Palak Paneer (Fresh Cheese in Curried Spinach) is a flavorful meal that will be a welcome addition to any vegetarian and/or gluten-free meal.
I really enjoy Indian food. There is just so much flavor packed into every dish! And I also like that many Indian dishes are vegetarian or vegan, or, if they're not, can easily be made vegetarian. For these reasons, I often make Indian-inspired meals at home.
This Palak Paneer is a great example of a delicious vegetarian Indian dish. Paneer can be served with many other delicious sauces, but this pureed spinach sauce is one of my favorites. It's a great way to get that vegetable intake up, and it's a great way to use up one of those giant bags of fresh spinach.
What is paneer?
Paneer is a fresh cheese that is made by mixing dairy milk with an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), then pressing the curds together. Paneer is mild-tasting and doesn't melt when heated.
It is commonly used in Indian cooking, and its mild flavor doesn't compete with the more flavorful sauces and curries that it's commonly added to.
Because paneer is made from milk, it is considered to be vegetarian, not vegan.
Where do I buy paneer?
You can find paneer in the refrigerated section (likely near the other cheeses) of well-stocked grocery stores.
In Edmonton where I live, you can buy it almost anywhere, including Costco, Wal-Mart, and other common grocery chains.
However, when I lived in Wisconsin, it was a little more difficult to find. Sometimes the larger grocery stores (Woodman's) would have it in the freezer section of the International aisle. Otherwise, I would go to smaller South Asian markets to buy it.
How do I use paneer at home?
Because paneer tastes pretty mild on its own, it's best to serve it with other flavorful ingredients. Like in this palak paneer, it is often served in well-seasoned sauces.
Paneer can be used to replace cubes of chicken or other meat in dishes like butter chicken or korma.
It can also be cut into cubes and marinated and roasted or stir-fried, and served with salads or grains like noodles or rice.
How do I store paneer?
When you buy paneer, it often comes in a vacuum-sealed package. You can store it just like that in the fridge up to the best-before date on the package.
If you know that you're not going to use it right away, like most cheeses, you can simply put it in the freezer. When you're ready to use it, thaw it overnight in the fridge.
If you have leftovers from an open package of paneer, you can store them in a zipper bag or airtight container in the fridge (use by the best-before date on the package), or put the leftovers in the freezer to use another time.
How to Make Palak Paneer:
Making this palak paneer starts with blanching some spinach. Blanching spinach is basically just immersing it into simmering water until it turns bright green, and wilts. Take the spinach out of the water and cool it in a bowl of ice water to prevent overcooking.
Depending on how big your pot is, you might need to do this in batches. Instead of getting out my big stock pot, and waiting longer for the extra water to boil, I opted to blanch my spinach in 3 batches.
If you happen to have frozen spinach on hand, feel free to use that instead, and skip the blanching step (frozen spinach is already blanched - see the notes in the recipe below).
You can cook the sauce in the same pot that you blanched the spinach in, if you wish (discard the water first). Saute the onions, then add the garlic, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Pour in the spinach sauce from the blender, and cook until slightly thickened. Add the paneer and cook until it is warmed through. Stir in the cream, and serve.
Palak Paneer Ingredients:
- Fresh baby spinach (or you can use frozen spinach and skip the blanching step)
- Large tomato
- Ginger - pro tip: always keep one or two pieces of ginger in the freezer so they're always ready to use. You can either thaw slightly and cut off a piece to use in your recipe, or grate with a microplane straight from frozen.
- Canola oil or other neutral-flavored cooking oil
- Medium onion
- kosher salt (or use MSG-salt)
- Garam masala
- Turmeric powder
- Cayenne pepper (skip this or use less if you don't like spicy food)
- Heavy cream or half-and-half
- Paneer (see FAQ's about paneer above to learn where to find it)
Palak Paneer FAQ's:
What should I serve with palak paneer?
Since palak paneer is relatively low in carbohydrates, it pairs very well with grain-based foods.
You can serve it with an Indian flatbread like naan (readily available in most grocery stores, just pop it into the oven for a few minutes to warm up) or paratha (often available as frozen dough that you cook in a skillet).
It's also great with rice (white or brown) or other grains like quinoa.
Is palak paneer spicy?
I have created this palak paneer recipe to be as spicy, or as mild as you wish, though it's pretty mild as written.
The only spicy ingredient in this recipe is cayenne powder. If you don't want your palak paneer to be spicy at all, simply skip the cayenne. If you like a lot of spice, add more (up to about ½ teaspoon I would say).
Want more curry-inspired recipes?
Palak Paneer Nutrition Notes:
This recipe for palak paneer is gluten-free and vegetarian as written. Note that as paneer is made from dairy, it is not vegan.
Thanks to the large amount of spinach in this recipe, it is very high in vitamin A, and also contains a lot of iron, vitamin C (which helps the body absorb vegetarian sources of iron), and potassium.
Palak Paneer (Fresh Cheese in Curried Spinach)
- 1 Blender
- 1 pound fresh baby spinach (see note)
- 1 large tomato coarsely chopped
- 1 1.5 inch piece ginger peeled
- 6 cloves garlic divided, 4 cloves whole, 2 cloves minced
- 1 ½ tablespoons canola oil or other neutral-flavored cooking oil
- 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or use MSG-salt
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper skip or use less if you don't like spicy
- ½ cup water
- 3 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
- 300-350 grams paneer cut into 1 inch cubes
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, and add about a teaspoon of salt. Prepare a large bowl filled about halfway full with ice water to keep beside the stove. Add 1 pound fresh baby spinach to the boiling water, and cook until just wilted and bright green, about 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer the spinach to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Note that I like to do this in 3 batches to ensure that the spinach blanches evenly and none becomes overcooked. Transfer the spinach to a colander to drain and discard the water.
- Transfer the blanched spinach to your blender. Add the chopped tomato, 1 1.5 inch piece ginger, and 4 of the garlic cloves. Turn the blender on high, and blend until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the blender as needed. Set aside.
- You can either cook the palak paneer in the same saucepan you used to blanch the spinach, or you can use a skillet or saute pan. Heat the pan over medium heat, and add 1 ½ tablespoons canola oil. Add the chopped onions and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon garam masala, ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, and ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper (if using). Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ½ cup of water, then pour in the spinach mixture from the blender. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (medium-low heat) and continue to cook, stirring often until slightly thickened and reduced. Stir in 3 Tablespoons heavy cream and paneer and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Serve with basmati rice, naan bread, or parathi.