Best Garlicky Palak Paneer (Saag Paneer)
My garlicky palak paneer recipe is a family favorite! Palak Paneer, or Saag Paneer, as it’s called in some Indian restaurants, is an Indian creamed spinach recipe with chunks of pan-fried Indian cottage cheese (paneer.) It’s the perfect vegetarian dish, and it’s so good served over basmati rice or with naan!
Today I bring you a recipe that’s been at least 5 years in the making.
There have been several occasions where I’ve wanted to share my palak paneer recipe with you, but for one reason or another, I would hold back and want to do just one more round of recipe testing.
There are probably as many ways to make homemade palak paneer as there are Indian restaurants in India. Each family has its own take on it. Each restaurant adds its own twist. Some people use tomatoes; others don’t. Some use grated ginger. Others don’t. Some versions are heavy on the spices, and there are others without much. Some restaurants use a combination of mustard greens and spinach and call it Palak Paneer. Other’s use the same two greens and call it Saag paneer. All of this is to say that there is a wide variety of what’s accepted as Indian pureed greens in a cream sauce.
And that’s what I’ve brought you today. Like my homemade butter chicken recipe, it’s one that I make for my family and friends. No promises that this is the best palak paneer you’ll ever have because that’s highly subjective! But it’s one that I consider the best and I often get told that it is. Does that even make sense?
Today, I’m glad I finally get to share it with you!
What is Palak Paneer?
Palak paneer is a vegetarian Indian dish consisting of pureed spinach with pan-fried Indian cottage cheese. Directly translated, ‘palak’ means spinach in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati, and Urdu (the predominant languages spoken in India and Pakistan.) The word ‘paneer’ means cheese.
What is Paneer?
Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese made from fresh cows (and sometimes buffalo) milk. It’s a cheese that is very mild in flavor and does not melt. Paneer, like most cheeses can be eaten raw as well.
What is the difference between Palak Paneer and Saag Paneer?
Simply put, palak paneer is made from spinach. Saag paneer can be made from a variety of leafy greens, such as, mustard greens, collard greens, or even kale and spinach.
Ingredients for homemade Palak Paneer:
- Spinach: I like to use freshly cleaned spinach for this recipe. You could use regular or baby spinach. If you’d like to make saag paneer, you can use any combination of mustard greens, collard greens, kale, and spinach.
- Paneer: is easily available in most mainstream grocery stores these days. I usually just cut the paneer into small bite-sized pieces.
- Onions + Garlic: arguably the heart and soul of most Indian recipes. We’re using freshly chopped onions and fresh pressed garlic for this recipe.
- Serrano peppers: we use serrano peppers when making palak paneer because it’s a type of pepper that’s very easily available. You could also use jalapeño peppers if you’d like. For more heat, swap a pepper for Thai green chilies (bird’s eye.)
- Herbs + Seasonings: we’ll use dried fenugreek leaves (also known as kasoori methi), fresh dill, ground white pepper, and cayenne for this recipe. If you have an Indian store nearby, you could also use Indian chili powder. The heat level is in the same range as cayenne, so I suggest that as it’s easier to find in all grocery stores.
- Ghee: Ghee or oil is the most common fat used in homemade Indian food. You could also swap some of the oil for butter if you don’t happen to have ghee on hand.
- Dairy: We’ll use a bit of whole milk (or 2%) and then finish off the palak paneer with some heavy cream right at the end.
How to make the best palak paneer recipe:
- Blanch the spinach. Start by filling a large stockpot with water. I like to buy cleaned spinach for this recipe as it cuts down on prep time. If you bought spinach by the bunch, I suggest allowing the spinach to soak in a large bowl of water. This will allow the dirt/sediment that clings to spinach leaves to sink to the bottom of the bowl. When the water is boiling, generously add salt. Add the spinach to the water and allow it to blanch for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge the spinach into a cold water bath. This will allow the spinach to maintain that beautiful green color even when we saute and puree the spinach!
- Pan-fry the paneer. Cut the paneer into cubes while the spinach is cooling. Wipe the paneer dry and pan fry the paneer for about 3-5 minutes. Keep in mind that all you’re doing to the paneer is browning the outside crust a bit. Remove to a plate and set aside for later.
- Make Palak Paneer. Once the spinach cools, drain it. At this point, you want to squeeze out about 90% of the water so that the puree isn’t too watery at the end. Heat the remaining ghee or oil in a pan and sauté eat onions and serrano peppers until the onions soften. Then, add the garlic and saute it in the ghee until it’s not raw. The garlic mellows out once it cooks through. Add the fresh dill, blanched spinach, and milk, and bring this to a boil. When boiling, transfer this to your blender and blend until smooth. Pop the pureed mixture back in the same pot. Turn the stove on to medium heat and season with salt, white pepper, and cayenne. Allow the mixture to heat through. When warm, drizzle in the cream and stir to combine. Let the cream simmer in the puree for a few minutes. Then, add the fenugreek leaves and the pan-fried paneer to the pot. Taste and adjust with additional salt as needed. Then, serve warm over basmati rice or with homemade naan.
FAQs about Palak Paneer:
- I can’t find Indian Paneer; what else can I use? If you can’t find paneer, halloumi cheese makes a decent substitute. Keep in mind that halloumi and paneer are not the same things. Halloumi is usually saltier, so you definitely do not want to salt the cheese when frying it. Halloumi is also texturally chewier than paneer.
- I’m vegan; how can I adapt this recipe to my dietary needs? You can start by swapping the paneer for extra firm tofu. Use plant butter for the ghee, swap the whole milk for almond or cashew milk. The heavy cream can be replaced with canned coconut milk. Keep in mind that veganizing the recipe may change the flavor slightly, require slightly different cooking times, and produce slightly different results.
- I want to add fenugreek leaves but can’t find them. Can I use fenugreek seeds instead? Unfortunately, the seeds are not a good substitute for the leaves. This is a very common question for my butter chicken recipe as well. And the leaves work best for this recipe. If you cannot find it in a store near you, they are available online. Or you can omit them from the recipe.
- Can I make palak paneer ahead of time? YES! In fact, I recommend it. I think palak paneer, like most Indian food, tastes better as the flavors have a chance to meld together. For this reason, I often prepare the pureed part of this recipe ahead of time. The only thing I like doing the day of serving is to pan-fry the paneer and add it in right before eating. Though it’s not necessary (it can be prepared in its entirety ahead of time), I like the texture of freshly pan-fried paneer.
- What do you serve with palak paneer? You can serve palak paneer over homemade basmati rice or with homemade naan (there’s a recipe for garlic naan in there too!)
Other Indian recipes you might enjoy:
- 30-Minute Garlic Brown Lentil Dal
- Weeknight Chana Masala
- Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala
- Finger Lickin’ Butter Chicken
- 30-Minute Shrimp Masala
- Loaded Tandoori Chicken Nachos
- 1 ¼ pound (20 ounces) spinach, see notes
- 1 (8-ounce) package of paneer, cut into small cubes
- 4 tablespoons ghee (or oil)
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (use less for less heat, more for more)
- 8-10 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 2 heaping tablespoons fresh chopped dill (use more if you like more, less if you don’t)
- ½ teaspoon EACH: kosher salt AND white pepper
- ⅛ - ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- ¾ cup whole milk (or 2% works too)
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1-2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, optional
- SPINACH: Fill a large stockpot (or saucepan) with water, when boiling, salt the water with a big pinch of salt. Add the spinach to the water and blanch for 1 minute and immediately drain and plunge the spinach into a cold ice water bath. When cooled, drain the spinach and press out as much water as you can. You want the spinach to be pretty dry; set aside for now.
- PANEER: Cut the paneer into small cubes. Add 1 tablespoon of butter (or ghee) to a large skillet placed over medium heat. When hot, add half of the paneer pieces and pan-fry, flipping as needed, until it turns golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Remember the paneer just needs to heat through and brown on the outside a bit. Remove to a plate, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- PALAK PANEER: Once the spinach is cooled, add the remaining 3 tbsp of ghee to a hot pan and sauté the onions and serrano over medium heat for 9-11 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Then add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring for about 1-2 minutes. Add the dill, blanched spinach, and milk and bring to a boil. When boiling, remove from heat, add this mixture to a blender (blend in batches if needed.) Then put it back in the same pot. Turn the stove on to medium heat and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne (if using). Allow it to heat through. Drizzle with cream and stir to combine, allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes. If the puree is too watery, allow it to cook for slightly longer. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin. When it thickens a bit, taste and adjust with salt as needed. Add the paneer, crush the fenugreek leaves between your fingers and add them to the palak paneer. Taste and adjust with more fenugreek is desired. Serve with warm basmati rice or with my homemade naan.
- For this recipe, you can use baby spinach or regular spinach.
- To make saag paneer, you would use a combination of spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, and even kale.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 413Total Fat: 36.3gCarbohydrates: 9gProtein: 14.7g