Palak Paneer – Indian Spinach Curry with Homemade Fresh Cheese
Recipe video above. A dish this iconic demands to be made properly – from scratch, with lots of fresh spinach and homemade paneer (Indian fresh cheese!) This is a magnificent vegetarian curry, packed with an extraordinary amount of nutrition and goodness!
Saute onion & spices: Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes until onion is softened but not golden.
Add garlic and ginger, cook for 2 minutes.
Add the tomato and chilli, cook for 3 minutes on a medium heat.
Add spinach: Add about 1/3 of the spinach – or as much as you can handle in the pot (!) – and stir until wilted. Then add more spinach along with the water, cook again until wilted. Repeat until all the spinach is wilted.
Cook 10 minutes: Cook, stirring every now and then, for 10 minutes still on a medium heat.
Cream & lemon: Add the cream and lemon juice. Cook, stirring gently, for 3 minutes.
Puree half spinach: Remove half the spinach into a tall container and blend it to a puree using a stick blender. Pour pureed spinach back into the pot, and stir to combine.
Add Pan Fried Paneer: Gently stir in golden pan-fried paneer (see below). Stir gently to mix through.
Cut paneer into 1.25cm / ½" thick slices. Then cut each slice into 2.5cm x 2 x 1.25cm thick pieces / 1 x ⅘" x ½" pieces – approximately!
Melt half the ghee or butter in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.
Place half the paneer in the pan and cook for 1 - 1 1/2 minutes until light golden - I tend to make it deep golden because colour = more flavour, but traditional is just a hint of gold Turn, then cook the other side until light golden.
Remove onto paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining butter and paneer. Use per recipe.
1. Paneer – This is a fresh cheese used in Indian cooking. Even though nowadays you can buy it at stores, homemade is superior by a long shot. It's softer, with a much more creamy texture (store-bought is hard and dry). It's easy to make, it's just milk curdled with lemon juice or vinegar, then strained. Recipe here.2. Ghee is clarified butter, one of the traditional fats used in Indian cooking. It is simply butter without the water and milk solids, so you have pure butter fat. It has a more intense flavour than butter. Either buy it, make it (it's easy and keeps for months) or just use normal butter!3. Fenugreek seeds – Available at stores that carry a decent range of spices. I found it at Harris Farms (Australia). Also, of course, at Indian grocery stores! They are used whole in this recipe. Don't worry they soften through cooking so you will not bite down on one and break a tooth!4. How to peel tomatoes (easily) – Cut a cross in the base of the tomato and cut out a small circle from the stem end. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then put tomatoes in for 30 seconds. The skin will start curl away from the cut. Remove, put in bowl of cold water (just from the tap is fine). Then the skin will easily peel off. Scoop out watery seeds, then finely chop and use per recipe.If you are in a hurry, you can use 3/4 cup of canned crushed tomato instead.5. Green chilli – Use a large green chilli (cayenne) so it's not too spicy.6. Spinach – This recipe is best made using bunches of fresh true spinach, known as English Spinach.You will need ~5 large bunches weighing 1.25 kg in total in order to get ~700g/1.4lb of spinach leaves. Yes, that is a lot – but think of all the nutrition you're getting in!Pick off the leaves, weigh out 700g/1.4lb. Wash thoroughly (spinach leaves are notoriously dirty!). Then dry and chop.Baby spinach – I tried it, it's too delicate to work here. The spinach sauce just turns into a green smoothie, and it has no texture nor much flavour.Frozen spinach – This works, but you end up with about 1/3 of the recipe quantity and have to account for flavour dilution! To achieve the same flavour as per written recipe, use 250g/8oz frozen spinach for the entire recipe (ie. in place of 700g/1.4lb of fresh spinach leaves). Add thawed frozen spinach in place of fresh spinach, including the excess water leeched by the thawed spinach, and only cook for 3 minutes. Proceed with recipe. See more in post about frozen spinach and why the batch size is so much smaller.7. Pan-fried paneer – While you are welcome to use paneer that has not been pan-fried, you'll find that raw paneer is a bit delicate and prone to crumbling when stirred into curries. Once pan-fried, it sets better so it's not as delicate. Plus, that golden crust is so good!8. Storage – This curry will keep for 4 to 5 days in the fridge, but the spice flavour does start to fade. It's best consumed freshly made, or the next day.