Leave it to Indian cuisine to take a combination as potentially drab and dull as spinach with cheese and transform it into a craveable, easy-to-make, flavor-packed delicacy. In case you haven’t already met, allow me to introduce you to Palak Paneer (aka your new favorite Meatless Monday dinner).
Simply put, the Northern Indian dish is a vegetarian curry made from blanched spinach (“palak” in Hindi) that is studded with cubes of a soft, ricotta-like cheese called paneer.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Ohhhh, I’ve seen that dish on menus before, but I swear it was called something else…,” you’re right. Saag Paneer, Palak’s close cousin, is a ubiquitous item at Punjabi restaurants across the country. The key difference is that Saag, which more or less translates to “leafy greens,” isn’t strictly spinach-based, typically incorporating other veggies like mustard greens, collard greens, watercress, etc. into the mix.
As with all simple dishes, Palak Paneer comes with its own set of nuancing choose-your-own-adventure options. Should you opt for a silky puréed texture or leave it chopped and chunky? And what’s the best way to cook the spinach anyways: Boil or sautée? Are you going for the richness and contrast of pan-fried pieces of paneer or would you rather keep it raw, letting the cheese melt into the sauce? About that paneer, are you going to make your own or go for store-bought?
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And then, of course, there’s the seasoning and spice blend: Onion, garlic, tomato, ginger, garam masala, and chillies are all standard players, frequently joined by the likes of turmeric, black peppercorn, nutmeg, coriander, and cloves. Experimentation and personalization are encouraged, and regardless, it’s going to taste great spooned over rice or with a freshly made batch of roti or naan.
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Or, if you’re looking to take a less traditional route, here are a couple favorite tasty ideas:
If you’ve already mastered the classic version, set your sights on this more technically challenging rendition that deconstructs the dish into a rolled sandwich. Here, spinach is used to flavor the Indian flatbread, roti, and the savory spiced paneer mixture serves as filling. Your kids will never be so excited to eat spinach. Get the recipe.
Think of this as meatballs and gravy reimagined for a vegetarian palate: Smooth, spice-enriched spinach curry stars as your sauce, while crisp, boldly seasoned paneer-oat koftas step in for the meat (and don’t make you miss it, for that matter). Get the recipe.
Break the mold and spice up your veggie lover’s pizza game with this naan pie smothered in gooey Paneer and layers of spinach that has been spiked with cumin, fennel seed, cardamom, cloves, and chiles. Get the recipe.
Palak paneer gets the cocktail party-friendly, finger food treatment in this clever interpretation that has the spinach curry and crumbled cheese wrapped in puff pastry and baked until flakey and golden brown. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Whisk Affair.