Saag paneer (or palak paneer) is one of my favorite Indian dishes. Saag paneer is pretty ubiquitous in Indian restaurants, but it can vary widely from one restaurant to the next. What they (almost) all have in common is a base of chopped or pureed greens in a creamy, spice-laden sauce studded with pieces of paneer. There’s considerable variation in what makes the sauce creamy (cream vs butter vs yogurt), what spices are used (anything from “nothing but garlic and ginger” to “garam masala” to “just about every spice in your cabinet”), how much heat it has and even which greens are used (although spinach is by far the most common.)
There’s also the question of whether the dish is saag paneer or palak paneer. As far as I can tell, the difference is that palak paneer is made with only spinach and saag paneer is made with any tender greens. The most common greens for saag paneer are spinach, and a dish made with only spinach could be considered either palak paneer or saag paneer. But saag paneer is also commonly made with mustard greens, fenugreek leaves or a combination of those with spinach and/or other greens.
So, when a recent trip to Devon for dinner ended with a stop at Patel Brothers, I decided to pick up some paneer and give it a try at home. Some lovely chioggia beets from the farmers market lent their greens and dinner was served.
Cobbled together from Tyler Florence, Serious Eats and Coconut & Lime, among others.
You can use just about any combination of fresh and frozen greens for this recipe as long as you keep the total amount basically the same. I’d stay away from tougher or very bitter greens like collards, kale or dandelions. The flavor will change a bit if you use different greens, but it will still be saag paneer.
If there aren’t any Indian markets near you that sell paneer, the intarwebs have several recipes. (I haven’t gotten around to trying any yet, since it’s easy for me to just run out and pick some up.)
1 Tbsp whole garam masala
greens from 2 bunches of beets (about 12 oz), stemmed and roughly chopped
1 (8 oz) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3 Tbsp butter
1 (14 oz) block paneer, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 small head green garlic (or 3-4 cloves normal garlic), minced
1″ piece of ginger, minced
1 jalepeno, minced
1 medium spring bulb onion (or small normal onion), minced
1 tsp turmeric
1/3 cup yogurt
Before you do anything else, toast the garam masala: In a dry skillet, heat the whole spices over high heat, shaking frequently, for about a minute. Remove from skillet and allow to cool completely, then grind in a clean coffee grinder.
Blanch the fresh greens in boiling water for about a minute, then drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet and fry the paneer over medium-high heat, browning each cube on 2 or 3 sides. Be sure to turn the cubes gently so you don’t break up the paneer. Remove the paneer from the skillet and set aside.
Add the mustard seeds to the same skillet (with the butter left from the paneer) and fry until they just start to pop, about 1 minute. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalepeno and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the beet greens, spinach, ground garam masala and turmeric and enough water to moisten everything without having much standing water. (I added about 3/4 cup, but you might need more or less depending how thoroughly you dried your greens. Add it in 1/4 cup increments.) Stir until everything is mixed well. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat, stir in the yogurt, then fold in the paneer.
Serve with rice or naan.
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