When it comes to spinach, people usually have a love/hate relationship. Personally, I am a big fan. I use spinach quite a lot in my day to day cooking, it’s such a versatile vegetable. Spinach works well in most any type of cuisine whether you’re adding it to dal, pasta, stir-frys, curries, tagines, noodles, quesadillas, pizza… you get the idea, the culinary possibilities are virtually endless.
Spinach is very healthy, nutritious and full of antioxidants. It’s also high in iron, vitamins A & C and even calcium. Unfortunately, spinach is rarely a favorite especially among kids. This is certainly and thankfully not the case with my own son, who absolutely loves spinach. As a mother, it is a real pleasure to see my son not only enjoying his spinach but also asking for seconds!
Palak is the Hindi word for spinach; it is often used interchangeably with the Hindi word saag. So l am here to set the record straight, saag is a very broad term used to characterize any leafy green (such as mustard greens, kale, chards…) and there are lots of varieties of green leafy vegetables available in India that will fall into this category.
Palak Paneer is a delicious Punjabi dish combining creamy spinach with cubes of paneer (a non-melting Indian cheese). I recommend using fresh baby spinach leaves but frozen chopped spinach works equally well and is a great timesaver. Home made paneer is the best otherwise ready made paneer is available in most Indian grocery stores. If you prefer, you can substitute the paneer with firm ricotta cheese or extra firm tofu as well.
PALAK PANEER (Spinach with Indian Cheese)
2 lbs fresh baby spinach leaves (or frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained)
1 lb of paneer cubes (about 28-30 cubes)
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
1 tsp ground cumin powder
1 tsp ground coriander powder
½ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp red chili powder, to taste
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt & pepper, to taste
½ cup cream (you can use light cream or even half & half)
2-3 tbsp oil, vegetable of canola
In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the spinach leaves for just a minute or two. Remove, drain well in a colander and run under cold water. This will stop the cooking process and also set their lovely green color. Using a food processor or blender, puree the spinach into a smooth paste. Do not over blend otherwise you may end up with spinach juice! Obviously if you are using frozen spinach leaves, they don’t need to be blanched.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add about 1 tbsp of the oil and lightly fry the paneer cubes until they are browned on all sides. Drain well on absorbent paper towels and set aside until needed. This step adds a wonderful depth of flavor but is optional, you can add the paneer directly to the spinach without browning it.
To the same skillet on medium high heat, add another tbsp of oil (if needed). When the oil is hot, add the onions and let cook until they are translucent (around 5-6 minutes). Now add the ginger and garlic. Stir fry for a few more minutes and add the spices (turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, red chili powder, salt and pepper). Let the spices cook for a few more minutes and then care fully add the pureed spinach. You can add a little water if needed, the traditional consistency of this dish is that of a thick gravy. But you can add as much or as little water as you prefer. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients, reduce the heat to medium low and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Now add the paneer cubes, cream and the freshly grated nutmeg. Stir and let cook for a few more minutes until the paneer cubes have warmed through. Serve with fresh rotis and fragrant Basmati rice.
Feel free to make this dish using methi or fenugreek leaves in place of the spinach to make tasty Methi Paneer.