Palak Paneer is a Punjabi (North Indian) curry that is made by coating lightly fried pieces of paneer in a spiced spinach sauce. It is most popular during the winter when spinach is abundant. The spices used vary based on family and region. This particular recipe uses bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, chili powder, and cumin. I have also seen other recipes use turmeric, mustard seeds, fenugreek, coriander, or garam masala. It is vegetarian and can even be made vegan by using tofu instead of paneer and omitting the butter and cream. Serve with flatbread (roti, naan, paratha) or rice.
If you have one, use a splashguard when frying the paneer. It tends to pop.
You can make your own paneer or find it in the cheese section of certain grocery stores (Whole Foods) or International Markets specializing in Indian food (homemade is generally better quality). Check out Cosmopolitan Currymania for a guide on how to make Paneer.
The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon of the red chili powder. Evan and I don’t like a lot of heat so I decreased the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. It was still a bit spicy, but not overwhelming. If you want the full kick, use the full teaspoon. Chili powder is different in Indian cooking than the American chili powder. American chili powder has additional seasonings, while Indian chili powder has only pure ground chiles. If you do not have Indian chili powder available, substitute with cayenne.
Green Cardamom (Elettaria, Elaichi) originated in India and is the third most expensive spice, following saffron and vanilla. It is often used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian cooking. Green cardamom is now mostly grown in Guatemala, followed by India. It is a highly aromatic, warm citrus-like spice similar to ginger and cinnamon. Most of the flavor is in the seeds encased by the green pods. Once the pods are cut, the seeds quickly lose their flavor. I was able to find green cardamom at a local farmers market and have also seen them in the spice section of certain grocery stores and World Market. It is also available on Amazon: Cardamom Pods Green (Elachi)3.5oz- Indian Grocery and Frontier Cardamom Pods, Green, Whole, 16 Ounce Bag.
More information on green cardamom.
Palak Paneer (Indian Spinach with Cheese)
Adapted from Cosmopolitan Currymania
1 pound Paneer, cut into 1 inch cubes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup water
12 ounces spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped onions
6 large garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 (1 inch) cinnamon sticks
2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/4 cup pureed tomato
1/2-1 teaspoon red chili pepper powder (Indian)
1 teaspoon ghee or unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cream
In a large pan, drizzle 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Place a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. Once the oil is thoroughly heated, add the paneer cubes in a single layer, in batches. Fry lightly on a couple of the sides, then transfer to the ice water. Repeat with remaining paneer cubes.
In a large saucepan, add the 1 cup water over medium high heat. Add the spinach leaves and cook until just wilted, stirring to cook evenly. Allow to cool slightly and transfer to a blender. Puree just until smooth.
In a food processor, blend the onion and garlic until it becomes a smooth paste.
Clean out the large pan that was used to fry the paneer and place over medium heat. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons vegetable oil. Once thoroughly heated and starting to smoke, add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamon pods, cloves, and cumin. Fry until fragrant and the cumin becomes golden. Stir in the onion garlic paste and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomato puree and cook, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 7 minutes. Mix in the pureed spinach and red chili powder. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
Remove the paneer from the ice water and add to the pan. Gently fold to coat all the pieces with the spinach. Cook for another 10 minutes over medium heat. Gently stir in the butter and remove from heat.
Serve immediately and drizzle with cream if desired.