Palak Paneer Recipe

Fried paneer in a spinach sauce is proof that sometimes simple is best.

Bright green Palak Paneer in a white bowl one an orange back next to some roti
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Palak paneer is something I grew up eating. I'm from a Punjabi family, so my mother regularly made it at home. But palak paneer was also a fixture of celebratory meals and occasions, and we'd serve it whenever family members or cousins came to visit—it's very special for us Punjabis. It's almost always included as part of the menu for Punjabi weddings; I can't really remember a single wedding I've attended where palak paneer wasn't served.

This particular recipe is my mother's, and I like her version the best in part because it's so simple. There aren't any extra spices, which lets the spinach flavor shine. The creamy spinach sauce has a touch of garlic and chile to deepen its flavor and make it more interesting, and it complements the chunks of paneer perfectly. I fry the paneer in ghee to give it some texture and add a layer of flavor, and a small amount of cream toward the end ties everything together beautifully.

When I moved the UK, I encountered for the first time saag aloo, a dish of puréed spinach and chunks of potato, which I think must have been inspired by or derived from palak paneer. I have to admit I didn't care for it very much; I was surprised by the substitution of potato for paneer, and the name was a little confusing to me, because I'd only heard "saag" used to refer to sarson, or mustard leaves. The saag aloo I tried also tasted very different from the palak paneer I ate growing up; the restaurants added so much more to the spinach sauce—onion, garam masala, etc.—which changed the nature of the dish entirely. While it might still be delicious to eat, it's very different from palak paneer.

Close up of a hand holding a piece of roti with palak paneer on it
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The recipe I'm sharing here is closer to my idea of a "true" palak paneer, and I hope you try it, if only so you can see how the subtle use of spices can sometimes add much more to a dish than using everything in your spice box.

The process is very simple: I wilt the spinach leaves by cooking them with a little water in a covered pot, then purée them in a blender. I fry the paneer in some oil in another pan, set the paneer aside, and in the same pan I heat some oil with whole mustard and cumin seeds until the seeds start to pop, at which point I add a little minced garlic. I pour the purée into the pan, season it with salt and chile powder, add the fried paneer and a touch of cream, mix, and serve with some kind of piping hot flatbread—chapati, roti, naan, or parathas all would work well.

Combine spinach with 1/2 cup (120ml) water in a 3-quart saucier and place over high heat. Bring water to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until spinach is completely wilted, about 5 minutes. Transfer contents of pan to countertop blender and blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Set purée aside.

Two Image Collage. Top: Uncooked spinach in a pan. Bottom: A hand holds the lid down on a blender which has the spinach puree in it
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Wipe out saucier with clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the saucier and place over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of the paneer pieces and cook, flipping once, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer paneer to plate and repeat with remaining paneer pieces. Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan along with cumin and mustard seeds and cook until seed begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add garlic, stir, and cook until aromatic and pieces start to take on some color, about 30 seconds.

Four Image Collage. Clockwise from top left: Uncooked paneer in pan; Browned paneer in pan; Cumin and spices added to pan after paneer has been removed; garlic cooking with paneer in pan.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Pour spinach purée into saucier, season with salt and chile powder, and stir to combine. Add cooked paneer and cream, stir, and serve immediately.

Four Image collage. Clockwise from top left: Spinach puree being poured into pan with garlic and spices; paprika being added to pan; cream added with paneer and spinach in pan; paneer added to spinach puree in pan.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Make-Ahead and Storage

In a sealed container, palak paneer will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Sarson Ka Saag

A deliciously simple dish of braised greens, worthy of a celebration.

Saag in an earth-toned orange bowl with roti in the background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Sarson ka saag is the ultimate comfort food, and it recalls for me the bitterly cold winter months of northern India. Growing up in a Punjabi family, this was a dish that was often made for special occasions, like weddings that took place during the winter, but it was also made on weekends, too.

"Saag" for me has always meant sarson ka saag, a dish traditionally made with mustard leaves and a mix of a few other greens, like spinach, fresh fenugreek leaves, and bathua (also known as white goosefoot). And sarson ka saag was always served with a dollop of butter on top, accompanied by makki ki roti, a flatbread made with maize flour, and a little piece of jaggery on the side. That's it; a complete meal, a complete celebratory meal, because saarson ka saag needs very little else.

Until recently, I had some difficulty finding mustard leaves in the UK where I live, although you can purchase them online. I found some when traveling to another town for work, and I was reminded of how distinctly delicious mustard leaves are: slightly bitter, creamy when cooked, with a sharp, mustardy bite. When preparing them, you don't want to add too much to get in the way of their flavor.

A freshly washed mustard green on a cutting board
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For this dish, I braise the mustard greens with just ghee and water until they're tender and then add a little spinach to balance out some of their sharpness. I remove the greens from the pot, wipe it out, then make a simple and lovely tadka consisting of garlic, ginger, and a few chiles to make the whole thing sing. I add the greens back to the pot and mix them with the tadka, then use a potato masher to break up the greens further. Finally, I serve them with a pat of salted butter on top for richness.

Once you've tried this recipe, you'll undertsand how different it is from the "saag" you might find at your local Indian restaurant. The flavor is entirely different, and the delicious greens have more substance and, consequently texture. In fact, the sturdy leaves are so fibrous it would be very difficult to turn them into a purée of any kind.

Overhead view of saag and roti
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If you can serve this with a makki ki roti, that's great, but you can also serve it with a stack of humble chapatis to really experience the flavor of mustard greens at their fullest.

For the greens: In a large straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat the ghee over medium-high heat. Add the mustard greens along with 1/2 cup (120ml) water, stir to combine, and bring water to a boil, about 5 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until leaves have softened, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, stir to combine, cover, and cook until spinach is completely softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer cooked greens to medium mixing bowl and wipe out the pan or pot with a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel.

Four image collage. Clockwise from top left: ghee heating in a pot; Mustard greens being added to the pot; spinach being added to the mustard greens in the pot; cooked greens in a metal bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the tadka (and to finish): Add ghee and oil to the pan or pot and heat over medium heat. Add the dried red chiles and cook until they begin to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cooked greens back to the pan or pot along with salt, chile powder, and a 1/2 cup of water, and stir to combine. Increase heat to high and bring liquid to a boil, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and, using a potato masher, firmly mash greens. Stir well, then transfer to a serving dish. Top with salted butter and serve immediately.

Four Image Collage. Clockwise from top left: Ginger, garlic and peppers being stirred in a pot; added greens being stirred in the pot; salt being added to the greens; greens being smashes in the pan with a potato masher to release water.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Make-Ahead and Storage

In a sealed container, this dish will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

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