Ever since I was a child, palak paneer secures a prominent position in the list of my most favourite foods. Hari loves it as much as I do or probably more. The first meal that he finished by himself was a roti with “palak paneen”! So this dish also figures in one of my lanmark moments shared with my son.
Home made palak paneer has a special touch. Rightly spiced and made with just the required amount of oil (no extra oil floating here) this is not just nutritious but highly prized in terms of taste and comfort value in comparison to restaurant style version of the same dish. This was something I discovered only during the final stages of my pregnancy as up until then palak paneer was something that I always ordered at a restaurant and never tried making at home. After all it was just a call away if I wanted some! Cravings of palak paneer and trying to eat healthy during those precious months led me to experiment with this in my kitchen when I could finally enter its realms.
It did take me a couple of trial and error tests to arrive at what I call my “couldnt be better” version of the dish. This required effort in terms of research, thought and tests as it was a “classic dish” and more so a favourite at that! It is difficult to replicate childhood favourites as they are deeply ingrained in your memories to the point of being etched in your soul!
My inlaws have a vegetable garden and when we were visiting them in Bangalore during Diwali, Hari spent a lot of time in the garden, playing on the lawn and watering the plants or sometimes watering water!
It was also an educational experience for him to see so many vegetables, carrots, beans, baby eggplants, tomatoes, lady finger, fenugreek leaves and spinach growing and to learn about the origins of his food through mother earth.
And when he spotted the spinach leaves growing from the ground his request for “palak paneen” was promptly satisfied in the evening by his grandmother.
I often make palak paneer with dal tadka, some rotis and rice rounded off with some lassi (spiced buttermilk). This makes for one of the most satisfying, comforting and delectable meals that nourishes my body, pleases my mind and soothes my soul!
Palak Paneer/Seasoned Spinach With Paneer Cheese Recipe
Substitute tofu or vegetables like peas, carrots and potatoes for a vegan version. This spinach gravy also tastes great with cooked chickpeas used instead of paneer.
500 gm, 4 bunches or 7 cups spinach
2 tomatoes, ground (optional)
500 gm paneer, cut into 1” pieces
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp asafetida
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 green chili, crushed or finely chopped
2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin seed powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
3/4 tsp red chili powder
1 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), crushed
1 1/2 tsp salt
60 ml (1/4 cup) milk or cream
Clean, remove the stems and wash the spinach. Place the spinach in boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes, until it wilts completely. Drain and puree the spinach in a blender and keep aside.
Remove the eyes of the tomato and grind to a paste.
Cut the paneer into cubes and keep aside.
In a wok or kadhai, heat the oil over a medium flame. Before it starts to smoke, lower the heat and drop in the cumin seeds, asafetida, ginger paste and minced green chili. Stir for a few seconds and add the pureed tomatoes. When it comes to a boil, put in the coriander, cumin, turmeric and red chili powders.
When the oil begins to separate from the spiced tomato mixture, put in the kasuri methi, pureed spinach and salt and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in the paneer cheese and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more*.
Turn off the heat and stir in the milk or cream.
Serve hot or at room temperature with Indian breads or rice.
* I find that if the spinach leaves a re bitter, you need to cook longer about 20 minutes for the bitterness to go. If your leaves are fresh and not bitter then less time will do.
* You can skip the tomatoes if you are skeptical, about combining them with spinach, but I find that tomatoes add a lot of zest to this dish.
Serves 4 to 5