SAAG PANEER is one of my favorite dishes to order when we go to Indian restaurants. And, as it turns out, it’s quite easy to make.
One thing to bear in mind when shopping for the spinach is to buy the amount specified in the recipe – 20 ounces. It may look like enough to feed an army, but spinach wilts down tremendously when cooked.
I recommend making the paneer cheese ahead of time – even a day or two – before serving. This gives the cheese plenty of time to drain.
NOTE: In reading through the directions, you may be tempted to skip the separate cooking steps and just throw everything into the pot at once. Don’t! The onions take longer to cook than the jalapeño and garlic, which takes longer than the tomato. Cooking things in stages allows the ingredients to end up at their peak of flavor.
SAAG PANEER – makes about 1 quart
- 1½ quarts whole milk
- 2½ cups buttermilk, divided
- 1/2 T salt
- 20 oz fresh spinach leaves
- 3 T butter
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cardamon
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 jalapeño, finely minced (remove seeds and ribs)
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- 14 oz tomatoes, chopped (fresh or canned)
- 1/2 cup cashews, toasted, divided
To make the paneer cheese, heat whole milk just to a boil. Stir in 1½ cups buttermilk and 1/2 T salt. Remove from heat. Let sit 10 minutes to coagulate. Line a colander with 3 layers of cheesecloth and set in sink. Pour in milk and let drain 15 minutes. Bring the 4 corners of the cheesecloth together to form a sack. Gently twist to expel more liquid. Finally, hang the bag for several hours to complete the draining process. To do this, tie corners together, insert some sort of stick (such as a long wooden spoon), and rest the ends on something tall enough to allow the sack to hang freely. Be sure to place a container underneath to catch the liquid unless you’re doing this over the sink.
Thoroughly wash spinach – it can be very muddy. Place in a large bowl (you may need to do this in batches), cover with a plate, and microwave for 3 minutes. Discard liquid.
In a large skillet or saucepan, melt butter. Add in cumin, coriander, paprika, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne. Stir over medium heat for 30 seconds to bloom spices. Add in onions and 3/4 tsp salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add in the jalapeño and garlic, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add in tomatoes and cook 3 more minutes.
Chop 2/3 cup of the cooked spinach – I use my kitchen shears for this. Set aside.
Into a food processor or blender put the unchopped spinach, half of the cooked tomato mixture, 1 cup water, and 1/4 cup of the cashews. Pulse several times to purée. Pour back into saucepan with the other half of the tomato mixture. Add in the chopped spinach and remaining 1 cup of buttermilk. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes to heat through.
Cube the paneer cheese into 1/2″ pieces. Stir into the spinach mixture.
Serve over rice, topped with cashews.