Saag (Palak) Paneer

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Saag (Palak) Paneer

I know, I know…it seems like I’ve been making a lot of Bengali/Indian food lately and LOTS of things with paneer.  What can I say?  I’m going through a phase.  I’m switching to Mediterranean or Caribbean food this weekend.  Most of you will recognize this dish, especially if you’ve ever been through a lunch buffet at any Indian restaurant.  Saag or Palak Paneer (which basically means spinach and fresh cheese) is an extremely popular Indian restaurant staple.  Usually it’s been sitting in a serving pan over a steamer for a few hours getting overcooked.  I’ve never been attracted to the globs of  moss-green colored spinach with a few pieces of paneer peeking out.  Make no mistake.  I love eating Saag Paneer, just not the restaurant version.  If you want to enjoy the dish in its full, delicious glory, you have to make it at home.  It’s sooooo good.  I can eat a whole bowl of this with a little rice.  It’s pretty low in fat, high in nutrients, full of flavor and a vegetarian and gluten-free dish to boot.   Just make a batch of paneer and you’re good to go.  I usually use frozen, chopped spinach because it saves lots of time and there is no taste difference.  Fresh baby spinach can definitely be used for this dish, just needs a few extra minutes of cooking time.  I also use whole Garam Masala.  Garam Masala usually consists of Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves.  They are toasted and then ground up to create the powdered version of Garam Masala.  A lot of commercial Garam Masala leave out the Cardamom because it’s an expensive spice.  Anytime spices are ground, they lose a lot of the flavor quickly.  For instance, Coriander seeds are fantastic when toasted and then ground but it tends to turn into a flavorless brown powder after a week.  I picked up an inexpensive coffee grinder and use it exclusively for my spice grinding needs since my husband, who is an ubér coffee snob would freak out if his coffee beans smelled like Garam Masala and I would not enjoy spices that smelled like coffee.  This way we’re both happy.

Just a side note about using whole spices….Bengalis, Indians, Pakistanis.  We eat food with our hands.  Many times food is served with whole chilis, cloves, bay leaves etc. and the diner knows to remove them before eating, mostly because we’re encountering them with our hands before we put it in our mouth. The western style of eating with a fork usually prevents that little step.  A lot of the whole spices have been ground into powder because of this reason.  I just count the number of bay leaves or cloves or pods I put in and do my best to fish it out.  The flavor in cooking with whole spices cannot be beat.  In certain recipes it is essential.  I guess you have two choices…wash your hands and dive in or spend a minute or two and fish out the whole spices after the dish is cooked.  Please do try cooking with whole spices though…you will really enjoy the flavors!

Ingredients at a glance

Whole spices that make up “Garam Masala” – the flavor is more intense when these whole spices are used instead of the ground version

Dried fenugreek leaves (I know it looks like a controlled substance, but it has great flavor!)

Saute the bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds and dried whole chilies in oil until it’s fragrant

Add all the other spices (except for the fenugreek leaves) and saute another 2 minutes or so

Add tomatoes to the caramelized onion mixture

Add spinach and water and cook about 6-8 minutes until spinach is tender

Add paneer and methi leaves and mix into the sauce

Add half and half and simmer for 2-3 minutes

Serve hot with plain rice or rice pilaf

Saag (Palak) Paneer

10 oz package of frozen, chopped spinach

3 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

5 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1-2 cinnamon sticks

4-5 whole cloves

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/2 tsp red chili powder

3 dried red chilies

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste (I usually blend the two together in a processor in a 1:1 ratio and keep in the fridge)

1 1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri Methi)

12 ounces (or one batch) paneer cut into cubes

1/4 cup half and half

1 3/4 cups water

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil and saute cumin seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and whole dried red chilies.  When spices are fragrant and cumin seeds are popping add in the onion and salt and continue to cook a couple of minutes until the onions are tender and carmelized.  Add in all remaining spices, except fenugreek leaves and continue to stir fry for about a minute and a half before adding in the tomatoes.  Tomatoes should cook down and begin separating from the oil before spinach is added along with about a cup and a half of water.  Cook uncovered (this keeps the spinach from turning a mossy green color) for about 5-6 minutes until spinach is tender and all the spices are incorporated.  Add in Methi leaves (fenugreek leaves) and the paneer and gently stir in.  Add the half and half and look another couple of minutes.  Turn off heat and serve with some plain white rice or a pilaf.

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19 responses »

  1. Pingback: Kolpona Cuisine’s Muttar Paneer with Freshly-Shelled Peas | coolcookstyle

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  3. Pingback: Indian-Spiced Kale and Paneer, or, Not Quite Saag Paneer « emmycooks

  4. Made this tonight and it was so unbelievably good!! My husband kept saying it was the best saag paneer he’d ever eaten. I always think I can’t cook Indian food because the flavors aren’t as good as I want, but I think I’ve found the secret–your blog! Thanks so much for sharing your recipes, I can’t wait to try more!

  5. Pingback: Kale Paneer | coolcookstyle

  6. I love saag paneer. It’s everywhere, but it’s everywhere because it’s delicious!

    Sometimes I order out from this little place down the street. I love it because there is A) a WOMAN in the kitchen! B) her daughter and nieces work the front. They always call me dearie and sneak little extras into my take-out. I love giving them business, but this makes me want to try making saag paneer at home.

    You inspired me though to make an Indian dish tonight!

  7. Saag is my FAVOURITE Indian dish and yours looks incredibly delicious. I’m just unpacking house in Vancouver but as soon as I have spices again this is ON!!

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