A Really Good Saag Paneer

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 all the time. I'm talking once a week or every ten days. 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, because, at some point, personal preference trumps everything else. Even when you're dealing with a classic preparation. I also featured another, different, streamlined version in Near & Far (also great!) a few years after this.

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. Beyond that, I chop the mountain of spinach 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!
A Really Good Saag Paneer

It is the sort of thing that is even better the day after - spread on thin crackers, or inside this sort of quesadilla. You make your own spice blend here, but you can certainly experiment with your own or a good store-bought blend.

A Really Good Saag Paneer

4.08 from 40 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. Feel free to use any fresh spinach, but make sure it isn't overly stem-y. On the cheese front, Halloumi is a solid substitute for paneer, and here's a link if you want to make paneer at home. 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. And if you have kale you need to use, trade chopped kale for some of the spinach if you like.

  • 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
  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.

*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.

Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
30 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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  • Never apologize about to much spinach. I eat so much spinach and kale so the more the merrier. This looks like the perfect weekday lunch for me.

    jackie @ marin mama cooks
  • Looks delicious. Indian food is one of my favorite treats.

  • One of my favorite Indian dishes--can't beat homemade paneer. Now, to master Malai Kofta....

  • Saag paneer is just total comfort food for me and my husband - I usually just get it at restaurants, but now I'm inspired to try it at home! Thanks! :)

    Anjali @ The Picky Eater
  • I cannot find paneer cheese locally. Is there another type of cheese that could be substituted?

  • This looks delicious. My husband loves spicey food so this will definitely be one for me to try. I also have a big bag of spinach to use up. Perfect :)

  • i've been wanting to make this forever at home - i always order it when i'm out!

    lynn @ the actor's diet
  • Hi, I've just started following your blog - love it. I live in France and we have a wonderful dairy farm near us. I started making my own paneer last summer, very rewarding. I like it with peas too.

    Sandra McNeill
  • How come we're just hearing about something you cook every week? ;) I make a version of saag paneer with chickpeas instead of paneer. Not exactly authentic, but it comes together faster than making my own paneer. Have a good rest of the week :)

  • I LOVE the simplicity of your recipes in creating intricate dishes; making this for sure.

  • I have *always* wanted to make this at home. It's one of my favorites and I have it all the time when we go Indian and yet I've never attempted it. Not sure why. I have to say though I can't imagine my pot will hold that much spinach, it really is a lot :) I am going to assume that batches work and carry on with it this weekend. Thanks for posting Heidi.

    Oana from dishchronicles
  • wow, I love saag paneer but guess I've never looked at a recipe for it...didn't realize it was so simple to make! The toasty paneer sounds extra delicious.

    Jessica @ bake me away!
  • Very VERY excited to try this on the weekend!!! I'm lucky enough to live near to a seriously good Indian place who do just about everything BUT a saag paneer!

  • This recipe reminds me of "espinacas con garbanzos"--a Spanish recipe with spinach, garbanzos, garlic, cumin, and paprika. It seems like something that you'd like, if you haven't tried it yet. :)

  • is there any difference with Palak Paneer or is it just another name?

  • OH!!! I have everything in the fridge. Here comes dinner on Thursday, maybe friday. I have attempted this once before and it was good, but I'm looking for great and you always deliver. I think it's the name :)

  • amazing! one of my favorite things to make of all time as well!

  • Looks lovely. I was planning on making some paneer, and this gives me the motivation to go through with it! I assume you could use the whey from homemade paneer in place of the butter milk? Also, your kitchen counter and white pot are so CLEAN! How is it possible to have such a bright white pot? The lid is practically invisible!

  • This looks incredible! The paneer, with the ghee, with the spinach and buttermilk. Whoa, you have me craving Indian food!

    Averie @ Averie Cooks
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