Saag Paneer: Spinach with Indian Cheese

Total Time:
1 hr 20 min
10 min
25 min
45 min

4 servings

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 12 ounces paneer, (Indian cheese, either store-bought or made from my recipe, recipe follows), cut into 1-inch cubes, see Cook's Note*
  • 1 (16-ounce package) frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 (1-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large green serrano chile, finely chopped (seeds removed if you don't like it spicy!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon store-bought or homemade garam masala, recipe follows
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred until smooth
  • Paneer: Homemade Indian Cheese:
  • Cheesecloth
  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed, see Cook's Note*
  • Aarti's Hot (not heavy!) Homemade Garam Masala:
  • 3 large cinnamon sticks (if you have the kind you get at Indian stores, it's about 3 tablespoons of cinnamon bark bits)
  • 3 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1/4 cup green cardamom pods, shelled, husks discarded (about 2 tablespoons of seeds)
  • 4 large black cardamom pods, shelled, husks discarded (about 1 tablespoon of seeds), optional

In a large bowl, whisk together the turmeric, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons oil. Gently, drop in the cubes of paneer and gently toss, taking care not to break the cubes if you're using the homemade kind. Let the cubes marinate while you get the rest of your ingredients together and prepped.

Thaw the spinach in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish, 5 minutes on high, then puree in a food processor until smooth. Alternatively, you can chop it up very finely with your knife.

Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the paneer as the pan warms. In a couple of minutes give the pan a toss; each piece of paneer should be browned on one side. Fry another minute or so, and then remove the paneer from the pan onto a plate.

Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Add the onions, ginger, garlic and chile. Now here's the important part: saute the mixture until it's evenly toffee-coloured, which should take about 15 minutes. Don't skip this step - this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water.

Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven't already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, until the raw scent of the spices cook out, and it all smells a bit more melodious, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid off.

Turn the heat off. Add the yogurt, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the paneer. Turn the heat back on, cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve.

*Cook's Note: Paneer is very easy to make at home, and my recipe is quick, easy, and delicious. I also think homemade has a better texture than anything store-bought. If you'd like to buy it, this cheese is available in better supermarkets as well as specialty Asian markets.

Paneer: Homemade Indian Cheese:

Line a large colander with a large double layer of cheesecloth, and set it in your sink.

In a large wide pot, bring the milk to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning the bottom (a nonstick pot works really well for this purpose). This will take a little while so be patient!

Add the lemon juice and turn the heat down to low. Stirring gently, you should almost immediately see the curds (white milk solids) and whey (the greenish liquid) separate. Don't fret, this is perfect!

*Cook's Note: If the milk doesn't separate juice some more lemons and add another tablespoon or two. Boost the heat again and the milk should separate. Stir in a motion that gathers the curds together rather than breaks them up.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully pour the contents into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Gently rinse with cool water to get rid of the lemon flavor. At this point, you could squeeze out some of the liquid, and serve with some honey and some nuts, almost like a fresh ricotta!

Grab the ends of the cheesecloth and twist the ball of cheese to squeeze out the excess whey. Tie the cheesecloth to your kitchen faucet and allow the cheese to drain for about 5 minutes.

Twisting the ball to compact the cheese into a block, place it on a plate with the twisted part of the cheesecloth on the side (this will ensure your block of cheese is nice and smooth!) and set another plate on top. Weigh the second plate down with cans of beans or a heavy pot. Move to the refrigerator and let it sit about 20 minutes.

Yield: Makes 12 ounces of cheese.

Aarti's Hot (not heavy!) Homemade Garam Masala:

Combine the cinnamon sticks, cloves, green cardamom seeds, black cardamom seeds, if using into a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind until fine. Store the spice mix in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.

Yield: about 1/2 cup.

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    Delicious, but very time consuming. Next time I fix this I will puree the spinach and make the paneer cheese the day before.
    Aarti, thanks so much for the recipe. I am making in tonight as one item for the Academy Awards, the menu for which I am calling a Tribute to Bollywood. I would like to suggest to you and your readers that they consider signficantly reducing the amount of cloves in the garam masala recipe. I used only 1 1/2 tablespoons and the clove taste still overpowered the other spices. Next time I think 1 1/2 Teaspoons might be better. 
    I also think you might want to reserve the water drained from the frozen spinach to use later in the recipe to add more nutrients and flavor to the dish.
    A five star recipe. I prepared it in my pure clay pot and used half the amount of oil and added coconut milk and a table spoon of lemon extract instead of yogurt  and it turned out fantastic. All the ingredients were cooked evenly and the paneer was juicy and soft. I learnt to cook in clay pot from my mom as she was health conscious as we don't have to worry about metals or chemicals getting into our food while cooking in pure clay pots. I got mine from Miriam's Earthen Cookware (online)
    This is hands down the best saag recipe I have come across. It is restaurant quality, if not better. I used fresh spinach instead of frozen (read the recipe wrong) and will do that next time. Other than that misstep, I followed the directions to a tee. No home cooked meal has ever made me happier.  
    I've made this two times and the second time I replaced the paneer with chicken thighs because my husband isn't a huge cheese person. It was a fantastic substitute. Both times I served it with rice and store bought naan. It was worth the time and effort it took to create. You won't be sorry!
    Probably the best recipe for Saag Paneer I've found so far! Very tasty and appetizing looking. I added two indian peppers instead of serrano peppers and used blanched fresh spinach (flash-cooked in boiling water, then drained and chopped) instead of frozen and got great results. Will definitely make this again.
    This was time-consuming but worth it! I was encouraged (by the clear and easy directions in the recipe, as well as the reviews here) to make the paneer and I recommend doing so. It did take a while but was well worth it--it is SO easy to do and I'm now excited to explore other fresh cheese recipes. The whole dish came out great, very fresh and bright-tasting and not too heavy. Will definitely be making this again.
    So delicious! I made it without the paneer- and used soymilk in place of the yogurt (because of lactose intolerant kids), but I'm looking forward to trying the full recipe with the homemade paneer sometime when the kids are gone!
    So good! I think I've finally perfected it after the fourth time, using the store-bought garam masala and the homemade paneer (who knew making cheese was so simple!?) For the paneer, make sure you use fresh squeezed lemon juice per the recipe or it won't separate. I would only add to go liberal on the "Add a little salt" toward the end. It'll really help bring the other flavors out.
    I made this for a family dinner on the weekend and my Goan mother in law says she has been dreaming of it since! Super easy to make and terrific flavour! This recipe is a definite repeat in my repertoire!
    I could seriously eat this everyday. Even my meat loving hubby and my 3 small children love this meal!
    I've tried making my own paneer but it wasn't very successful. I use halloumi as I can't get hold of paneer in my country town. It's a little saltier and supposedly contains mint but not enough to actually taste in a curry. It has identical cooking properties to paneer, so swaps in well. 
    I've made this about 4 times over the last month and this is my favourite recipe. I do add a large chopped tomato to the fried onion during the last 5 mins of the frying stage.I also add chopped coriander or methi leaves and a tsp of sugar just before serving too.
    This was my first time making Saag. I followed the recipe exactly with only one change. I replaced the cheese with shrimp.  
    I feel like there's something missing, but I can't put my finger on it. It still was a tasty dish, but did not seem like true Saag. It was also not very spicy at all, more on the mild side. At the end I did try to add a little more spice to it, helped a bit but not much. Poured over Basmati rice.  
    Unfortunately I won't be using this recipe again.
    This was very good and easy to make. I did it on a weeknight. If I was to make the paneer by itself to serve I would probably add some salt for flavor.
    I served this as a side dish for my gourmet group over the weekend and it was a huge hit. I also made the cheese which no one could believe. One comment was "you nailed it", another was "this was the absolute best saag paneer I have ever had". Actually the whole dinner was great. I used about 24 ounces of chopped frozen spinach and I did squeeze out much of the water as I did not want a runny saag paneer. I used the yogurt along with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. I cut back a little of cayenne but offered some peppers (heat on the side for those who wanted it. My husband who was never fond of Indian food- loved it. I highly recommend this dish!
    Love it! I make it all the time, and it's wonderful to freeze for a later date.
    I made this last night using two bags of fresh spinach and tofu. It was wonderful.
    I make this all the time. I used to buy the Paneer from Whole Foods Market but they stopped stocking it and then Costco but they stopped stocking it as well (the Costco brand was better than the WF brand. Anyway I buy the paneer from a local Indian market now. Many times in restaurants saag paneer is too rich but this has the right balance of spice, creaminess, and texture.
    This was, without question, a 5 star recipe. We loved it and it really was easy to make! 
    My husband made saag paneer from this recipe. It was divine! We didn't have any plain yogurt, so used sour cream instead; it worked fine. I've had saag paneer in restaurants before, but none matched this. Thank you, Aarti! It's going in our recipe book.
    Amazing...will be making again and again.
    Good, but not as great as the paneer at Whole foods market.
    I made the paneer and it turned out fantastic with the exception of the shape. I wasn't able to cube it, but the taste was great. The saag paneer was easy and very close to that we've had out. Great recipe!
    Yum! I made this recipe almost exactly as written (including the fresh paneer, except I added an extra pepper because my husband and I love spicy food. I didn't bother to puree or otherwise finely chop the spinach before adding it to the dish -- we liked it just as it was. We served it over basmati rice -- delicious, although next time I may try it with naan just to see what that's like. All in all, we really enjoyed this dish and plan to keep it in our regular dinner rotation. :
    Delicious! Many steps, but easy. It's hard not to overserve myself! I made the paneer, what a nice addition.
    Delicious. Used ricotta, which tasted fine, but wouldn't brown. Just folded it into the spinach mixture and it was very tasty. Didn't use serrano seeds or spines and the spice was perfect. The turmeric and cayenne really give it its flavor. Used 0% Greek yogurt instead. Takes a little longer than the recipe says.
    Just a great recipe. I seem to be sensitive to turmeric so I used 1/2 tsp...just right, and Fage 0% Greek Yoghurt, and left out the time...deelicious ...just great...the yoghurt adds a lovely creamy richness without all the fat...
    Made the paneer first, added a bit of salt to it. Gently tossed it with Aarti's turmeric mixture and it sauteed into beautiful cubes of deliciousness. Pureeing the spinach I think was a key and the end result was very tasty! It's on our keeper list.
    This is a delicious dish! I am allergic to dairy so i used chicken instead of the paneer, it was actually a very easy substitution for me to make, i used boneless, skinless chicken breast, the same specified amount and just cubed it up. I also made two other changes, I used plain, unsweetened soy yogurt instead of regular and i cut out about two tablespoons of oil. Because i used the chicken, i didn't think the marinade needed the extra fat and i did not add any to the pan after i browned the chicken. IF YOU USE CHICKEN, brown the chicken on medium so it can cook through at least 90%. After the sauce was done, i nestled the chicken in to it in the pan and covered it for about five minutes just to make sure the chicken was in fact cooked all the way. I served this over rice and received rave reviews! I will be making this again! And as Aarti says, dont skip any of the steps!!
    i really did not enjoy this at all. the only change i made was that i used tofu, instead of the paneer. the yogurt left a dominating tang and, in general, it just didn't taste like "saag paneer" to me. it tasted like "an indian inspired spinach dish". bummer, because i have loved everything else i have tried of aarti's.
    I made this for the first time and even my semi-Indian ex-wife thought this was better than her mom' s version. - I added a little bit of heavy cream for an extra kick 
    I was a little skeptic about the labor intensive preparation of the paneer, plus it wasn't too tasty by itself. But when gobbled in combination with the Saag it made perfect sense. Every bite was a cloud of heavenly goodness! 
    You'll never order take out after you taste this. :- 
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