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What Is Paneer?
Paneer is an un-aged, 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 and does not melt when cubed and cooked. It has a pleasant, mild character and takes on the flavors of the surrounding curry beautifully.
What Is Punjabi-Style Palak Paneer vs. Dhaba-Style Palak Paneer?
Punjabi style cuisine is a hallmark of the Northern Indian subcontinent, known for its use of the tandoor oven and preference for rich, buttery flavors alongside Basmati rice.
“Dhaba style” simply refers to a style of rustic cooking used by roadside dhaba restaurants throughout the Punjab. Though typically less refined than the techniques you’d find in a restaurant kitchen, dhaba style cooking is bold and simple, with an emphasis on using whole or freshly ground spices (since grinders are a rarity) and the twin forces of charcoal smoke and acid to round out a dish.
Is Palak Paneer Vegan?
You can easily make vegan palak paneer with a few simple substitutions:
- Coconut milk for heavy cream. Coconut milk provides the same creamy finish as heavy cream. Dairy-free alternatives like nut milks are too thin.
- 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. This helps with the eye-catching electric green hue of the dish, although some people swear by fresh spinach. Blanched spinach also gives the spinach purée a creamier consistency.
- Add kasuri methi, or dried fenugreek. This 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 cuisine, but it’s not a requirement.
- But only use the leaves! If you do include kasuri methi or dried fenugreek, be sure to use the leaves, not the ground seeds—they’re less bitter and won’t overpower the spinach.
Easy Palak Paneer Recipe
- 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.
- In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat a drizzle of olive oil. 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. Bring heat down to medium 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.