Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Palak Paneer

Before I moved to Sweden, I took palak paneer (also known as 'saag paneer') for granted. It was always around, sometimes my mom made it, sometimes we ate it in restaurants; I didn't think much about it. But when I moved to Sweden, Indian food as I knew it didn't really exist. There are a lot of "Indian" restaurants here in Stockholm but the food is unfamiliar to my taste buds, often bland, creamy and overly sweet.

My mom was always around to make palak paneer for me, even when I moved to New York. But Stockholm is far from my family, and food is a way to bring them close. I'm always sending pictures of what I've cooked, which is a way of sharing with them.

So what should palak paneer taste like? It's a spicy, slightly sour and velvety spinach stew with beautiful cubes of sweet-milky-cheesy-chewy fried paneer. The color should be green and the consistency thick but pureed so that the flavors mell together. It should have a fragrant aroma of garam masala (a blend of spices), which is always put towards the end of cooking so that it is most prominent.

This recipe was given to me by my mom's talented sister Kusum. She lives in Ahmedabad and has always loved cooking. And she cooks restaurant-style Indian food like no other -- she has the magic touch!

This recipe has been altered, however. I've enjoyed a trip to the first farmers market of the season and bought some vibrant nettles and spinach. Nettles add an extra touch of iron, vitamin A and C, so why not use this delicious verdant weed? Please wear rubber gloves and use scissors to trim the leaves from the stems to avoid getting stung. You can of course skip the nettles and stick to the traditional spinach, but kale and swiss chard leaves are also great alternatives. And speaking of alternatives, how about tofu instead of paneer? Just as satisfying because the sauce is bursting with flavor.

Palak Paneer
Serves 4

1 tbs butter
1 tbs canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tbs garlic, grated
1 tbs ginger, grated
2 green chilies, chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
400g / 14oz chopped tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup cream or milk or coconut milk
400g / 14oz fresh spinach
200g / 7 oz fresh nettles*
400g / 14 oz pan-fried paneer or extra-firm tofu, cubed
*You can use 600g of fresh spinach or frozen spinach instead of the nettles.

Makes 4

1 3/4 cup whole spelt flour or whole wheat flour
1/2 - 1 cup water or whey

1. In a heavy bottom pan, heat oil and butter and saute onion until golden brown. Meanwhile, generously wash the spinach. Wear rubber gloves and trim the nettle leaves from the stems, wash thoroughly and submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Once the onions are brown, add garlic, ginger, chilies, cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric and chili powder and stir well for 30-60 seconds on medium-low heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until all of its liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Then add spinach, blanced nettles, garam masala and cream. Cook for 5 minutes, until just wilted. Check for seasoning and then turn off heat and puree with a stick blender. Lastly, stir in the paneer or tofu.

3. In a bowl, mix flour and water and knead to make a soft dough, about 2-3 minutes. The consistency should be soft and slightly sticky rather than firm. The softer the dough, the softer the chapati.

4. Preheat a cast iron pan or tava on high heat. Divide the dough into 4 balls. Take a ball, generously flour it and roll into an 1/8 inch thick round. Dust off any excess flour. When the pan is hot, add your chapati. Once you start seeing the dough dry out, about 10-20 seconds, flip and cook until it begins to have golden blisters. Flip once again to provide a little bit of color. The trick with chapati is to cook it fast. The longer it stays in the pan, the drier it can get. Usually, on the third flip, I expose it to direct flame to get the golden blisters rather than wait for them to happen in the pan.



  1. Ooh, I've been looking for an authentic palak paneer recipe--although I live do in California and can thus go get a good version at a restaurant! Cheese and spinach, what's not to love?

    1. Hi Eileen! Lucky that you can find good Indian! But when you make it at home, it certainly is healthier, and it tastes really special with stinging nettles! Let me know if you end up making it.



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