If South Indian cuisine is the Washington fare of India (fresh, light, lots of fish and seafood), then North Indian food is down-home Texas (rich, creamy and heavy). Most Indian restaurants you’ll find will be North Indian and boast menus of buttery, starchy goodness. Butter chicken, tikka masala, jalfrezi, biryani, roti, naan – it’s all enough to drive a girl mad with food-lust. But, of course, there is one North Indian dish that shines on a pedestal of deliciousness in my heart, far above the rest: Palak Paneer. Creamy, sweetly spiced spinach surrounds chunks of soft paneer (a mildly flavored Indian cheese). Its dangerously delicious flavor is capable of sending anyone into a proper comfort-food coma. But I like to live dangerously, so let’s cook.
2-7 oz. Packages of Paneer (cubed)
2 Bunches of Spinach (blanched and finely chopped)
5 Tbsps. Olive Oil (vegetable oil or ghee would also work)
½ Large Jalapeno (finely chopped)
1 ¼ tsp. Turmeric Powder
½ tsp. Cayenne
1 Clove of Garlic (minced)
½” – 1 ½” Piece of Fresh Ginger (peeled and minced)
1 Medium Onion (finely chopped)
2 Medium Tomatoes (large dice)
¾ tsp. Garam Masala
Pinch of Asafoetida
Pinch of Red Chili Powder
1 Bay Leaf
1 Curry Leaf
1 Heaping tsp. Coriander (ground)
1 Scant tsp. Cumin (ground)
2-3 Tbsps. Heavy Cream or Yogurt
- Mix 1 tsp. turmeric, cayenne, salt and 3 Tbsps. oil in a large bowl. Drop in cubes of paneer and gently toss. Set aside.
- Rinse spinach well. Boil about 6 cups of water in a large saucepan with ½ tsp. of salt. When water is boiling, turn off heat, and drop in spinach leaves. Cover pot with lid and leave for 2-3 minutes. Extract spinach from boiling water, using a colander, and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water. Leave in ice water for a minute or two, then drain the leaves.
- At this point, it may be easiest to toss your spinach into a food processor and blend into a coarse puree. I, however, live sans food processor and thusly get to do it the old fashioned way! Huzzah! – Finely chop the aforementioned spinach by hand, using only your sharpest kitchen knife and the will to laugh in the face of modern technologies.
- We’re ready to cook! Heat a large frying pan on medium high. Carefully add marinated paneer to hot pan. Toss cubes until all sides are a light, golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Add about 2 Tbsps. of olive oil (or ghee) to your pan. Add onion, ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Sauté ingredients until they are a deep, golden brown. With a cup of water at the ready, add the remaining spices. Splash mixture with water, as needed, to keep spices from burning. A thick paste will form. Keep it moving for a few minutes, until spices permeate the air with a distinct, strong aroma.
- Add spinach to pan with ½ cup water. Add tomatoes. Simmer for 4-8 minutes, adding water as needed to keep mixture moist.
- Slowly add cream, stirring constantly, and salt to taste. Cover and let simmer for about another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Serve over basmati rice, with naan, paratha or roti. Enjoy!
*For all my vegan buddies out there, replace paneer with 1 package of extra firm tofu and cream with canned coconut milk. The substitutions will totally still work with the recipe. Yay!