering on the stove as we speak, thickening up, and I can't wait for my dinner. This is just delicious.
Rebecca C. March 2, 2015
I've used fresh baby spinach, every time, and I've halve the recipe. It works great but, does need to simmer for about 15-20 minutes to get to a non-liquidy state. Merrill, thanks for doing the work for all of us; I think this recipe is a blessing for Indian food lovers who enjoy cooking over duplicating. The dish's flavor varies slightly from its taste in Indian restaurants I know, but, in a really good way. Gotta leave something special for eating out!
Dr.Insomnia January 9, 2014
Made this last night and I have to say we were really unimpressed. Biggest complaint was that it was way too wet, and really lacking in flavor. Recognize that those two factors are not unrelated. We didn't add all of the cream/buttermilk combo (maybe 2/3), luckily, because we had to reduce it down quite a while as it was. We probably got too impatient and should have given it at least another ten minutes to thicken. As it was, the flavor was extremely muted, but we are spice lovers. I probably used at least 1 T of salt... And still added more at the table (our store-bought paneer was unsalted and very bland, too).

All in all, a pretty big bummer, since we love Indian food. Then again, I shared an office with an Indian who loved to cook for five years, so I got spoiled on her mom's homestyle recipes.
Merrill S. January 9, 2014
So sorry to hear this was a disappointment! Out of curiosity, did you use frozen or fresh spinach?
Dr.Insomnia January 9, 2014
Fresh. I think it would have been easier with frozen. Took a while to cook down that much fresh spinach.
Merrill S. January 9, 2014
I think you might be right. I usually make this with frozen, and I make sure to squeeze our every last bit of water -- wonder if there was some extra liquid from the fresh spinach, and that maybe diluted the flavors and kept your sauce thin longer? You really do need to reduce it down until it's creamy and thick -- not a dish to rush, I'm afraid. You could also try adding more of the spice mixture, and salted paneer is definitely the way to go. Hope you'll maybe give it another chance!
Dr.Insomnia January 10, 2014
Next time we'll try frozen. A lot less work to process it, too. Thanks for the tips!
MaryMaryCulinary February 18, 2019
I made this tonight, 5 years later, and I also found it very bland. I used very well squeezed frozen chopped spinach and salted paneer. I had to add a lot of extra salt, a squeeze of lemon and some hot sauce to give it some flavour.
Nnikitaworld December 29, 2013
I absolutely LOVE this dish. I add 2 serrano peppers because I love spicy indian food. I replace the cream and buttermilk with low-fat sour cream (about 1 cup) and it gives it a velvety and smooth flavor and consistency that I enjoy a lot. I also use extra firm tofu instead of paneer and it works very well. It is true, this is a great dish to freeze in single portions to combine with some basmati rice or simply naan.
AntoniaJames October 4, 2013
This freezes beautifully, by the way, at least it did when I made it with a somewhat thicker sauce (to stuff into roti wraps). Henceforth, I plan to make triple batches of the saag, and fry up extra paneer if I have it on hand. I'll add more buttermilk and cream before serving. We love this recipe! ;o)
nonsous September 26, 2013
I've discovered that simply crumbling the paneer gives the end product a rich creaminess that obviates the necessity of adding cream (or milk). Also, the saag can be chopped instead of pureed, if you're in a hurry. Mixing in other soft (or pre-softened) greens is a great idea - there are so many options!
Either way, adding kasoori methi towards the end is a must!
I also think it's best enjoyed with dry paratha - to make this, simply use ghee (EVOO works surprisingly well!) very economically between folded layers, but don't fry the whole thing in more ghee!
I speak purely and sincerely from the bulging middle! :)
AntoniaJames September 26, 2013
I never would have imagined that this recipe could be improved, but I simply must recommend using a blend of tiny kale, chard and spinach for this. (Earthbound Farms sells such an organic mix, called "Power Greens.") Un-freakin'-believable. Seriously. ;o) P.S. Also, I've been baking plain tofu in a hot oven (rectangles a bit larger than the size I'd cut the paneer) when I'm baking bread or roasting vegetables, since we started eating 18 vegan meals a week, primarily for environmental and health reasons, about a year ago. It works really well! (It also steams up the oven, giving my artisanal breads an even better crust.)
emcsull October 5, 2013
what do you do with the baked tofu ?
And do you make the paneer yourself ?
jlhogan January 19, 2013
I made this with tofu instead of paneer (per Mark Bittman). Sauteing the tofu in butter made it extra yummy.
AntoniaJames May 7, 2012
Just wanted to mention that I filled an omelet this morning with a couple of tablespoons of leftovers of this wonderful dish. Perfectly delicious! I have a somewhat erratic "rotation" but if there's any dish that can be said to be "in" my rotation, this one definitely qualifies! (It's also a "pantry dinner" here, as I almost always have paneer and frozen spinach on hand, and of course all of the other ingredients. Lately I've been serving with freshly cooked phulka roti, hot off the pan.) ;o)
AntoniaJames March 12, 2012
NB, I make this recipe a lot, and I never use the red pepper flakes, because red pepper flakes and I just don't get along very well. It's delicious without them! I bump up the spice mixture a bit, and always grind it fresh. I typically make double batches and freeze half of it (usually without the cheese), and I use the spice mixture for all kinds of other things, so grinding for each batch works well. (In fact, I used to have the formula for this spice mixture on a sticky note inside my spice cabinet , but soon I had it memorized!). If you want a bit more zing, without the red pepper, increase the fresh ginger. I suppose you could also just sprinkle some red pepper on your serving, though I've never tried it. I know people (my son, for example) who shake red pepper flakes onto cooked dishes the way other people grind black pepper. I hope you try this; it's a great recipe!! ;o)
NakedBeet March 12, 2012
Merril, how spicy is this spice mixture? I want to make this for our whole family (1 year old included) but am hesitant to leave out all the kick. I can take the heat, but my little Z can't yet.
mzmecz June 2, 2011
No reason to leave the paneer out - make it quick!

Boil a half gallon of the milk of your choice, skim to whole. When it is at a nice, easy roll, add 1/8 cup lemon juice or vinegar. Continue the gentle boil another minute or so. You will see the curds forming and the whey clearing. Turn off the heat and let the curds firm a minute or two.

Strain the curds in a colander lined with a dish towel. Rinse the curds twice - I just dunk the towel in the cooking pot with fresh water. The idea is to get out the sourness - but there isn't much to start with so don't fuss much.

Wring the water out of the paneer by twisting the towel. Refold the towel tightly around the lump of paneer to form it into a square. Place it on a clean sloped surface to allow the liquid to flow away (a cutting board propped up on one end), place a heavy, flat object (another cutting board or big pot) on top and press down to express the water. Get it as dry as you can.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

PS: I like my Sag Paneer creamy and use just lots of yogurt (made from the other half of the gallon of milk).
Slow C. June 2, 2011
CalcuttaChow May 26, 2011
I've been making this dish for a while, and i love the looks of this recipe, especially the custom spice blend. In my recipe, the creaminess comes from the spinach itself, dairy is very optional. Here's my version that I blogged about recently --
nonsous May 25, 2011
As an Indian (sort-of) I have to say this recipe is a bit conservative/subjective:
1) we usually use a lot more ginger (ginger is a must with paneer!), either as you've done, or additionally as ginger pickled in lemon juice or vinegar
2) a Lot more onion for body (subjective opinion)
3) where's the tomato?! Gotta have it well-sauteed in your gravy before you add the saag!
4) browning the paneer? No, No, No!!! It's best when crumbled in, at most sliced in! Even better if crumbled/sliced and marinated in said lemon/ginger pickle juice!!
5) it's better when wet!!!
6) lastly, I have to say that I had it dry yesterday, with minimal onion, ginger and tomato, and I'm still salivating as I recall it!
AntoniaJames May 25, 2011
I make this all the time (this recipe!!) so I'm very interested in these comments, some of which I'll try. I know that browning the paneer isn't typical -- at least it's not done in any of the many Indian restaurants in the U.S. where I've eaten saag paneer -- but I also know that it makes the paneer taste so, so good. Would love to see a recipe for ginger pickled in lemon juice!! It sounds divine and yes, it would be fantastic with this, as the spinach does tend toward the sweet, even with the buttermilk. I typically add a bit of lime juice before serving. But that's because I tend to like a splash of one acid or another on just about any dish involving cooked vegetables. I can see how the tomato would make the saag even sweeter, making the need for the pickle even more important. Thanks for this helpful comment. ;o)
KLL5 March 13, 2011
My second time making it I added frozen peas and garbanzos... along with basmati cooked with sauteed onions, Grenadian cinnamon sticks, Middle Eastern cloves, mixed peppercorns and a little salt. Wow.
lpcooks March 4, 2011
Is there a way to make this dish without the dairy? Could soy milk be subsituted?
Slow C. March 12, 2011
I use coconut milk, although some of my non-dairy Indian friends suggest using tomato to enliven the dish. Personally, this is my favorite non-dairy version...
KLL5 February 6, 2011
Fantastic recipe! I did it without the cheese but served alongside Smashed Indian Potatoes with Lazy Raita. Both recipes are great but the saag is OMG. I will be putting this into rotation. Note: I did not grind the spices but used the spices already ground and it is totally worth it without the extra step.
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)
Merrill S. February 1, 2011
Thanks, AntoniaJames! Great to know.
nonsous May 25, 2011
Hi AntoniaJames,
Being a fat-prone South Asian, I don't use ANY form of fat besides the basic oil, except for skimmed milk, if you want to make this dish lean & creamy. When Indulging (I mean Really Indulging!) I might top with a spoon of cream after serving.
But I find that if you're Really fat-conscious, a bowl of yoghurt on the side [or even, anarchically, inside the dish! (which means you have to incorporate it just before putting in the saag)] will satisfy the need for dairy taste, without the guilt.
Regarding your question about pickled ginger, it's simply julienned ginger in lemon/lime juice, about a week old minimum. Osmosis, just like peach brandy & brandied peaches!
AntoniaJames May 25, 2011
Oh, how funny, to learn that I'm an anarchist. I always stir in a good tart raita to whatever lentil, dal, pulao or veggie cooked with Indian spices that I eat. Just love it. Thanks for the tip on the lemon juice pickled ginger! Do you slice the ginger across the grain or with it? How long does it keep, refrigerated? I tend to make things in quantity, whenever possible, given the other demands on my time. Thanks again. ;o)