Although I’ve always enjoyed Indian cuisine growing up in Western Canada, I think the first time I tried saag or palak paneer was at Michelin-starred, Tamerind in TriBeCa. This Indian version of creamed spinach includes some wonderful spices and paneer cheese, a type of Indian farmer’s cheese, similar to Mexico’s queso blanco or queso fresco.
Saag Paneer is a popular dish of Northern India and can be made with just about any greens (saag just means greens in Hindi) although in North America and Europe, spinach (palak) is the green of choice for this dish. It can be served over a bed of basmati rice or simply scooped up with some naan or roti.
Now, just a quick discussion on the choice of spinach. Fresh spinach does taste much better than frozen spinach. However, using fresh spinach add extra steps (blanching, chopping, draining, squeezing). Even with the draining it also tends to make the dish watery, although this can be cooked off – it just takes time. Having said that, some people do not seem to taste the difference between fresh and frozen spinach as the spices are the centerpiece of the dish. Using frozen spinach just makes the dish much faster (think weeknight dinner) to make.
Finally, as for the spices, the measurements are not cut in stone, and can be changed depending on your tastes. Garam masala can be hard to find in many supermarkets (although it can be easily made) so curry powder can be substituted. If using generic curry powder, than half the measurements for turmeric, cumin and coriander can be used as curry powder is essentially just a mix of those and a few other spices.
- 8 ounces paneer, cubed
- 1 lb. frozen spinach, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. + 1 Tbsp. ghee (or canola oil)
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 1/2″ piece of ginger, peeled and finely julienne
- 2 serrano chilies, chopped (or 1 Thai chili)
- 1/2 tsp. garam masala (curry powder can be substituted)
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 ripe tomato, finely chopped (optional)
- 8-10 Tbsp. heavy cream
- Heat 2 tablespoon ghee or oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Cut the paneer into about 1/2″ to 3/4″ cubes and working in batches, add cheese to the skillet, frying for about 5 minutes until golden brown on most sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate, sprinkle with salt and set aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon ghee to the skillet, then add onion, garlic, ginger and chili. Saute for about 4-5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Turn heat to medium-low and add the spices (garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander and chili powder), cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
- Return heat to medium, add the finely chopped tomato and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook for another 5 minutes, until spinach is soft, adding a splash of water if needed, to prevent spices from burning.
- Return paneer to the skillet, add cream and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the spinach is creamy and thick. Season with salt to taste.
- Serve with naan, roti or over basmati rice.