A Really Good Saag Paneer

This is how I like to cook saag paneer - chopped spinach, golden-crusted paneer cheese, assertively spices, and finished with toasted sesame seeds and fresh lemon juice.

A Really Good Saag Paneer

This is a saag paneer that uses a truckload of spinach, gets tang from buttermilk and a finishing squeeze of fresh lemon, magic from a host of spices, and a bit of heat from ginger and chile flakes. I bring on a bit of crunch and contrasting texture where ever I can - paneer, toasted sesame seeds, and add a touch of decadence with a splash of cream (you can use yogurt, buttermilk, or cashew cream if you like).
A Really Good Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer Inspiration

A bit of context. We make saag paneer at home a lot. Wayne started it, years ago, when he cooked Merrill's saag paneer one night, and from there it became a regular thing. The recipe has evolved and meandered quite a bit, so I thought I'd share the version I've settled into with you. I try to make it exactly the way I want to eat it, and I'd encourage you experiment as well.

To that end, for this take on saag paneer, I cook the paneer cubes until they aren't just golden, they need to go well beyond that. I like them crispy cornered, and outright crusty. Also, the chop on the spinach is something I pay extra attention to, and I chop the mountain of spinach (or greens) you need here into flecks the size of big confetti. This assures no slurpy, sloppy, un-chewable greens. And I (almost) always use fresh spinach, but you can do a (more traditional) blend of mustard greens, chard, etc. if you like!

You see a lot of recipes calling for heavy cream, but I generally prefer the tang of buttermilk as a creamy finishing touch. But if that creamy element isn't what you like, more recently, I came across something in the book Lord Krishna's Cuisine, The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking I hadn't thought of in the past. If you're making or using fresh paneer, you can use the whey liquid surrounding the cheese to loosen things up and get a bit of an extra vitamin, mineral, protein boost. Maybe you use it in place of the heavy cream, or buttermilk, or in combination.

Toasted sesame seeds bring some textural crunch, and a lemon juice to finish are both nice.
A Really Good Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer Leftovers

No surprise, having leftovers is great and saag panner is especially good the day after. Spread it thin across crackers, use it in a scramble, or inside this sort of quesadilla. I've baked it into flatbread, and used it as a pizza topping along with chickpeas and lots of herbs when it comes out of the oven.

You make your own spice blend here, but you can certainly experiment with your own or a good store-bought blend.

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A Really Good Saag Paneer

4.12 from 54 votes

A bunch of head notes here, apologies. This recipe calls for an incredible amount of spinach. Just know, it cooks down dramatically. I call for baby spinach, because it saves me having to trim a lot of unruly stems from bundles of spinach, but use any blend of greens you have on hand. For example, feel free to use any fresh spinach, but make sure it isn't overly stem-y. If you have kale or mustard greens you need to use, trade it in for some of the spinach if you like. On the cheese front, halloumi is a solid/ok substitute for paneer, but if you can get good paneer you should. And if you like a higher cheese to spinach ratio, cook up 12 ounces of paneer. If I have canned crushed or whole tomatoes that need to be used up, I throw some of those in too (chopped/drained) - good.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
  • 8 - 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional)
  • fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle
Instructions
  1. Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.
  2. While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.
  4. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.
  5. Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Notes

*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.

Serves
6
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
30 mins
 
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Comments

Just so happens I have spinach, kale AND buttermilk to use up. Will be making a version of this tonight -- paneer is pressing right now! I can't wait...

Sarah

I use Saag Paneer as a guide to a good Indian. If the Saag is good, so will the rest be. I like the way you have substituted all the cream they use for buttermilk. I was thinking of making a Greek version before you mentioned the Halloumi. Maybe with a few olives and loads of oregano. We shall see... Dave.

David Crichton

Heidi - for the spice mixture - I have all those spices but they are pre-ground. Can I use the same measurements to create the blend?

Jocelyn

@carla You can use yogurt to split the milk. About a 1/4 to 1/2 a cup starting with 1/4 cup.

Kulsum at JourneyKitchen

This looks delicious, I think this would be perfect for a Sunday lunch whilst all the family is round, can't wait to try out!

David Head

Oh, thank you so much for this recipe! I have to make it this week. I have all of the ingredients on hand except for the paneer. I appreciate the link to the homemade paneer recipe. I'm allergic to citrus. Perhaps I can substitute the lemon/lime for something else. Perhaps apple cider vinegar? Not sure. Meanwhile, I've signed up for you newsletter. Love your site! Thanks for all you do. I'll definitely be back soon!

Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box

I need to do this recipe, tomorrow. I have been spending too much money being paneer from trader joes.

maria

Made this for dinner this evening to great reviews from my (meat eating) husband. We both love saag paneer at Indian restaurants but this was different but better- less rich and fresher tasting. I too heated the buttermilk too quickly and it separated but I was in a hurry. My fault. Also used some whole and some ground spices (what I had on hand) and it worked fine. Thank you for a great recipe! Also here in Chicago most international markets seem to sell the paneer.

Jill

I've never tried making my own paneer before so definitely going to give it a go. When I order it in a restaurant I often find that it is too soft and falls apart, I think that they don't always brown it before putting it in the curry which sounds like the way to go! I love using saag as a side dish to a piece of indian spiced fish or something like that rather than as a main dish itself although like you say, you pretty much need to buy all the spinach in a 10 mile radius to make a couple of portions - well worth it in the end though.

Adam Levy

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