If there is a more flavorful way to eat greens than as Saag Paneer, I’m not sure what it is. While it’s a must-have dish every time we go out for Indian food, I’ve also been whipping it up at home– with various degrees of success– for at least a decade. I’ve settled on the recipe below– it’s a good compromise for me between authenticity, flavor, ease of prep, and preservation of all those vitamins in the greens. (That’s why, though it’s more common to blanch the greens and discard their cooking water, along with all the vitamins in it, I skip that step.)
The dish is one of spicy creamy greens wrapped around seared chunks of a firm and simple farmer’s cheese, called paneer. I’m finding it increasingly easy to find paneer at various grocery stores, (a decade ago I had to visit the Indian grocery to get it), and of course it’s about the easiest cheese you can make it home– but that would defeat the “quick” part of this recipe. This can be a fast and easy weeknight meal if you just have the paneer on hand.
All of these ingredients should be relatively easy to locate, though you may have to look around a bit for the garam masala and dried fenugreek. They’re both worth getting your hands on for all sorts of Indian recipes.
- 2.5 pounds baby spinach (or other sturdy baby greens, such as kale, chard, or a mixture of all three)
- 1 head cilantro, large stems removed and roughly diced
- 2 medium white or yellow onions, diced
- 2 medium or 3 small tomatoes, diced
- 3 Thai or Indian green chiles (okay to sub Serrano chiles), diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
- Dice the paneer into cubes of approximately an inch by an inch.
- In a large pot, heat the ghee and saute the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and paneer cubes until at least one side of each paneer cube is lightly golden. Your cumin and mustard seeds will probably pop during this process-- that's fine.
- Pull out the paneer cubes and set them aside, retaining the hot ghee in the pot. Some of the seeds will stick to the paneer and some will still be in the ghee. That's perfect.
- Saute the onion, chiles, salt, and all remaining spices (fenugreek, ginger, garam masala, ground cumin, turmeric, black pepper) in the ghee over low heat until the onion is transparent.
- Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup of water-- make sure you scrape up any spice paste that has adhered to the pan, and reincorporate it into your mixture.
- Add the tomatoes, garlic, baby greens, and cilantro, and saute until thoroughly wilted. You may need to add the greens in shifts, depending on the size of your pot.
- Remove from heat; pour in the half-and-half or heavy cream.
- With a hand blender, blend until smooth.
- Fold in the paneer and return to low heat for at least 10 minutes.
- Taste, adjust salt if necessary.
- Serve over rice or with naan.