Palak Paneer is a North Indian entrée dish traditionally eaten with paratha or naan. One of the top three ordered dishes in Indian restaurants in the US, palak paneer is a deceptively rich dish with pieces of soft paneer floating in silky smooth spinach puree.
I always think of palak paneer in terms of three building blocks or as we at My Simple Cooking like to call them advanced ingredients - ingredients that have been worked upon or a value adding process has been applied to them in order to take us closer to the final dish. In palak paneer there are 3 advanced ingredients – spinach puree, softened paneer and a flavor base. Raw spinach is sautéed and blended into a smooth puree, frozen paneer is rested in hot water to soften it and a flavor base is created from tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and spices.
Thinking of recipes in terms of advanced ingredients not only makes the grocery shopping, prep and the actual cooking manageable but it also allows you to take decisions about which advanced ingredients to prepare, say, a day in advance. With a little bit of planning and by fitting an advanced ingredient into an available pocket of time, cooking becomes anything but overwhelming. If you want to serve palak paneer for a weekday dinner, cook the spinach puree on the weekend and store it in the refrigerator. And create the flavor base the previous night when you end up ordering takeout. Now two-third of palak paneer is ready. Savor that moment! On the day of, you only need to soften the paneer and combine it with the two advanced ingredients. The dish will come together in not more than 20 minutes, whereas the cooking from a to z takes about an hour. This is the power of advanced ingredients.
Enjoy Palak Paneer with Jeera rice - Cumin-spiced rice.
For Advanced Ingredient - Spinach Puree
Fresh spinach, washed (8 ounces )
For Advanced Ingredient - Flavor Base
Vegetable oil (3 tablespoons divided)
Onion red or white, diced (1 medium)
Thai chile pepper (1) (optional)
Tomatoes, diced (2 medium)
Garlic cloves, peeled, roughly crushed (2)
Ginger, peeled, grated (1 tablespoon)
Sugar (1 pinch)
Tomato sauce ( 4 teaspoons )
Table salt (1 teaspoon)
Black peppercorns (6)
Garam masala (1 teaspoon)
For Advanced Ingredient - Paneer
Paneer (6 ounces to 8 ounces)
Cream (1/4 cup) or milk (1/2 cup) (optional)
Blender or food processor
Mortar and pestle or spice grinder
1 Thick bottomed pan
1 Pot to boil water
Spinach puree - Advanced Ingredient 1
Pour 1 tablespoon oil in a thick-bottomed pan and turn the heat to medium. Empty 8 oz spinach into the pan. Within a few minutes, the spinach will wilt down. Sauté to avoid spinach sticking to the pan and turn the heat off after 10 minutes.
Once the spinach cools down, blend to a puree in a food processor or blender. You can add couple of teaspoons of water to facilitate blending.
Spinach is now ready to go into the final dish. You can prepare this puree a day in advance, and store it in the refrigerator.
Flavor Base - Advanced Ingredient 2
Collect 1 onion, a nub of ginger, 2 medium garlic clove, 2 tomatoes and 1 Thai chili (optional).
Dice the onion into 1/2-inch pieces to get about 3/4 cup. Peel and grate ginger to get 1 tablespoon. Peel and crush garlic cloves. Dice tomatoes into 1-inch pieces, about a cup. Slice Thai chili if using.
Pour 2 tablespoons oil into the pan and turn heat to medium. Add onions and stir till they get a brownish tinge, about 7-8 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and, if using, Thai chili pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour chopped tomatoes followed by pinch of sugar. Once the tomatoes break down, add 4 teaspoons tomato sauce.
If using, the spice mix of peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves, this is the time to add it. Collect from pantry - 6 black peppercorns,1 cardamom, 2 cloves. Roughly crush peppercorns, cardamom and cloves in a mortar and pestle and throw out the cardamom skin. If using a spice grinder, remove the cardamom skin and use only the seeds (save the cardamom skin for chai).
Stir till the moisture evaporates and the onion/tomato mixture starts turning dark, about 9 to 10 minutes.
The flavor base can be prepared in advance too. Store in the refrigerator.
Please take a moment to savor that two-thirds of your Palak Paneer is ready.
Paneer - Advanced Ingredient 3
Get 6-8 ounce paneer from the refrigerator. Keep clean cutting board and knife handy. Boil 2 cups of water in a pot and once the water comes to a rolling boil, gently place in paneer slab.
Turn the heat off after paneer has been in the boiling water for 5 minutes and cover the pot with a lid.
After paneer cools down, cut it into 1- by 1/2-inch pieces on a cutting board and set aside.
The Final Ta-da - Putting Palak Paneer together
Take a thick bottomed saucepan or a skillet. Heat up the sauce base for 5-10 minutes and once it starts glistening, pour in blended spinach purée. Add salt and 1/2 cup water to adjust consistency. You can add a little bit more if you find the sauce is getting pasty.
Once the spinach mixture boils, gently drop in paneer pieces. Let the paneer soak in the flavors and spices of the spinach purée for about 10 minutes. Add 1 tsp garam masala. After 4 to 5 minutes, pour milk or cream. They're completely optional—their sole purpose is to enrich the dish.
Serve hot with Jeera Rice.
Jeera rice is an undemanding way to embellish rice and dress it up for occasions or parties. Use basmati rice. Just sauté it in cumin seeds tempered in ghee and proceed to cook the rice the way you do regularly. The cumin flavor picks up as the rice cooks and you end up with a good looking, lightly accented rice with a light brown, golden sheen. The recipe below is for stovetop cooking of rice. Feel free to use a rice cooker, Instant Pot or any method of cooking rice of your choice.
1 cup basmati rice
2 tbsp ghee or butter (salted or unsalted)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp table salt
1 Thick bottomed pot
Wash rice under running water 2-3 times or until water that you drain off runs clear. Set it aside.
Heat butter or ghee at medium heat in a thick bottomed pot.
Add cumin seeds and let them sputter, which will take 2-3 minutes
Pour the washed rice and stir well till the moisture sticking to the rice evaporates and each grain becomes toasty and distinct. This will take about five minutes.
Add 1 3/4 cup water.
Keep an eye on rice.
Once the water evaporates, cover the pot.
After 5 minutes, take a grain in between your thumb and index finger and squish. If you can crush easily, rice is ready. If not ready, check again in 2-3 minutes.
It's best to make rice about 30 minutes before you are ready to eat.
Author - Annada Rathi