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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  • not a comment but further inquiry - do you have a recipe for the spicey, tomatoey, oniony chutney that is usually served with Sagg in Indian restaurants? I tried your recipe. YUMMY

  • I love saag paneer - and also paneer with peas (cheesy peas, as we used to call them in Glasgow). Truly wow!

  • I sprinkle my paneer with milk, then dust with fine cornmeal before frying. It gives eXtra crusty goodness :)))) Can't wait to try your tweaks!

  • Mary, for a vegan buttermilk I am fairly sure I made this some years ago. From memory it was just lemon juice in soy milk and it worked perfectly. Google should bring up exact quantities.

  • I make saag paneer a lot too. bit of a spinach freak. One thing that interests me is the buttermilk. I've never tried that and I can imagine that it's great. Mike, if you can't find paneer, it's very easy to make. Feels good too. Making your own cheese makes you feel very smug and self-sufficient!! - Emer

  • I love paneer but have never made it myself, I will try this recipe. I'm not too familar with the cheese, do you think it possible to use queso fresco instead? It seems to have the same texture and body....

  • Saag is also good made with rapini (or a mix of rapini or broccoli raab and spinach) with a carrot or two grated in for a bit of sweetness.

  • I am interested in re-creating this as a dairy free recipe. I've substituted tofu for paneer in that past, but I'd welcome suggestions from anyone about how to replace the buttermilk.

  • Hi Heidi, I am Indian and was born here in the US and have spent about half of my life in both places, I have been cooking veggie meals since I was 11. Try adding a little fenugreek leaves, maybe 1/4 cup - these are available sometimes fresh and all the time frozen in Indian stores.

  • This makes me happy :)

  • I love saag! I make mine with whatever green leafy things I've picked up at the farmer's market ... I figure, the greater the diversity in leaves, the better! Yum. :)

  • When I saw an Indian recipe posted my heart fluttered with joy!

  • Never had this in my life (I know, it's very provincial of me) but now I really want this badly. Just have to find Paneer cheese and I'm all set. Plus with all that spinach I just know it's going to be awesome!

    Mike @TheIronYou
  • I always want to make your recipes the second you post them, Heidi, and this is no exception! I have had a hard time finding paneer cheese around here, but I'll look at again at our local gourmet shop. I love saag paneer and it's high time that I try making my own!

    Cookie + Kate
  • Lovely! It's a staple in our house too. I am less fussy about stem-y spinach because we blend the greens in our recipe; in fact I think saag paneer entered the regular rotation when we were repeatedly delivered stem-y chard in our vege box. Since you're not hung up on authenticity, I'll admit that we sometimes substitute the paneer for tofu! Like you, we like to sauté it first and get a golden crust going.

  • We had our (vegan) version of palak/saag tofu last night (with tomatoes!) - we definitely make it at least once every two weeks. It's a perfect weeknight supper served alongside quinoa or basmati rice. I can't wait to try your spice mixture to switch it up a bit. Tofu makes a fine substitute for paneer if you don't have access to an Indian market - just make sure to bake/pan-fry the tofu cubes until golden and firm prior to incorporating into the spinach.

  • Wow - Indian food is my absolute favorite, but I rarely try cooking it at home. This definitely looks doable! I love your blog and cookbooks. Thanks!

  • I'll definitely have to try this - I've tried a number of recipes for saag paneer/tofu, and I've never been satisfied with the results. Thanks for a new recipe to try!

  • Oh Yes!!I Like it!!You gave me a good idea for today lunch!! have a nice day!! Stefy

  • A very good saag paneer indeed...I love the quesadilla stuffing idea- great for leftovers .

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