In sharing my recipe for Chana Masala, I shared about my apprehension to make Indian food, followed by serious excitement once I actually started doing it and realized that it isn't so difficult. Palak Paneer has since been my other go-to Indian dish, gracing our table particularly often come the season of endless greens.
For those of you who haven't had it before, palak paneer is a dish of spinach, tomato, and spices simmered into a thick sauce and tossed with cubes of paneer cheese. While Indian folks may scoff, I make palak paneer with whatever greens I have on hand and sometimes even replace the paneer with cubes of tofu (!!!). Of course it always tastes best with the paneer, but sometimes we're on a healthy kick or just don't have milk or paneer on hand.
As for what greens to use, I've used a lot of different things with great success across the board. Spinach of course. Kale. Radish greens. Beet greens. Chard. A mixture of whatever we have! The meal of palak paneer photographed in this post was actually made with 100% stinging nettle greens that we harvested while hiking in the Colombia River Gorge. They're packed with amazing nutrition and made an amazing substitute for spinach - yum! Plus, a meal always tastes better when you harvested some of the ingredients yourself.
It wouldn't be a discussion of cooking Indian food at home without me making a plug for grinding your own spices! They taste so much more flavorful, and the little bit of work it takes is totally worth it. Plus, if you do the job in a mortar and pestle - it's a good dose of free stress release pounding the heck out of those spices : ) you're welcome.
Now, the paneer! Another day I'll share my recipe for making paneer at home, but if you're interested for the time being, check out this resource from The Kitchn to learn more. Making cheese at home may seem like a difficult task... but paneer is the number one easiest cheese you can make yourself. It's a great way to learn the beginnings of cheesemaking, and enjoy paneer if you live somewhere it is difficult to find!
Alright friends - lets all soak up the springtime vibes with a nice big bowl of palak paneer to enjoy!
3 Tbsp ghee or high heat oil
1 small onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp whole coriander, ground
2 tsp cumin seed, ground
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
pinch of hing powder (if you don't have this, the dish will still taste great without it!)
1 tsp salt
4 cups packed chopped spinach, or any other green you please
1/3 lb paneer cheese or tofu, cut into cubes
1/3 cup cream (optional)
- Heat a wide bottomed pot or deep-sided pan over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of the ghee or oil and let it heat. Add the onions and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they start to brown.
- While the onions are cooking, puree the tomatoes and ginger in a blender. Set aside.
- Once the onions are starting to brown, add in the coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and hing. Stir the spices in with the onions and let them toast until fragrant. This should take about 30 seconds.
- Once the spices are fragrant, quickly add in the pureed tomatoes so they don't burn. Stirring occasionally, cook the mixture for a few minutes until the liquid has reduced by almost half.
- Add the spinach, and cook until it is fully wilted.
- Transfer the entire contents of the pot into your blender, or use an immersion blender, and blend it a bit to break down the spinach.
- Return to the pot, and let simmer over for about 10 minutes, or until it has thickened. If you're using the cream, stir it in towards the end of this process.
- While the final simmer is happening, we'll brown the paneer cheese or tofu. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of ghee or oil over medium high heat in a pan large enough for the paneer cubes to fit in one layer with a little space between each one. Brown the cubes by cooking for about a minute on each side (or at least most of the sides!).
- Stir the paneer into the spinach, or place it on top of each bowl when you serve.
- Serve with rice or naan.