I’m just here for the palak paneer


I’ve been celebrating the arrival of spring with ample helpings of palak paneer, an Indian dish of spinach and homemade cheese. The spinach sauce, supercharged with ginger, serrano peppers and Indian spices, holds the understated cheese in its green embrace, creating a dramatic, edible contrast. It’s truly amazing how much spinach you can make disappear by cooking it this way.

Frozen spinach is in season, too, as food processors clear freezer space to accommodate the new crop and liquidate last year’s leftovers. Although I don’t usually buy frozen vegetables, I decided to try some of the frozen spinach on sale at my local supermarket. Standing in the frozen food section, I shook a bag of spinach and could feel a loose mass of irregularly shaped material inside. I imagined ice crystals and freezer-burnt spinach and did not feel good about it. But I’ve heard freezer technology has come a long way in recent years. To cap it off, the recipe I was using called for frozen spinach. I didn’t chicken out. At home, I was rewarded with bright green, frost-free nuggets of rolled spinach.

Palak paneer is often mistaken for saag paneer, a popular dish at Indian restaurants. The difference is that saag paneer can contain mustard, radish and turnip greens, while palak paneer contains only spinach.

It’s a dish you’ll find anywhere in India, which means there are variations. Of those I’ve tried, my favorite comes from the blog Feasting at Home. It uses cashews, which add a subtle but rich creaminess, and calls for frozen spinach — but notes you can also use fresh.

So, if you’re inundated with more spinach than you can handle, go for it. While you’re at it, make a big batch and freeze the leftovers, with or without cheese, for later. But if your spinach supply is limited, save the fresh spinach for raw use and make palak paneer with frozen spinach.

Paneer, aka Indian cheese, is delicious and surprisingly easy to make. You get a grapefruit-sized ball of paneer from a gallon of milk. Press it into a disc and then cut it into cubes, which some cooks fry in ghee, or clarified butter, before adding to the palak. Whether or not to fry the paneer cubes is a personal choice. A certain innocence is lost, but a distinct crunchiness is gained.

Unfried paneer is softer and decidedly creamier than its fried counterpart and blends blissfully with the creamy spinach sauce, unhindered by hard boundaries. The fried cheese, meanwhile, is stiffer, nuttier and sweeter, like a dense, chewy mascarpone with a thin exoskeleton.

I’ve modified the recipe, as I’m sure the blog’s author, Sylvia Fountaine, did with the original recipe she found. Compliments to whoever thought to add the cashews.

Palak paneer

This flavor-packed dish needs no condiment or garnish and is lovely atop jasmine or basmati rice. For a vegan version, substitute tofu for the cheese and oil for the ghee. Skipping the cheese makes the preparation much simpler and faster.


  • 1 gallon milk
  • 6 tablespoons vinegar
  • mixed with 2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cheesecloth


  • 5 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 serrano peppers, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped
  • ginger root
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 pound spinach, fresh or
  • frozen
  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cashews

Pour the milk into a thick-bottomed pot. Heat on medium, frequently scouring the bottom of the pot with a rubber spatula to prevent buildup. When the milk is foaming and about to boil, about 20 minutes, turn off the heat and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

Add the salt and vinegar water a splash at a time in as dispersed a manner as possible, stirring the pot in a slow circle. It should take about two minutes to sprinkle in all the vinegar. Try not to break up the large curds that form.

Let the mixture cool to room temperature. As it cools, it will separate. You can ladle yourself a cup of curds and whey, a soothing and satisfying snack.

Lay a double layer of cheesecloth over a colander and set it over a pot or bowl. Carefully pour the curds through the cheesecloth, then pull the corners together and use them to tie up the hunk of cheese. Let it drain for an hour, then untie it and press it between two plates with a weight on top, draining the water that squeezes out. Save the whey for ricotta cheese or homemade protein powder or whatever else you fancy.

While the cheese presses, toast the mustard, cumin and coriander seeds on medium heat for four minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of ghee and the garam masala, onions, garlic, ginger and serranos. When the onions are translucent, about 12 minutes, add the spinach and a cup of water. Cook briefly, uncovered, until the spinach collapses. Frozen spinach, meanwhile, only has to melt.

Blend the cashews, yogurt and spinach mixture in a blender.

Cut the disc of cheese into cubes. If you wish, fry the cubes in a tablespoon of ghee until brown on all sides. Heat the palak in a pan, diluting it with a little water if it’s too thick. Add the cheese cubes and let them heat up with the spinach.


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