Palak paneer or spinach with the Indian fresh cheese called paneer is one of those dishes that every non-Indian, who ate in an Indian restaurant once upon a time, seems to know about. Bengalis do not usually make palak paneer at home, because it is not part of our cuisine. But thanks to the proliferation of “North Indian” restaurants, it’s available in every corner of the country.
I usually avoid this dish in a restaurant, because every time I have eaten this in the past, I have marvelled at how the taste of spinach has been methodically beaten out of the dish. One could probably make this dish with just about any green on this planet, and it might have tasted the same.
Spinach has a rather delicate flavour and needs to be handled properly to bring it out. Adding a tub of spices and herbs and boiling it for a lifetime and a half is not going to do it. I handle it in the following way: adding a minimum of spices and cooking for a short amount of time.
I have made it with both fresh and frozen spinach and while fresh spinach has a perkier taste and flavour that frozen spinach can never hope to achieve, in a pinch frozen spinach will do the job quite decently and let’s not forget, it is still a healthy dish!
RECIPE: The Minimalist Indian Palak Paneer
750 kg frozen chopped spinach or about 2 kilos of fresh spinach
350 gms paneer (I bought mine from the Indian store but you can make your own if you know how or wait for a recipe on this blog)
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 small cloves garlic
1 tsp grated ginger (if using frozen spinach)
1 tbsp all-purpose flour (or any gluten-free subsitute)
1 tbsp oil
Cracked red chilli flakes
Salt to taste
- Cut the paneer into small cubes
- Heat oil in a non-stick pan and fry the paneer until nicely browned on at least a couple of sides. Drain and set aside
- If your pan is not big enough for cooking the final dish then take the pot that will work and pour the oil into it. Reheat.
- Add the chopped onion and sauté until softened.
- Add garlic and stir for a few seconds
- Add the flour and sauté for half a minute or so.
- Add the spinach and sprinkle a tsp of salt and chilli flakes.
- Cook on a slow heat, adding half a cup of water or two if your spinach does not release a lot of liquids. Simmer until the spinach is just cooked through.
- If you are using frozen chopped spinach then your cooking ends here. Add the paneer, heat through, adjust seasoning and serve with rice or bread.
- If using fresh spinach then remove from heat once it’s done and puree the mixture with a hand-held mixer. Add the paneer and return to the stove to heat the paneer through. Adjust seasoning and serve with rice or bread.