Today I’m telling you about my most craved all-time favorite Indian dish.
Palak: spinach. Paneer: cheese. Healthy Palak Paneer.
It’s coincidentally also the ugly duckling of all food that ever existed. Niiice.
Please, I beg you, I PLEAD with all my food-loving heart. Do not leave based on first impressions or on looks. I know it’s easy to judge that greeny-mushy part, but I’m telling you right now: this dish has the power to change your life, making you a creamy spinach lover and a paneer seeker and an all-around Indian food lover. Plus it will decrease your monthly Indian food takeout bills. Just me? Alright then.
The night that I made this, Bjork just happened to be hanging out in the kitchen with me, which is kind of a big deal. I don’t know what your men do while you cook (or maybe they cook? or maybe you are a man? hi.) but mine is rarely in that hot little kitchen with me. More like on the couch with an iPhone in one hand and a laptop in the other and a Mountain Dew dangerously close to both. Love you babe.
So this was a special dual-cooking night, except instead of cooking, he photographed. We had a heck of a good time. I’m referring to the heck of a good time that starts with cute smiles and high hopes, continues with a few snappy remarks about someone being in the cook’s way and a large photography light falling into a pan of spinach, and ending with a big plate of our all-time favorite dish.
All’s well that ends well.
So while I don’t often do the step-by-step thing, I want to do it today to help you ease into the making and eating of the spicy green Indian food. And to give justice to this recipe that I’ve always, always wanted to make on my own. If I can do it, I pinky promise you can too.
Saute your aromatics.
That sounds fancy; it’s not. It’s onions, garlic, a spicy pepper, some canned tomatoes, and a palmful of spices getting all juicy and smell-goody.
Wilt the spinach.
I have a weird aversion to frozen spinach, so for this I used half frozen and half fresh. But the first time I used it I bit the bullet and used all frozen. You can use any kind, in my opinion. Just toss it in and let it get soft, and if you have a little cilantro that can join the gang, all the better.
Notice I did not say blend and I definitely did not say puree until smooth like silk. Gross. It’s a personal preference thing, but the restaurant that has fostered my love of palak paneer serves a version that has a very textured spinach gravy, so that’s what I love and that’s how I make it. It doesn’t have to be chunky, but leave some yummy veggie flecks to keep things interesting.
Add the paneer (cheese) and simmer.
Chop, stir, and let it all get tasty together for a while. Go put your feet up and let your neighbors wonder what the heck you’re cooking for dinner because I promise you – it smells like spicy heaven.
One thing I want to tell you: paneer is delicious and you should try it, but if you don’t frequent a grocery store that sells paneer, use firm tofu instead. The texture is really really similar and that’s what I’m using here. I like to think of it as the suburbanite’s paneer.
No more steps, cause now it’s time to eat.
Get your hungry self some naan, some basmati rice, and a big ol’ fork. You just made palak paneer that is not only homemade, but totally healthy. Well, I mean, there are big pieces of cheese that make up about half of the dish, but you know what I mean. That other kind of healthy.
This healthy palak paneer is low-calorie and low in fat! So creamy, spicy, and full of flavor. Perfect with warm naan and basmati rice.
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 1 chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano pepper and left the ribs and seeds in for medium spicy)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1–2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (I had a ginger paste)
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 14 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes with garlic, drained
- 1 17 ounce bag frozen spinach
- 1 small bunch cilantro (optional, to taste)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces cubed paneer
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the onion and chili pepper until soft. Push the onion and chiil pepper to the side of the pan and add the cumin seeds. Stir the cumin seeds around in the middle for about a minute so they can crackle and pop and little bit on their own.
- Add the garam masala, ground coriander, bay leaves, fresh ginger, and minced garlic. Saute everything together for 2-3 minutes to bring out the flavors. Add the fire roasted tomatoes and saute until everything is well mixed and the flavors are blending together, about 5-10 minutes.
- Thaw the spinach in a large bowl in the microwave. Press all the excess liquid out. Add the spinach and fresh cilantro to the skillet. Saute for 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times until you get the desired consistency (smooth, but not pureed). Return the mixture to the skillet, and stir in the yogurt and water. Add the salt and paneer; cover and simmer for 10 minutes to help the flavors continue to develop.
- Serve with basmati rice and naan.
Traditionally (and deliciously) palak paneer is made with cream instead of yogurt. In this recipe, I swapped the cream for yogurt to try to keep things on the lighter side.
The nutrition information below is for 1/6th of this recipe and does not include rice or naan.