Palak Paneer is a classic north indian vegetarian dish made with soft paneer chunks in a fragrant spinach sauce. My easy palak paneer is nut free, gluten-free and is best served with warm naan or roti or steamed rice.
During winters, my grandmother made palak paneer using homegrown spinach.The house had a vegetable patch which sprung to life with all sorts of greens under the winter sun. Certainly one of the best palak paneer I have eaten cooked with freshest spinach plucked right off the patch. Having grown up in a vegetarian household, spinach was a very commonly used vegetable and palak paneer was a regular in her kitchen. Fresh spinach leaves, vibrant indian spices, creamy paneer cubes, it is hard to not fall in love with the simplicity of this classic indian spinach dish.
What is Palak Paneer?
In Hindi, Palak is Spinach. Paneer is non aged indian cheese which finds its way into numerous vegetarian dishes in the indian cuisine. Cooked together, palak paneer is a simple yet very popular indian vegetarian dish of paneer chunks in a thick spiced spinach puree. Packed with the goodness of spinach vitamins & minerals and protein rich paneer, this is one dish which gets a nod from my family every time I make it. My homestyle palak paneer is made without nuts or loads of ghee or heavy cream. It is light, nutritious and our favorite. I use just 1 tablespoon of cream as a finish which can be skipped as well.
What Kind of Spinach To Use?
Since palak is the made ingredient here, go for the freshest, good quality greens. You can use any kind of spinach. In American stores there are largely three kinds of spinach available. Frozen spinach, Baby spinach which is usually used for salads and is fit to be eaten raw since it has a sweet delicate taste. It has very tender stems and the leaves are soft and thinner.
If you happen to hop on to the other side of the produce section where they stock the leafy greens, you will find spinach bunches that are sometimes referred to as cooking spinach. In some stores, I have also seen it being sold bagged. Spinach bunches have large leaves with thick juicy stems - its happens to be similar to the spinach we get in India and will give the palak paneer an authentic taste.
I recommend using spinach bunch (similar to this) but there is no reason not to use frozen or baby spinach in this recipe. I love using the spinach bunch because the leaves have a smooth robust taste.
- Choose young & vibrant looking light green color spinach leaves. I feel dark, thick spinach leaves lack in flavor.
- If you feel that the stems are tough and fibrous, discard them. I dont mind using juicy, tender parts of the stems.
- I like to choose organic spinach greens just because spinach is the main ingredient in this recipe, however you dont have to, quality fresh spinach(organic or non organic) is great.
What Is Paneer?
Paneer is fresh, unaged indian cheese which is popular in the indian subcontinent. Paneer is made from full fat milk by the process of curdling the milk using an acidic agent - lemon juice or vinegar. The resulting curds are super soft, milky and unlike the regular cheese, they dont don't melt when heated. You can think of paneer as Halloumi cheese sans the salt. There are hundreds of ways paneer is used to cook different dishes all across India. With its milky creamy taste and soft texture post cooking, paneer is undoubtedly a favorite source of protein for vegetarians in India.
You can easily buy paneer in indian or pakistani stores. There are many brands available and over time you will be able to figure out the one that you like. It is easy to make at home using milk and an acid agent. It is now very easy to find in stores like whole foods or sprouts.
Saag Paneer Vs Palak Paneer
Saag is a hindi word meaning "leafy greens". Growing up, there was only one saag- which used to be sarson ka saag. I hardly ate any other saag dish in India. When I came to United states, I found saag dishes on menus of restaurants. These saag dishes are brainchild of famous chefs outside india. They are delicious, no doubt - be it saag chicken or saag lamb or saag paneer. However, the green gravy is made using a variety of leafy greens and not just spinach.
Palak Paneer uses only spinach for the green sauce. Saag Paneer uses a combination of leafy greens and/or herbs for making the green sauce. Palak paneer has a taste of spinach. However, the taste of saag paneer is dependent on the combination of greens that are being used. Without a doubt both the dishes are delicious and healthy in their own way.
As long as you stick to using 8 to 10 oz of greens, you can use a variety of greens (like Kale, amaranth, chard or herbs like dill ) and use my palak paneer recipe to make saag paneer.
I first shared this recipe in 2014. Many of you have loved this recipe and I am so happy to hear whenever someone leaves a good feedback. Here are a few things that I feel make this yummy homestyle palak paneer recipe stand out.
- The texture of spinach. When I grind the blanched spinach, I avoid blending it too fine. I bgrind the spinach on a slow speed and leave a little texture on it. That way, the sauce has great texture too. It isnt gooey like blended soup or smoothie .
- No addition of Red Chili powder. I use only green chilies, thai bird chilies specifically for adding heat. The heat of green chilli is grassy and it really complements the taste of spinach.
- I dont go overboard on spices. Using too many spices can take away the delicate taste of the spinach sauce in my opinion.
- Spinach Bunch. Or Use baby spinach or frozen spinach.
- Spices. Whole & Powdered - Fennel, clove, cumin, garam masala & coriander powder.
- Onions & Tomatoes . Finely Chopped Onions & fresh tomatoes. You can use food processor to chop.
- Ginger & Garlic - Fresh ginger and garlic simply pounded in a mortar pestle. Avoid using store bought ready to use ginger garlic pastes.
- Mustard Oil. Substitute With Avocado Oil or Ghee.
- Paneer. Now a days skimmed milk paneer is also available in the markets but I recommend choosing full fat paneer. It adds a creaminess to the dish. Since we are not adding nuts and just 1 tablespoon of cream in the recipe, soft, milky full fat paneer really makes it taste yummy.
- Kasuri Methi - Are super fragrant, dried fenugreek leaves. Fenugreek leaves are used as a finishing herb as well as in marinades and they impart aroma and unique taste to many punjabi dishes. You can easily find them online or in indian stores. I use Peacock brand. A little kasuri methi goes a long way and unfortunately there is no substitute. Simply leave them out if you cannot find.
- Heavy Cream. You need just 1 or 2 tablespoon. You can skip it if you wish.
Please see recipe card for the quantities.
How To Make Palak Paneer (Step By Step)
- Prepare The Spinach
Start by blanching the spinach leaves. Add cloves to water and bring to a boil. Switch off the flame. Add the washed spinach to hot water. Leave for 2-3 minutes. Drain and blend. Reserve the water to thin out the sauce.
- Soak The Paneer In Hot water
Add cubed paneer to a bowl and pour 1 cup hot water over it. Let paneer soak for 6-8 minutes. Pro tip :- You can use the water you just boiled spinach in.
- Start Making the Spinach Sauce
Heat up oil on high in a kadai(indian wok) or medium heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven.
- Lightly Brown the Onions
Add the chopped onions to it along with fennel & cumin seeds (in that order) and sauté till the onions start to lightly brown.
- Make The Masala
Next add the garlic, chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, green chillies, turmeric & cinnamon to the pot and keep on cooking on medium low heat
- Make The Spinach Gravy
Add the spinach, ginger, and salt to the pot and mix well. Also add ⅓ cup of reserved liquid. Mix and let cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes stirring often.If you like green color spinach sauce, skip to Step 8.
- Saute The Spinach
I like nicely sautéed spinach so I cook down and bhuno (saute)the spinach for about 12-15 minutes adding water as necessary till the bubbles separate.
- Add the Soaked Paneer & Cream
Add the drained paneer cubes and kasuri methi (if using) along with sugar and heavy cream. Cook together for another 3-4 minutes.
- Finish With Garam Masala
Switch off the stove and add the garam masala. Mix and let the palak paneer rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Some Useful Tips
- Using a wide mouthed kadai, pan or pot really helps while sautéing the spinach, the liquid evaporates faster and the spinach is sautéed properly.
- I recommend using food processor rather than blender to grind the spinach.
- To preserve the color of spinach, you can add ¼ teaspoon of sugar to the hot water. Also, saute the dish on very low heat for not more than 6-8 minutes.
- Slowly add water to adjust the consistency of palak paneer. After adding water, mix it and let the spinach bubble up again before adding water again. This makes sure that at the end of cooking water will not separate from the spinach sauce. I prefer a thick smooth sauce.
- If you are using frozen spinach to make palak paneer recipe, let the spinach thaw in a bowl. Add the thawed spinach along with the liquid that is collected to the blender or food processor and grind the spinach.
- To make palak paneer without tomatoes, skip the tomatoes and add 1 to 2 tablespoon of thick, plain yogurt and saute with the onions and spices. The yogurt should not be too sour.
- Avoid cooking palak paneer in cast iron pans. Palak can turn really dark in color and the dish will get a metallic taste.
How To Make Vegan Palak Paneer
- Use extra firm tofu instead of paneer
- To make dairy free palak paneer, skip or instead of heavy cream, mix in 1 tablespoon cashew yogurt at the end. You can add a little coconut cream as well.
Yes absolutely. Don't add the heavy cream in that case. You can cool it completely and freeze in zip lo bags or food safe containers (I prefer). Once thawed, warm up and stir in the cream.Serve.
Since spinach is a low carb vegetable and paneer is a high fat vegetarian protein, this dish is an excellent indian vegetarian keto option. I would add 1-2 tablespoons of ground nuts (almonds, cashews or macadamia) while making the spinach sauce as well. You can also increase the quantity of heavy cream to 2 or 2.5 tablespoons. Also, use full fat paneer.
Homestyle Palak Paneer Recipe
- 8oz (~250g) spinach bunch
- 2-2.5 cup water
- 2 cloves
- 6 oz (~170g) paneer, cut into cubes (store-bought or homemade)
- 3-4 tablespoon mustard oil (or any cooking oil of choice)
- ½ cup finely chopped onions
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, finely crushed
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
- 1 fat garlic clove, minced
- ¾ cup tomatoes, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- 2-4 thai green chillies, slit (adjust to tolerance)
- pinch of turmeric
- pinch of cinnamon
- 1.5 inch fresh ginger shoot, grated
- ½ teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, optional but recommended)
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1-2 tablespoon heavy cream (adjust to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- Add cloves to water and bring to a boil.Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the spinach leaves. Roughly chop the leaves if they are too big.You can pick the stems out if they are too tough.
- Once the water is boiling,turn off the heat & immediately add spinach to it.Let the leaves soak for 2-3 minutes and then drain. Reserve the liquid and transfer the spinach to food processor or blender.
- Put in the cloves too. Pulse or blend on lowest speed. I do not like to make a smooth puree however you can blend the spinach to desired texture. If needed, the reserved can be used liquid while blending. Set the blended spinach aside.
- Add cubed paneer to a bowl and pour 1 cup hot water over it. Let paneer soak for 6-8 minutes. Tip :- You can use the water you just boiled spinach in.
- Heat up oil on high in a wide kadai or medium heavy bottomed pan.Once the oil is smoky, reduce the heat to medium & wait for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the chopped onions to along with fennel & cumin seeds and sauté till the onions start to lightly brown.
- Next add the garlic,chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, green chillies, turmeric & cinnamon and keep on cooking on medium low heat till you see oil separating on the sides of the pot. This may take 6-8 minutes.
- Add the processed spinach, ginger, and salt and mix well. Also add ¼ cup of reserved liquid to start with. Let the spinach cook on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes stirring it continuously. Adjust the consistency adding more liquid as desired. If you like green palak paneer, skip the next step , add paneer and proceed.
- If you like a nicely sautéed palak sauce, let cook on low heat for least 12-15 minutes stirring continously.The spinach will bubble a lot during cooking (you can put a lid) and you will need to stir it in between to avoid sticking to bottom. Adjust the consistency adding more liquid as desired. Also the spinach will change color to dull green and you will start seeing glisten on the sides of the pot.
- At this point, add the soft paneer cubes, heavy cream and kasuri methi along with the sugar. Let cook on medium low for another 3-4 minutes.
- Finish with garam masala. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.Serve alongside hot flatbreads, steamed rice & salad.