There are so many amazing vegetarian Indian dishes using paneer cheese as the protein. Probably the first one I can remember ever having is Palak Paneer (literally “Spinach Cheese”). It’s always been one I loved, for its deeply spiced and layered flavor. I also enjoy the comforting texture of this dish, especially when served with some crispy roti or naan. It is also popular to eat with rice.
Between making the paneer cheese and the green sauce, consisting primarily of spinach, it takes a bit of work but it’s also not too crazy. Like most things in the kitchen, the more you do it the quicker it gets. The cheese and the sauce on their own is not too big of a hassle, but I normally make the dish a day or two after making the cheese because I don’t always have the time to do it all in a day.
Tofu/Vegan Option: Another way to save time or to modify the dish for vegans is to sub tofu for the paneer cheese. They have a very similar feel and flavor. Furthermore, like the paneer cheese, the tofu can be pan fried beforehand to add an extra layer of flavor and texture interest, though I usually skip this step. If you do pan fry the tofu, I recommend dredging the cubes in flour first and then shallow frying until the cubes are nice and golden.
Yield: Serves 2 (or one very hungry person)
- Large saucepan
- Large bowl of ice water
- Knife & cutting board
- Measuring spoons
- Medium/large frying pan & wooden spoon
- Medium blender or food processor
- 1/2 lb. spinach (225g)
- 3 TBSP ghee (or sub with butter as needed)
- 1.5 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 10 whole cashews (raw or roasted)
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 1-2 jalapenos, seeded & diced (or peppers to taste)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 medium red onion, diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- Optional: 1/4 bushel cilantro (10-15g), chopped + more to garnish
- Optional: 1/4 cup dried fenugreek leaves
- ~200-225g paneer cheese, diced into 3/4″ cubes (my recipe here)
- Salt to taste
1.) Wash the spinach and try to trim some or all the stems, as needed. Bring 8 cups water to boil in saucepan. Add the spinach to the boiling water; stir and submerge with the wooden spoon, for 30-45 seconds. Pour the spinach over the colander to drain the water. Quickly transfer the spinach to the ice water
2.) Remove the spinach from the ice water once it is cold to the touch. Squeeze out some of the liquid and transfer it to the blender. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt, and blend until smooth. If the sauce seems too thick and won’t easily pour out of the blender, add another 1/4 cup water and blend for another 30 seconds.
3.) Add the ghee to the frying pan and melt over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, stirring occasionally. Heat for a minute or so (often they may begin to crackle), then quickly add the cashews, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Stir for a minute, then add the minced red onion, turmeric powder, garam masala, coriander powder and a pinch of salt. Continue to stir and cook for another minute or so, then add the tomato and cook an additional minute.
4.) Pour the spinach puree over the pan and stir everything until well combined. Add a couple TBSP water and stir some more. Increase the heat until the mix gets a bit bubbly, but then reduce heat to low and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and dried fenugreek leaves and then turn off the heat.
5.) At this stage the paneer can be added and the dish can be served. However, my preference is to transfer all the sauce/gravy to the blender and process on high for about a minute. At that point, the consistency can be checked and if a slightly thinner gravy is desired, an extra TBSP or two of water can be added. You may also add any extra salt as desired. (Note: using the leftover paneer liquid whey instead of water is also a good technique to add depth of flavor.)
6.) Add the gravy to a deep plate(s) and add the paneer cheese. It can be gently mixed on or left on top of the gravy. Garnish with cilantro as desired and serve.