A mountain of fresh spinach cooks down to nothing, so be sure to make the whole batch of this palak paneer (palak = spinach, paneer = cheese). If you’ve ever eaten at an Indian restaurant, most likely you have enjoyed this creamy spinach with cubes of white cheese.
Thanks to my friend, Janice, we can make it at home and know exactly what goes into it. Don’t get me wrong, I love restaurants, but often their food tastes so good because it is loaded with fat and salt. Leftovers never lie. Take one of my favorites from my old neighborhood near San Francisco, a Thai soup called tom ka gai. That spicy coconut milk soup turned solid after spending the night in my refrigerator. Guess why. Broths don’t solidify under refrigeration. Neither does coconut milk or even cream. The culprit? Most likely some cheap mystery shortening, no doubt loaded with trans fats. Gross.
This is why I like cooking at home. I always use the most fresh and healthful ingredients and I learn how to make new things. Cooking spinach for longer than a quick wilt was new for me here, as was paneer. But Janice’s enticing post motivated me to find the paneer and get cooking. (Rosauer’s cheese case for those of you in Bozeman.)
Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips:
- Fantastic on its own with pita, naan, or rice
- Make an Indian feast with other curries or dals – palak paneer goes with everything
- Yes, a pound and a half of spinach. It cooks down to nothing, and you’re going to want the whole batch. Trust me.
- If you don’t eat it all for dinner, it is fantastic heated up again for lunch
- You can use baby spinach, but mature leaves have more flavor
- Frozen spinach? No. Sorry.
- Raita: mix full fat plain yogurt with diced cucumber, a squeeze of lemon, and a pinch of salt. Add cilantro leaves, or chives if you have them.
- 8 oz. paneer, cut into two-bite rectangles (about 1 inch by 1/2" x 1/2")
- 1/2 tablespoon brown rice flour or cornstarch (or whatever flour you have on hand)
- 3 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, washed and trimmed of thick stems
- 3 garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 hot chile pepper (serrano or other); just the flesh, no seeds or stems, finely diced
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or coconut cream (from a can of full-fat coconut milk)
- Put paneer cubes on a plate and sprinkle with the rice flour or cornstarch. Toss to coat then transfer paneer to a strainer to shake out any excess flour.
- Heat the ghee or coconut oil in a large, wide pot (one that is big enough to eventually hold all of the spinach) set over medium-high heat. Add the paneer cubes and fry until golden brown on 2 sides. Transfer paneer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb extra oil. Remove pot from heat and set aside (you will use it and the remaining oil for the spinach later).
- Remove the paper towel and sprinkle paneer with salt, garam masala, and chili flakes. Set aside (and don't eat them all while you are standing in the kitchen!)
- Finely slice the spinach using a food processor slicing blade or by hand with a knife.
- Return the pot used to cook the paneer to the stovetop. Heat the oil that remains in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, chile, and ginger and stir 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the sliced spinach and water. Cook, stirring until spinach begins to wilt, about 2 minutes. Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the heavy cream or coconut cream. Add the paneer and all the spices remaining on the plate. Partially cover the pan and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- Serve with basmati rice, pita, naan, or chapatis, and sides of cucumber raita and chutney.