Palak Paneer - Indian Cheese In A Mild Spinach Gravy (GF)
This is another one of those more common Indian preparations from the north which is invariably on the menu of most restaurants, small or big, that serve Punjabi or north Indian food. Almost everyone who cooks it has their own recipe for it so I don’t know if there such a thing as an authentic Palak Paneer.
Palak paneer is nothing but pan-fried fresh, soft Indian milk cheese (paneer) in a mildly spiced spinach (palak) gravy. Spinach is the stuff of Popeye’s muscles (at least it used to be when I was growing up) and is one of those vegetables which falls in the “good for you” category for parents, and the “can’t stand the stuff” category for their kids. Most children (and adults) that I know of love paneer, and I have many Indian mothers say that Palak Paneer is one way they can get their children eat spinach.
Unfortunately for me, even though my daughter can probably eat paneer for all 3 meals of the day, palak paneer is one preparation which she will avoid. If pushed to the wall, she will pick out the paneer and leave the spinach behind. She will tolerate spinach as mulagootal or in her chappathis, pooris or parathas provided it is puréed and in the dough.
So obviously, this is one of those dishes I do not cook as often as I would like to. The palak paneer in my photographs may not look very inviting, but if you like spinach then this is a great way to enjoy it. The additional of cream at the end does make a difference to the taste, but if you are going to be cooking this often you might find it healthier to leave it out. In this case, replace the cream with milk.
This is a very simple dish to make and and doesn’t require much time or effort. Here is a good video on how to make palak paneer, though the recipe is different from mine. You can use store bought paneer to make palak paneer, but you may refer to this post (or this video) if you want to make your own at home.
- I use fresh palak (spinach), so if you’re using the frozen variety you don’t need to this. Take the leaves of the stalks and also the tender part of the stems. Discard the rest. Wash the spinach and soak it in water, to which a heaping tsp of salt has been added, for about half an hour. This ensures that microscopic oraganisms (which didn't wash away) will be destroyed. Drain the water and wash again.
- Steam cook the spinach or in the microwave, without covering it so that the spinach retains its bright green colour. Let it cool and then purée it in the blender, adding as little water as possible, till smooth.
- Now prepare the paneer. Put the paneer cubes in a bowl and sprinkle the flour over it. Toss the paneer so that it is well coated with the flour. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan and add the floured paneer to it. Cook the paneer, over medium heat, till it turns a golden brown. Turn the paneer so that the cubes are uniformly brown and do not cook it for too long else the paneer will turn tough and very chewy.
- When it is done, take the paneer out and drop it into the warm milk. It helps if the milk is in a shallow bowl so that all the paneer is in contact with the milk. Dunking the fried paneer in milk keeps it soft. Keep aside.
- Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tbsp oil in a non-stack pan. Add the onions, garlic and ginger pastes and sauté over medium heat, till the onions turn soft and the raw smell disappears. Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin powders and stir. Let this cook for a minute. Then add the tomato purée and cook this for a couple of minutes, stirring on and off.
- Add the puréed spinach, the salt and the garam masala. Mix well and cook for about 3 minutes and then add the paneer cubes with milk. Stir everything gently so that the milk blends with the spinach, taking care to see the paneer doesn’t break. Cook the palak paneer for a further 2 to 3 minutes and then take it off the heat.
- Ladle the palak paneer into a serving bowl and garnish with cream. Serve hot with chappathis, naan or rice.