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What Is Palak Paneer?
Palak paneer is a north Indian vegetarian curry with origins in the Punjab region. The dish is comprised of a spinach purée (palak is Hindi for spinach) and fresh-pressed cheese, with an aromatic blend of spices that includes ginger, garlic, and garam masala. Palak paneer is also sometimes called saag paneer.
Palak paneer is often served with basmati rice, naan bread, or both. Find our recipe for basmati rice here, or learn to make your homemade naan bread with this comprehensive article.
What Is Paneer?
Paneer is an unaged, fresh, farmer-style cheese, made by draining fresh milk curds (usually formed with an acid like lemon juice) and weighing them down for a few hours into a compact cheese, which then holds its shape. Unlike many cheeses, paneer does not melt when cubed and cooked. It has a pleasant, mild character, and takes on the flavors of the surrounding curry beautifully.
Is Palak Paneer Vegan?
Is Palak Paneer Vegan?
Traditional palak paneer contains dairy in the form of ghee (clarified butter), heavy cream, and paneer. However, you can easily make your palak paneer vegan with a few simple substitutions.
- Substitute olive oil for ghee. While olive oil won’t impart the same richness as ghee or clarified butter, it’s a fine substitute in this dish.
- Substitute coconut milk for heavy cream. Coconut milk provides the same creamy finish as heavy cream. Avoid other dairy-free alternatives like nut milks, which are too thin for palak paneer.
- Substitute tofu for paneer. Make sure the tofu is lightly-firm. Too firm, and the tofu will be dry and crumbly; you want it to absorb the spice profile of the dish. Too soft or silken, and it may lose too much of its texture.
3 Tips for Making Perfect Palak Paneer
- Blanch the spinach before you purée. Although some people swear by fresh spinach, blanching your spinach helps give palak paneer a vibrant green hue. Blanched spinach also gives the spinach purée a creamier consistency.
- Add dried fenugreek. Also known as kasuri methi, dried fenugreek lends the palak paneer a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that pairs nicely with the fresh cheese. Fenugreek leaves are often used as an herb or seasoning in Indian food, but it’s not a requirement.
- But only use the leaves. If you do include kasuri methi in your palak paneer, be sure to use dried leaves, rather than the seeds or ground powder found in most grocery stores. Fenugreek leaves are less bitter than the seeds, and won’t overpower the spinach.
Easy Palak Paneer Recipe
Prep Time10 min
Total Time30 min
Cook Time20 min
- 1-2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 1 medium tomato, quartered
- 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
- 5 garlic cloves (3 whole, 2 finely chopped)
- 1 green chili (Thai green chilies work well)
- 1 large onion, medium diced
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 cup paneer cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (or more, to preference)
- ½ tbsp fenugreek leaves, crushed
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring salted water to a boil in a medium pot. Blanch the spinach leaves for 2 minutes, until leaves are bright green. Remove immediately and dunk in cold water; drain well. (You can also use frozen spinach; pop in the microwave in a bowl with a bit of water before using.)
- Combine with tomato, ginger, the whole cloves of garlic, and chili in a food processor. Purée until a fine, wet paste forms.
- Melt ghee in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped garlic, and sauté until beginning to brown, and then add the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent.
- Add the spinach mixture and water to the pan. Stir to combine, and season to taste. Lower stovetop to medium heat and cover, stirring occasionally, for about 6-8 minutes, or until thickened to preference. If it becomes too thick, adjust with more water.
- When you’ve achieved desired consistency, add garam masala, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander, and stir to combine. Season to taste.
- Lower heat and add heavy cream and paneer. Simmer for a few minutes, until paneer is warmed through.
- Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, fenugreek leaves, and stir to combine. Season with salt if desired. Serve hot with basmati rice or naan bread.
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