Paneer is a simple cheese that is easy to make at home. Its fresh flavor highlights the warm spices of this classic North Indian dish. Saag paneer requires a long cooking time for flavors to develop, so avoid using baby spinach, which will fall apart; instead, choose larger, more mature leaves. Find garam masala at Indian and gourmet grocery stores.
8 cups whole milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. lemon juice
5 teaspoons salt
4 pounds spinach, well rinsed and thick stems removed
8 cloves garlic
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeded
1 piece ginger (3 in.), peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Seeds from 7 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 canned tomato, chopped
1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons garam masala
How to Make It
Line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth and set in the sink. Bring milk to boil in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Let it boil 30 seconds (remove from heat if it starts to boil over) and stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice. Milk will curdle, separating into cheese curds and a clear yellow whey. Pour into cheesecloth-lined colander.
Rinse curds with cold water. Pull up edges of the cheesecloth, gently squeeze out as much water as possible, and form curds into a 6-in. disk. Put cheesecloth-wrapped disk on a large plate, top with a large cutting board, and weigh down with a heavy pot. Put in the refrigerator and let press at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. To boiling water, add 3 tsp. salt and the spinach. Cook 1 minute, then drain and transfer spinach to ice water. Swirl around to cool spinach and drain again. Use your hands to squeeze water from spinach. Set aside.
In a blender, whirl garlic, onions, chiles, ginger, and 1/4 cup of water to make a paste. Set aside.
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, add oil, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Cook until spices darken, about 2 minutes. Add reserved onion paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and darkens, about 15 minutes. If the mixture starts to stick, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time, stirring, to help loosen it.
Stir in coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomato and yogurt. Cook until thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and remaining salt. Turn heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors are blended, about 30 minutes.
Cut paneer into 1/2-in. cubes and gently stir into spinach mixture. Cook until paneer is heated through, about 2 minutes. Add garam masala and remaining lemon juice. Adjust salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve hot, with flatbread or rice.
I'm from India, and I can attest to the fact that this saag paneer is out of this world!! People get so stressed out about making the paneer at home, but it's actually the easiest part of the recipe. I do it all the time, it's so nice having fresh cheese on hand as a snack or for dishes like this one. I think it's better than most restaurants I've been to - one of my favorites for sure!
I did not want the extra effort of making the paneer, so I made this with chicken instead. I also had heard that many Indian restaurants make their dishes with a combination of greens - one neutral (I used spinach) and one bitter (I used kale). I thought this combination added complexity to the flavor of the dish. Will definitely make again. Next time I might puree some of the greens and sauce then add them back in to get closer to restaurant consistency.
Not sure what I'm doing wrong, but my milk won't curdle. I followed the recipe exactly, and I have a big pot of lemon milk basically. Any suggestions out there? I'll probably follow the rest of the recipe and buy some tofu instead. Help!
This was amazing. I was missing the masala and the tumeric but i substituted some hot curry powder and it worked great. I also substitued the cheese with tofu for a leaner dish. While it was cooking it just smelt out of this world. I wanted to make this recipe after having the dish in a local Indian favorite restaurant of ours and I must say, the consistency wasnt as perfect, but it tastes great. Next time Im going to throw some cauliflower and garbanzo beans in it.