Palak Paneer

Up here in the frozen tundra it is colder than cold. So cold that the Minnesota Governor cancelled school statewide. I don't remember the last time that happened.

When the weather gets unbearable, I like to dream about being in a warmer climate and using food to transport me there. After an epic meal at The Copper Pot, I knew that India would be my destination this week. I must re-create their Saag Paneer!

The other thing I crave during this time of year is greens. Spinach, collards, cabbage, kale - if it's green I want to eat it. Don't get me wrong, I love my winter produce of sweet potatoes, parsnips, radishes, and even turnips. But all of them are so pale! I need some greens on my plate!

Re-creating a dish from an Indian restaurant is intimidating. I'm a Minnesotan; I have only a meager understanding of complicated Indian spices. So, I did some research. :)

Paneer is simply Indian cheese. You can make it yourself (try out my recipe) or you can buy it in a specialty store. Tofu also works great as an alternative for Paneer. It provides a similar nutritional profile and a similar texture. If paneer is preventing you from trying this dish, just make it with some tofu.

The dish I ate at The Copper Pot was called Saag Paneer, but the recipe I have for you today is called Palak Paneer. The difference is marginal. Palak literally means spinach. So Palak Paneer is cheese in a spinach gravy. Saag literally means greens. So Saag Paneer is cheese in a gravy made from a variety of greens (spinach, collards, kale, mustard greens, etc.). My recipe only uses spinach, so I've called it Palak Paneer.

The Palak Paneer recipe on Veg Recipes of India provided inspiration for my recipe. I had intended to follow it pretty closely, but then I noticed that nearly half the ingredients were listed as "optional" and that there was some room for simplification. For example, I use frozen spinach instead of fresh. This not only saves money, but also eliminates the need to blanch the spinach. Just thaw it out, and you're ready to go.

I was so happy with the result! It wasn't exactly the same as The Copper Pot, but it was delicious and made my belly feel warm and happy, which is a feat when the air temperature is way below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Palak Paneer
4 servings | 30 minutes | Print

12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
2 inches ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
4 ounces canned green chilies
1 medium yellow onion
1 tablespoon oil (I used grapeseed)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 medium tomato, chopped (or 1/2 cup pureed tomatoes)
8 ounces paneer or tofu, cubed
1 tablespoon butter (or oil)
Salt to taste

  1. Dice the onion. Since you will be using the food processor later, it is fastest and simplest to pulse the onion for a few seconds in the food processor. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the diced onion. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes or until golden.
  2. While the onion is cooking, place the spinach, ginger, garlic, and green chilies in the food processor and blend until smooth. Scrape down the sides a few times to make sure you get all the chunks processed.
  3. Add the cumin, curry powder, turmeric, and chili powder to the onions. Cook for about a minute or until fragrant. Add the tomato and cook for another minute or until soft. Stir in the spinach puree and let the flavors meld for about 5-7 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
  4. Stir in the paneer (or tofu) and cook until warm. Add the butter, let it melt and stir into the dish. Taste. Add salt until the flavors pop (about 1 teaspoon or so). Serve over cooked brown rice.

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