Palak Paneer is a classic north indian vegetarian dish made that combines paneer pieces (indian cottage cheese) with a fragrant, spiced spinach sauce. My easy palak paneer recipe is nut- free, gluten-free and easy made vegan! Best served with warm indian flatbreads such as naan, homemade roti, steamed rice or jeera rice.
Fresh spinach leaves, vibrant indian spices, creamy paneer cubes, it is hard to not fall in love with the simplicity of this delicious indian spinach dish. During winters, my grandmother use to make palak paneer using homegrown spinach. Her house had a vegetable patch that sprung to life with all sorts of greens under the winter sun. Easily one of the best palak paneer I have eaten, cooked with freshest spinach plucked right off the vegetable patch.
In indian cuisine, spinach is a loved leafy green and finds used in a variety of vegetarian dishes such as aloo palak, palak chana or palak dal khichdi or non vegetarian dishes like palak chicken or lamb saagwala.
About Palak Paneer
In hindi, palak is spinach. Paneer is non aged indian cheese which finds its way into numerous paneer recipes in the indian cuisine.
Palak paneer is one of the most popular among vegetarian indian dishes and has a rich, fragrantly spiced creamy spinach sauce to which shallow fried paneer is added.
Fresh spinach leaves are blanced and pureed form the base of the curry. Then we prepare a masala base using finely chopped onions, ginger, garlic and crushed tomatoes along with ground spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric and garam masala.
The recipe I am sharing in this post is homestyle palak paneer. It is not overly creamy and is made without nuts or loads of ghee.
What Kind of Spinach To Use
Since palak is the main 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 and here are my notes about them.
- Frozen spinach - Is available in various forms, including including chopped, whole leaf, and sometimes even creamed or seasoned. If you prefer using it, go for chopped frozen spinach or whole spinach leaves. You could grind the spinach yourself to desired consistency or add the chopped spinach as it is- the sauce wont be smooth as you see in pictures but still good.
- Spinach Bunch (Preferred) - 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 also 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 best taste. The leaves have a robust texture and give off a robust taste to the spinach sauce.
- Baby Spinach - My least favorite to use in curries. But does work in vegetarian curries. It has a mild delicate taste that gets overshadowed by indian spices.
Tips when choosing Spinach bunch
- Choose young & vibrant looking light green color spinach leaves. Avoid using spinach leaves with big holes.
- If you feel that the stem ends (near the root) are tough and fibrous, discard them. I don't 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 don't have to, quality fresh spinach(organic or non organic) is great.
What Is Paneer
Paneer is unaged indian cottage cheese made from full fat milk by the process of curdling the milk using an acidic agent - either lemon juice or vinegar. The resulting cheese curds are super soft, milky and unlike the regular cheese, paneer does not melt when heated.
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 among vegetarians in India.
You can easily buy a block of paneer in any indian grocery store. There are many brands available and over time you will be able to figure out the one that you like. It is now very easy to find it in stores like Costco, Whole foods or Sprouts. I like the brand "Verka" or "Gopi" paneers available in american stores.
If you are inclined towards it, paneer can be made at home. Use whole milk and an acid agent to make at home. Definitely homemade paneer is better in than store-bought paneer, however if you choose to go that route, then it will take you a couple of days to recreate this dish.
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 cooked with mustard greens. 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. Saag paneer taste 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 but the taste is different because the greens are different.
As long as you stick to using 8 to 10 oz of greens, you can use a variety of greens (like kale, collard, chard or herbs like dill ) and use my palak paneer recipe to make saag paneer.
I first shared this recipe in 2014. I have got immense love on this recipe. Here are a few things that I feel makes my homestyle palak paneer recipe stand out.
- The texture of spinach. When I grind the blanched spinach, I avoid blending it too fine. I grind the spinach on a slow speed and leave it coarse. That way, the sauce has great texture too. The spinach is cohesive but isn't gooey like blended soup or smoothie .
- No addition of Red Chili powder. I use only green chilies, indian green chilies specifically(hot!) for adding heat. The heat from green chilli is fresh & grassy and it really complements the taste of spinach.
- I don't go overboard on spices. Using too many spices can take away the delicate taste of the spinach sauce in my opinion. Go lightheaded on spices.
- Spinach Bunch - Read my notes in the previous section.
- Spices - Whole & Powdered - fennel seeds, 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 - Read my notes in the previous section. 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 / Kasoori Methi - Are super fragrant, dried fenugreek leaves. In north indian curies, fenugreek leaves are used as a finishing herb. They are also added to marinades to they impart aroma and unique taste. 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.
How To Make Palak Paneer (Step By Step)
- Spinach Puree - Start by blanching the spinach leaves. Add cloves to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Switch off the flame. Add the washed spinach to hot water. Leave for 2-3 minutes. Using tongs, place the blanched spinach in cold water for 6-7 minutes. Drain and blend.Drain and blend. Reserve the water to thin out the sauce. Alternatively, you can pressure cook the spinach leaves for one whistle.
- Soak Paneer - Add cubed paneer to a bowl and pour 1 cup hot water over it. Let paneer soak for 6-8 m inutes. Pro tip :- You can use the water you just boiled spinach in.
Make Spinach Sauce
- Heat up oil on high in a kadai(indian wok) or medium heavy bottomed pan (12 inch) or a dutch oven (4 qt or larger). Once warm, add the cumin seeds and fry in oil taking care not to burn the seeds. If needed, take the pan off the stove.
- Add the chopped onions fry 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 until the tomatoes are soft and mushy but not dried out.
- Add the pureed spinach, ginger, and salt 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 a vibrant green color spinach sauce, cook for 2-3 minutes only to preserve the color.
- I am not crazy about the green color. I like nicely bhuna (cooked down/browned) spinach so I cook down and bhuno (fry )the spinach for about 10-12 minutes adding water in parts as necessary till the oily bubbles separate on the side of the pan.
- Add the drained paneer cubes and kasuri methi (if using) along with sugar and heavy cream. Cook together for another 3-4 minutes.
- Switch off the stove and add the garam masala. Mix and let the palak paneer rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- Use a wide pan or pot while cooking the spinach sauce becasue this helps the liquid evaporate faster and the spinach is browned nicely.
- 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, bhuno spinach on very low heat.
- 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 might get a metallic taste.
How To Make Vegan Palak Paneer
- Use extra firm tofu instead of paneer (Palak tofu).
- To make dairy free palak paneer, skip or instead of heavy cream, mix in 1 tablespoon cashew cream at the end. You can add a little coconut cream as well.
For Indian Restaurant Style Palak Paneer
- Use full fat paneer.
- Add 1-2 tablespoon of ground cashew or almonds while making the spinach sauce.
- Increase the quantity of heavy cream to ¼ cup or ⅓ cup.
- Use a combination of cooking oil and ghee while making the masala base.
Storage & Reheating
Store cooked palak paneer in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To reheat, place in a cooking pot and warm up.
Freezing - If you want to freeze palak paneer, cook it as per instriuctions and don't add the heavy cream. Let it cool it completely and freeze in ziploc bags or food safe containers (I prefer these). nce thawed, warm up and stir in the cream.Serve.
Easy 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.