The beginner-level, south Asian-style curry around here is a dish called butter chicken, which is boneless chicken in what’s essentially a mildly-spiced rose sauce. (Seriously, have you heard of Butter Chicken Lasagna?) I think a great next step is what’s locally known as palak paneer– a delicious, spiced, creamed spinach with chunks of cheese added.
For those already familiar with the dish, what is the difference between ‘palak paneer’ and ‘saag paneer’? It is possibly explained here and here. ‘Palak’ refers to spinach while ‘saag’ refers to any deep green, leafy vegetable—the latter is an umbrella term.
I find any kind of curry to be rich and heavy. That must make this version of palak paneer the Henry VIII of curries. This is best served alongside rice, pickles, and a crisp salad to cut down on the richness.
Chunky Palak Paneer – with Homemade Paneer
Adapted from the queen of vegetarian cuisine, Manjula’s Kitchen
Time: 1.5 h for paneer; 20 min other prep; 20 min cooking
For the paneer:
- 2 l homogenized milk
- juice of 3 lemons
For the palak paneer
- 250 g paneer (more or less), cut into cubes
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 pinch ground asafoetida
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground red chili
- 2 bunches of spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped finely
(This seems like too much spinach, but remember how much it shrinks.)
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- salt, to taste
To make paneer:
Honestly, just follow Manjula’s instructions. There is nothing more to it. Shown below is my documented progress through this procedure.
To make palak paneer:
- In a pot over medium-high heat, fry the paneer in oil to brown lightly on all sides. Remove paneer from pan and set aside.
(I ended up skipping this step. My paneer was too crumbly and pan-frying nearly destroyed my pot. This process might work with super firm or store-bought paneer, or by deep-frying.)
- Add more oil if needed to the same pan (particularly if you are not using non-stick cookware). Fry cumin seeds and asafoetida for about 30 seconds.
- Add garlic, ginger, and remaining spices. Fry for another 30 seconds to bring out the power of the oil-soluble aromatics in these ingredients.
- Fold in the spinach. Let it cook down for 10 min, uncovered with frequent stirring.
- Stir in heavy cream. Let mixture cook for another 2 min.
- Fold in the paneer cubes and let simmer for 2-3 min to warm paneer through.
- Add salt to your taste. I added about 1/2 tsp.