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.
Saag Paneer InspirationA 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.
Saag Paneer LeftoversNo 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.
A Really Good Saag Paneer
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.
- 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
Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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I'm so happy! This is our favorite dish at Indian restaurants, and I've been meaning to perfect my home version of it, without having enough time to do too much experimenting. Now I can try this as my starting point. Thank you!
Yummy; so pretty Heidi. I wanna bite!
speaking of the unda style egg quesadilla... that post was the first time I read your blog and it has become a recurring meal each time we have leftover corn tortillas. Can't wait to try the saag paneer!
My journey to homemade saag paneer tracks yours almost exactly. Nothing quite hit it just right, then there was Merrill's recipe, which changed everything, then we adapted just a bit. I'm also not so worried about the authenticity, because when you come right down to it, saag paneer is not the most authentic of Indian dishes to begin with. A few months ago I started making my own paneer, too. So easy, though trickier to crisp up in the pan because it's never quite as firm and chewy as the purchased stuff.
lovely to see this dish here.Back in India i grew up eating saag paneer and i totally get crispy stir fried paneer. My mom used to specially do it for me while my sister preferred raw/non fried paneer. You can also add tomatoes/puree to the dish a little of it changes the flavour a little bit. Loved your version and will give it try.
Wow. This sounds great. We have a lot of spinach right now, so this will be perfect. Thanks. I also agree that "authenticity" should be subordinate to taste. A good dish is a good dish, whatever you call it. Besides, if we only make the "authentic" version, where is the progress?
Yum! I've only just recently learned the beauty of well-cooked spinach, especially in this form, and have also been known to make it about once a week. Eager to try your version.
You can make variations of this with chicken and lamb. It's a great one pot meal.
Heidi, very warming to see how you made our traditional Saag Paneer to your taste. We love it all the time. One more thing....though this recipe will not show turmeric in it, but nevertheless we put it in the seasoning for its eternal goodness.
Beautiful stuff. Have just come back from Milan and am craving spice and green things that don't come with carbs. This is perfect.
I've never had Saag Paneer but it sounds utterly delicious. I can't wait to try this and it sounds so simple. Thanks for sharing.
Very beautifully described.
Whenever they have this dish at the WF hot bar, I load up on it. Will definitely be trying out this recipe!
I make saag paneer a lot too, but for my vegan son I use fried cubes of tofu in lieu of paneer (a swap I was leery of at first, but which works wonderfully well), and a few tablespoons of coconut milk in lieu of cream. And the greens can be ANYTHING and still be delicious, in my experience: we make it with nettles all the time, because they're wild and free and we collect tons of them in the spring and store them in the freezer so they're always on hand.
HS: LOVE the nettles idea - I'm all over that. Maybe a blend.
I've never made saag paneer because it just seemed intimidating. This looks amazing though, and not as intimidating as I thought. The pics make for an even better pre-lunch craving :)
This looks awesome! Great pictures, as always Saag paneer has always been one of my favorite things at Indian restaurants. Bring on the spinach!!!
We are big on nutrient-dense leafy greens in my house, so this recipe got me hooked right away. I will definitely try it out, though I may substitute in some coconut milk for the buttermilk...hopefully that won't kill all the delicious creamy cheesy flavor. I like the idea of serving it with yogurt for an added tang. I'll let you know once I try this!
Do you ever make the paneer yourself? I would like to know a good recipe (Isn't it just milk and lime juice?) - will be making this soon either way!
Saag paneer is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I love the idea of using buttermilk instead of lots of butter and cream. Can't wait to try it out!
I've never made saag paneer, and can't wait to give it a try. Spinach and cheese is a combination I always go for.
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